Every semester, I always seem to have some sort of medical issue that ends up causing me to miss a couple of assignments or classes. Some of these medical issues are short term and resolve themselves quickly, while others can cause me to miss weeks or months of school due to doctors visits and time on bedrest. Regardless, I’ve been able to be transparent with my professors as to what is going on and work to get caught up in my classes. Today I will be sharing how I handle missing classes and assignments as a college student, for reasons relating to my chronic illness, disability, or other short-term issues beyond my control. It’s worth noting that I have a Disability Services file with my college that documents my chronic illness and low vision, though does not list the diagnoses by name.
Document accessibility issues
For one of my elective classes, I ran into an issue where I could not get a copy of materials in an accessible format because the professor had no idea how to create them. I am very good at self advocating for myself, not to mention very good at creating accessible materials, so I sat down with them and asked what barriers they were facing with enlarging my assignments. I ended up getting original copies of the assignments that I could enlarge myself, and requested that I not receive the late penalty for turning in assignments, since I had not been able to access the assignments until that point. My request was granted, and I would do two assignments per week (one old assignment, and the week’s assignment) until I got caught up.
Missing one assignment
Okay, this is a fairly funny story. I fell asleep with a migraine and had a dream that I was doing my Java homework. I ended up waking up thinking that I had done my homework… then looked at the clock and realized it was due three hours before. I immediately sent the professor an email saying that I would have the assignment turned in within the next eight hours, and uploaded it to the class website. My professor later said that they didn’t give me the late penalty because I had told them when to expect the assignment and followed through on the deadline I had set for myself.
Missing one class
One morning, I woke up with such severe back pain that I could barely move, and had to miss my morning class to take a nap. Once I could sit up, I checked the class website and reviewed all of the notes that had been posted, and emailed the professor any questions I had about the material or upcoming assignments. If I had no questions, I would send a short summary of what I had read to make sure that I was understanding terms correctly.
Missing 1-3 weeks of assignments
When I miss 1-3 weeks of assignments, I make sure to email my professor or attend their office hours to explain the situation, bringing documentation with me if needed. I typically will send an initial email briefly explaining the situation, and then send a more detailed email when I have the time or energy requesting extensions. I have found that having medical documentation is super helpful for getting assignment extensions- normally I show an Urgent Care note or ER discharge for documentation with any sensitive information redacted. I typically try to get caught up within a week and set aside one of the days I don’t have class to focus on getting caught up.
Missing 1-3 weeks of class
In most of the situations where I have not been attending class, I have managed to stay on top of assignment deadlines or just needed a very short extension (less than 12 hours). Just like I do when I miss one class, I’ll email any questions that I have to the professor, and request any additional PowerPoint slides or code files that were shared in class so I can go through the examples. I also try to attend office hours to go over concepts if needed.
Missing 4+ weeks of assignments
This has only happened to me a couple of times, but there have been classes where I have missed four or more weeks of assignments due to medical reasons. In these situations, I typically request to get an incomplete for the course, which gives me an extension that goes beyond the end of the semester and allows me to complete assignments without the late penalty. The professor has to agree to giving the incomplete, but most medical-related situations are automatically approved.
Missing 4+ weeks of class
When I had to miss class due to my appendicitis, my professors let me attend class remotely via FaceTime or phone call so that I could follow along with the notes on my computer. This ended up being perfect for me because I could still complete my assignments without having to worry about class time, and I wasn’t recording lectures (which is not allowed without permission from the university). In the event I couldn’t attend class remotely, I would send emails to my professor to make sure the notes were covered, or request copies of their notes. However, if I was unable to attend class or do assignments, I would request an incomplete for the class.
Missing midterm or final exams
I had a family emergency pop up about eight hours before a midterm exam at one point, and one semester earlier I had gotten a concussion right before my first final. In both situations, I contacted the professor prior to the exam to explain what was going on and request to either take the exam from a remote location or to take it at a different time. Typically, professors have let me take exams at a different time in the disability testing center or given me the exam to take virtually. There have also been other professors who exempted me from the exam since I had a high grade in the class or had me take a modified exam to make sure that I didn’t cheat. Ultimately, the professor is the one who makes the decision on how I take the exam and I have very little input on the matter.
The best way I have found to avoid getting behind in my classes is taking advantage of my good health days to do as much homework as possible, so that if I have to miss class or an assignment, it isn’t the end of the world. Even if I am super behind in classes, I remind myself that my health and well-being come first, and then tackle the assignments at the first available opportunity. I’m grateful to have such understanding professors, and I hope that this post is helpful for other students as well!