The Inspirational Stories File: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time
College professors from around the country have offered the most outrageous excuses their students have given for missing a class, a test, or an assignment. Here are the best ones that show — and celebrate — how some students overcame adversity to succeed in their class efforts, no matter what was going on around them.
As an overview, this article is part of a series (Overview: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time — Introduction to the Article Series), exploring what excuses college students have offered to explain an absence, a missed exam, a paper or project being late, etc. All of these excuses have been collected from this author’s contemporaries — professors and instructors at colleges and universities all across America. As such, it is a “crowdsourced” piece, and I owe them my gratitude for sharing their “best” excuses — which in reality means the “worst” — from their students over the years that provided the basis for this article series. And in all of these articles, each of which deals with a different “origin area” for student excuses, from health to tech to social to pets and more, we not only see excuses that make us laugh, but we also see some that could make you cry, as there are also stories of students who “went the extra mile” and persevered over the unique obstacles they might have faced in their lives to succeed in school.
In this final article in the series exploring college student excuses, we highlight the students who have persevered over whatever circumstances might have been going on around them to succeed in their classes. As you will see in these stories submitted by my fellow professors from all across the United States, while there are always students who might try and creatively use their circumstances to their advantage to get out of work, there are also always a select group of students who will work hard to overcome their circumstances to succeed in their work. So, without further ado, let’s look at these select instances where students overcame very real health, family, monetary, etc. concerns to not just do well in the classroom, but likely set themselves on a course for success in their lives and careers in the years after college. Let’s open the “inspirational file” as a fitting way to conclude this look at student excuses from the faculty perspective, shining the spotlight — and deservedly so — on some inspiring students demonstrating their outstanding character by overcoming adversity in their lives to do well in school.
The Inspirational File
As college faculty members, we see a lot of things in dealing with our students. Sometimes, we see students succeed and delight us, while other times, we see them disappoint us — and themselves. However, on balance, we like to think that our efforts — working with them both inside and outside of the classroom — do make a difference. Overall however, much of our interactions with students deal with what are often routine, even sometimes mundane and monotonous tasks — grading, evaluating, assessing, etc. Yet, there are times when we run across truly exceptional, even inspirational, student performance. We see instances where students truly overcome exceptional circumstances with extraordinary dedication and performances, such as these inspirational stories, submitted to me by faculty members from across America for this project.
There are, throughout the course of our teaching careers, moments that we will always remember, with true stories that are incredibly sad and remind most of us just how lucky we are:
“I had a student arrive late with a note from her kids explaining that they were hungry and asked her to make dinner first. I still have that note on my bulletin board.”
And then, there are the student stories that are so incredible, yet true, that we will always remember them:
“My first year teaching I had a student miss the first test telling me her mom had died. The second test came along and I got a phone message saying she had been in a car accident. For the third test, she came to my office to say her husband had just been diagnosed with cancer and she couldn’t concentrate. I don’t ask for documentation and tend to take people at their word, but I called bullshit. I have never felt like less of a human being than when I found out it was all true….”
“I don’t know about my worst one (excuse), but I do have the best one… one of my students was late to class one morning because SHE DIED. Literally. She has a congenital heart defect and had to be rushed to the hospital where they revived her during the night. And she still showed up the next morning… just late.”
There are also the student stories of dealing with adversity that show just how determined some of our students are and the lengths to which they will go to overcome their circumstances to succeed. These stories are inspirational, and they show students dealing with a whole range of issues:
From car problems…
“One semester, I had only one student in a class that had a job off campus. Although this student lived on campus, they commuted 25 minutes twice a day, in the morning for a few hours before class and again after. One day this student learned how to change a flat tire, on the side of the interstate, from watching YouTube… and still made it to class. They walked in about halfway through, quietly took a seat, and engaged in class without any sort of disruption.”
…to logistical issues…
“This is not a funny story, but was a wake up call for me. It was my first day teaching writing courses at a technical school near DC. 15 minutes before the class was scheduled to end, about half of the class suddenly packed up, stood up, and quietly left the room as I continued teaching. I stopped teaching and asked the remaining students what just happened. They told me that the students had to leave to catch the next bus, and if they didn’t get that bus, they would have to wait another hour and would be late to work or other responsibilities. From then on, I ended the lecture portion of class early in anticipation of the early departures. I later learned that some students took three buses every day just to make it to class.”
