Welcome to the VICE Guide to Life, our imperfect advice on becoming an adult.
For someone who was a complete degenerate in my college years—plagued by inner demons, family drama, clinical depression, and a full-on binge-drinking problem—I have to admit that I always maintained a good grade point average in spite of myself. I would regularly cut class, seldom got my assignments in on time, and still, in every class I took, I got an A-minus or higher. (The exception is a senior year poetry workshop I terrorized by making my classmates discuss my poetry, which was specifically designed to troll them—a poem in the shape of a penis, a poetic satire of my peers’ work—and was thus bumped down to a B-plus. Yes I did go to a liberal arts college how did you know?)
So how did I swing it? I wish I could attribute my good grades to my genius-level intelligence, but that would be a lie.
Here’s the secret: Make friends with your professor. Once you do that, every small bending of the rules—extensions on deadlines, failure to attend class, the option to resubmit projects where you got less than optimal grades—becomes a lot easier.
I should note that this is not advice that you should follow. The correct advice is: Do all of your work on time, and do the readings, and get between eight and ten hours of sleep every night. What I'm saying is that there is an alternative path, as long as you are as big of a suck-up as you are irresponsible.
But if you do need to get an extension on an assignment, step one is to get on friendly terms your professor. This can be achieved during their office hours, which is the idle time they’ve reserved to talk to you specifically. Be a normal person, chat about your ideas for upcoming assignments, and slowly build a rapport. Having genuine intellectual curiosity about the course material is a helpful asset, but just showing up to office hours can earn you brownie points, since most students never make that effort. If your professor sees you as a sincere, fallible young adult who is just doing their best to get through college, chances are you will have much more leeway when it comes to the occasional missed class or overdue paper.
When the time comes to ask for an extension on a paper, do it in as far in advance as possible, and be selective about which project you want to turn in past the deadline. You’ll seem bullshitty if you ask two hours before it’s due, or if you ask for an extension on every assignment. Approach the request professionally, writing a brief email that includes a reasonable, somewhat specific explanation for why it's necessary to turn your work in late. (Are you feeling ill? Do you have six other papers due the same day?) Frame the request so that it seems like giving you an extension would benefit your professor more than it would benefit you—suggest that you'd like more time to go the extra mile to make your work significantly better than it would be if you had to turn it in on time.
Also, don't ask for a weeklong extension, ask for a day or two. It'll likely take your professor more than a day to grade everyone in your class's papers, so you getting an extension won't really burden him or her. Tell your prof that you totally understand if they are unable to grant your request, but ensure that the subtext is that it's really best for everyone involved if they give you a couple extra days.
It could be argued that befriending your professor is more work than just turning in your paper on time, and this is true, but you get so much more out of the experience than wriggle room to turn your papers in late. I don’t look back on my college years particularly fondly, but my rosiest memories from that era of my life are the hours I’d spend hanging out with my professors during their office hours, discussing my variety of emotional problems as they related to the course material, and talking about the world.
In the fall of my sophomore year, I took a class on the philosophical history of love. I was a mess: The class was in the morning and I was always hungover, the assigned reading was dense so I never completed it even though I found it interesting, and mostly, I was trapped under the crushing weight of mental health issues and the growing pains that came along with being 19. Whenever I'd miss a class, or feel overwhelmed by an assignment, I would lurk around my professor's office and spend maybe an hour an week talking to him one-on-one about the course material and philosophy and, inevitably, the psychological pain that pervaded my every second of being. So when it came to my final paper—which was naturally about Nietzsche, self-loathing, and self-harm—he let me turn it one week after the semester ended. Obviously, building a relationship with a good teacher benefited me beyond an extension, but it was a nice perk.
My biggest misstep in college (and arguably, life) was being completely obsessed with whether my peers liked me. I was desperate for affirmation, whether that meant a boy being interested in me or ascending to the top of whatever social order I thought I belong to. These deep insecurities, which began exploding out of me as soon as I hit puberty, seldom served me well. In college, I would always choose a night of heavy drinking and light-to-heavy partying over doing my homework, and now I regret that. I wish I would’ve done all the reading! (Seriously, do all the reading! There will not be another time in your adult life for you to read all the boring literary and philosophical classics.) Then again, the same insecurities and thirst for affirmation that made me forgo homework for getting drunk with my friends led me to wanting to win over my professors.
The connections I formed with my teachers enhanced my educational experience in invaluable ways. I got to engage with people whose sole job was to make me smarter, and having that guidance was a faint ray of light in the darkness of my college years. When you’re still in school, you don’t necessarily realize that it is (most likely) the last moment of your life where you’re surrounded by people—professors and other college officials—who are there to help you become a better person. In the real world, you don’t have that sort of on-call guidance, so take advantage of it. At the very least, it’ll help you get more extensions on your papers.
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