The strange, imaginative excuses American college students try to use with their professors

Bueller? Bueller?
Bueller? Bueller?
Image: Flickr/Pink Sherbet Photography, CC BY 2.0
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It’s final exam season for most college students in the US, and besides more all-nighters and Adderall deals, it also means that some will be busting out their “creative writing skills.”

The imaginative excuses and requests that American college students use on their professors as final grades are due are notorious: Teachers complain of students who think they can attend a small fraction of classes, skip tests, perform poorly, and still pass. They also seem to have an excess of dead grandparents and sudden medical conditions.

Last year, high school students were tweeting for freedom from finals, and in 2013 a Harvard student even staged a bomb threat to get out of exams.

To celebrate the end of the semester, Quartz asked professorial friends, family, and the internet to weigh in with their most absurd student stories. Below is a selection of some of the most egregious behavior come exam time.

A philosophy professor at a New Jersey community college

  • “A student handed her completed exam to me and asked, ‘Can I be present when you grade it?’ I informed her that’s not how it’s done.”
  • The same professor quotes an email from another student: “I was SHOCKED when I checked my grade online yesterday; please review it and get back to me immediately. I’m sure it was a typographical error.”


 on reddit

“I was a TA for a calculus class a few years ago. With just under 10 minutes to go in a 50 minute midterm exam, a student bursts into the classroom dressed in a taco costume, sweating, completely out of breath, grabs a test from the front desk and starts to frantically write. At first I thought it was some prank and I tried to kick him out. Turns out he was enrolled in the class and apparently just passed out at a Halloween party the night before and woke up with no time to change clothes. I let him take the test in the remaining 7 or so minutes.”

Psychologist Joe Waldron

on Quora, from Youngstown State University

“One time a student missed the whole semester and asked for mercy because he had to have the class. I required a 10-page summary for each chapter he missed. If he did that within two weeks, he could earn a ‘C.’ He did and resented me for many years when he later became my son-in-law.”

An anonymous PhD student

“I had a student ask if they could come to 0 classes and pass so she could graduate.”

A former language instructor at Columbia University

“‘No I definitely didn’t cheat’ [a student said] when one week the student can’t speak German, and the next she’s formulating complicated structures we haven’t learned yet.”


on reddit

“I knew a guy who was taking a class ‘Pass/Fail’, he had already been accepted to his first choice law school, and had done well during the first two-thirds of the class, so he needed a 4% on the final exam to pass, graduate, and go to law school. He watched The West Wing every day in class with subtitles on for the last month or so.”

The sentiment is perhaps best illustrated in this YouTube video:

Image by Pink Sherbet Photography from Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.