….to family concerns,
“Had a mother and daughter in the same class. Mom shows up, takes me aside, and says, ‘My daughter hit black ice and tore out a barbed wire fence on the way here, flipped the car, and is in the ER.’ I told her: ‘Please go back to the hospital.’ It messed the daughter’s back up pretty badly and she ended up withdrawing. This was before widespread cellular use, so her mother came all the way to campus to tell me.”
and technology problems:
“One of my legitimately awesome students emailed me at the end of the semester to say she wasn’t sure she’d get her work in on time. The day before, she had been in a hurry to get her kids to daycare before she had to be at work and left her laptop with all her final term papers and projects on it in a taxi cab. I gave her an extension, but she was a superstar and still got her work completed on time (and accidentally sent me one of her finals for another class as well, so I know she was working hard!).”
“Last summer, an active duty student enrolled in my course while deployed ‘over there.’ His work was hit and miss in terms of punctuality; He let me know up front he probably should not have enrolled while deployed. He messaged me one week that he hadn’t been able to do his work because he had to be ‘outside the wire’ (military terminology for attacking the enemy) with no communication. He finished the course with an extension: very respectful and hard-working when he could. His internet connection was in a tent/mess hall the whole time, so not exactly an ideal environment.”
Unfortunately today, the very “real world” problems with crime and violence do impact our students, as this colleague’s story — and the context he provides to this one very dedicated student’s story — shows:
“I once had a student come to my office and apologize for missing a day of our class. His apartment had just been robbed while he was in it, and he said he would have come to class but he had been hit on the head with a pistol grip and needed a few stitches. He was back by the next class and kept working his way through the course, which was a math course for future elementary and middle school teachers. Unfortunately, it was not the last time a student of mine encountered a robbery, but I do believe it’s the only armed robbery with the student present that I’ve had come up.”
And while we know that students have had a lot to deal with in the almost year that we have been living and learning online with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are some REALLY inspiring stories to come out of all of this:
“I had a student who had a deportation scare and a mental health flare-up in the latter part of the semester at the beginning of the pandemic. She went from failing to passing, thanks to getting me all the missed work a few days after grade submission. Pretty impressive!”
“I had a student cry today in a one-on-one Zoom call with me. I asked him why he didn’t turn in his summary and he said when he reads his own words they look stupid. He is a refugee from Burma. I said I don’t think he’s stupid, I think he’s doing something hard and brave and I’m proud of him, and I would love for him to think of himself that way. That’s when he teared up.”
And yes, for all the complaining about Zoom courses — from both students and instructors — it is a platform that allows us to connect with each other wherever we are. Sometimes, this can lead to some unusual — and yes, inspirational — student stories, like this one:
“I had a student get on Zoom last spring while he was getting his hand stitched up (from nearly severing a finger) in the doctor’s office.”
For all the seemingly absurd — and yes, sometimes questionable — health-related excuses we professors receive from students to try and justify an absence, a missed test, or a past due assignment, there are those students who persevere over their medical concerns, like these students, each of whom has an inspiring story of their own:
“I had a student who came in halfway through an exam because he hit himself in the face with his car door. The poor guy was rushing from a rotation at a hospital across town, got out of the car, and somehow cut himself on the corner of the car door as he was getting out. He was excused and I took him to the ER. He needed three stitches.”
“I actually had a former student have some weird freak accident while packing to move and stabbed herself in the eye with a half inch auger. She is blind in that eye now. Still got a 4.0 that semester and is kicking ass in PA (Physicians Assistant) school. But holy crap!”
“One of the strangest excuses I ever heard for not turning in that week’s work (after they were a stellar straight-A student all semester, mind you) was that they’d severed their feet — technically their toes, I guess. The strangest part of the excuse was it was for real. They had had to get their feet surgically put back together after a ladder had broken and came down, the rungs mangling their feet at the arches. My poor student had been in the hospital and unconscious the entire week, so hadn’t had a chance to even tell me they’d be late. When they finally woke up, the first thing they told their spouse was to contact me to say their work would be late that week. I told them to take two weeks, at least! Their adviser called me to say they had a doctor’s note if I needed it as proof and I said not to worry about it, I believed them.”
It is always amazing to see how pregnant students manage to take classes while they are expecting, and especially those who have a baby during the course of the semester — and finish classes successfully. There are, of course, a lot of situations that can and do happen with pregnant students, and among them are some truly incredible stories about women taking tests while in labor!:
“One of my coworkers had a situation where a student’s water broke during an exam and she adamantly insisted that “it wasn’t going to be that fast” and she was going to finish the final. My coworker had to work really hard to get her to accept transportation to the hospital and taking the exam later (it had just started and was a 3-hour final exam period).”
“One of my best students emailed me and said that she might be a few hours late with her assignment submission because she was in labor! I told her not to worry about! She ended up submitting her paper on time and then she sent me a baby picture the next day! Amazing!”
“I had a student take a final exam while in labor. She said it was her third she’d be fine, she’d just finish the exam and then go to the hospital.”
“I had a student in labor. The doctor told her it would probably be awhile. She came to class (having contractions) and took a final. Then went back to the hospital and had the baby! She even had the hospital band on her wrist! And she had one of the highest grades on the final!”
“Happy extreme: We actually had a write up in the newspaper of one of our students (at Middle Georgia State University) doing her final exam online while in labor in the hospital. It went viral! (See: ‘Unstoppable! New mom explains why she took a college exam during labor’)”
There are also students who have to be talked out of doing things they think they need to do for their classes for the “bigger picture” of their own health, and sometimes, that’s where us professors come in to act all in loco parentis for them, as in this instance:
“I had a student show up with the hospital bracelet still on his wrist and his discharge papers hot off the presses in hand. I told him to go home and we would sort out the rest later.”
And then, there are students with medical issues that can be downright inspiring!
“Student emailed me that she was missing class for surgery to give a kidney to her father.”
“Student gave 1/2 of his liver to his brother…”
“I had a student who suddenly went blind and was hospitalized while they tried to figure out what happened. I worked with his mother and he dictated his work to her and we got him through the class. He also was on the autism spectrum and his mom thanked me for working with her son. I told her I raised a son with Asperger’s so I understand!”
“I had a student who was hospitalized (immunosuppressed for cancer treatment) show up with a pile of all the homework they’d missed during the weeks they were out, most of it right. I found they’d been working with the textbook and a tutor over the phone (was before videochats were widely available). Impressed as hell! I would’ve supported a medical withdrawal or incomplete, but they didn’t want to go that route.”
“I had a student who emailed me in August, just before classes started. She informed me that she was taking the class from St. Jude because her daughter (3 years old) was getting cancer treatments. I had the syllabus out with exam dates. She asked if there was any way possible to take the exam, scheduled in October, early because the Make A Wish foundation scheduled a Disney trip the week of the exam. This student never turned a single assignment in late.”
Finally, there is the issue of death. In dealing with death issues, there can also be stories of family tragedies that are indeed incredible, but sadly true as well, such as this one offered up by a colleague:
“I once had a student who called me and said, ‘I know I have no excuse and no right to ask for an extension because I have missed so much class, but I have been keeping up with the reading and I think I can do a good job on the paper.’ I encouraged her to tell me what was going on and this was her story: She had a nine month old baby, and her grandmother who had raised her died shortly after the birth. She decided that she would hire a private detective to find out what happened to her Mom who disappeared when she was in elementary school. It took the detective 2 weeks to find her mother’s body in the basement of an abandoned house not far from where they lived when she was a kid. Her mother and another woman had been murdered and their bodies were in this abandoned house for like 10 years. She finished by saying, “I know it is no excuse, but I have had trouble concentrating. I don’t want you to think I don’t care about your class.” To say that I was humbled at that moment is an understatement.”
And sometimes, the students handling of deaths close to them can be truly inspiring, like in the story below related by a contemporary:
“I teach at a Federal Service Academy, so my students are all military members. I believe I actually broke down in tears when a student ‘respectfully requested’ an extension on a paper because a parent had passed and they were requesting emergency leave to attend the funeral. Dear Lord, the parent in me wanted to reach out and hug them!”
This final article in the series on college student excuses does end on an upnote. If you have indeed read the other articles in this series, while we may laugh at some of these excuses for their statistical unlikelihood and their absurdity, we also have excuses that are both absolutely true and in many cases, positively inspiring. So, we close this article series looking at and remembering students who indeed overcame their circumstances, having displayed qualities that will likely serve them very well in their careers and futures. Hopefully, future students can be inspired by these uplifting stories about students who persevered and succeeded against the odds that will propel them to their own success in the future.
In concluding this entire project, I must express my gratitude to the over 500 of my fellow professors who took the time to share their thoughts on their students’ excuses with me for this project. Literally, what you have read in this series of articles would not have been possible without each of them taking the time to provide the input that became, what I think, is a very interesting compendium of the many, many types of excuses that college faculty hear — routinely or not-so-routinely — from students today. Many of you reading these articles may not be surprised at all at what you have read, while some of you may be aghast at just how far today’s college students will go — and how creative they can be — in concocting excuses to get out of being in class, missing a test, or being late for an assignment/project deadline.
Some of you also have been very surprised at the candor displayed by students in relating — sometimes with way, way too much information — why they could not be in class for whatever the reason. But this is the world in which we live today, and yes, this is the world of higher education today. So while some may pine for the “good old days” when simply saying you had a “stomach bug” was the catch-all excuse for whatever might have kept you from going to class, yes, today we can have hard-to-believe stories backed-up by pictures from the latest iPhone in the student’s pocket!
So, after spending over thirty years in the college classroom myself and having spent a good amount of time learning how my colleagues have approached the whole issue of student excuses — from health matters to simply having better options than being in class, I have to end this project with my best bit of advice for students, and it is simple: Honesty is always — always — the best approach when it comes to student excuses. This one excuse story is certainly a positive one, as while it deals with alcohol use (or misuse), the honesty shown by this student is indeed commendable:
“I had a student come apologize for missing the previous class. They looked me right in the eye and said, ‘I turned 21 the night before and I was so hungover. The shape I was in, my presence would have been a disrespect to you and your class.’They were clear they weren’t trying to get the absence excused. They believed in always telling the truth, but wanted to be clear they took the class seriously. I will never forget that unabashed, yet entirely respectful honesty.”
As I’ve stated repeatedly throughout this series of articles, college faculty are, by and large, a very empathetic and understanding group of individuals. After all, to a person, they have made a career choice to work with students just like yourself. So, while no profession has people who are 100% alike, college professors and instructors are generally people who will be willing to work with you whatever your concern might be. However, as a student, you should approach them with a degree of respect and professionalism befitting their attainment, and that begins with being honest in the information you are trying to convey to them.
I can safely say both from my own experience and the experiences of the hundreds of fellow faculty members who contributed their thoughts and insights to this project, your desire as a student for a “helping hand” is enhanced by doing so genuinely. On the other hand, once you begin to come across as being disingenuous and perhaps even dishonest with your excuse, you dramatically lower the odds of getting whatever it is you might want from sharing the reason for your missed class, test, or deadline. It is a cliche, but at the end of the day, honesty is the best policy! However, I do not doubt that right now, there are students who are staying up late to think about the next great excuse they can use — so yes, there could be a sequel to this project to come!
The Article Series
If you enjoyed reading this article on the best excuses offered by college students regarding legal issues, please check out the other articles in the series exploring a whole host of other “causations” of absences, missed tests, late projects, etc. It’s all offered in a good spirit, and I hope you will check them out for yourself and perhaps share with your colleagues — and maybe even your students!
So, I would encourage you to kick back with a good cup of coffee (or more) and scroll through this series of articles. You will laugh at many of these excuses, and yes, in some instances, you may be inspired and even shed a tear or two!
- Overview: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time — Introduction to the Article Series
- The “Death Card”: The Best (Really Worst) College Excuses of All Time
- The Medical File: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time
- The Legal File: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time
- The Pets and Animals File: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time
- The Weather File: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time
- The Home File: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time
- The Family File: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time
- The Social File: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time
- The Tech File: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time
- The Car File: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time
- The Online Classes/Zoom File: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time
- The Travel File: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time
- The “Better Options” File: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time
- The Potpourri File: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time
- The “Caught in a Lie” File: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time
- The Inspirational Stories File: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time
Enjoy this article — or these articles? Please buy Professor Wyld’s ebook — The Handbook of College Student Excuses — that compiles all of these excuses in one place — for yourself, for a college student you know (or parent), or for a college faculty member. It is a great, fun read, and makes a great gift! Get it today from Smashwords ( https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1073655) or on Amazon ( https://amzn.to/3rM5IXZ). You can also view the college student “Excuse of the Day” on Dr. Wyld’s blog at http://www.collegestudentexcuses.com/the-best-excuse-of-the-day/.