This semester I have emailed more professors than ever with extension requests. To clarify, “more than ever,” actually means twice. As a first-year and sophomore, I was so petrified to ask for an extension that the only extension I received was a class-wide extension to accommodate for the pandemic-induced shift to online classes. Asking for an extension was a point of shame for me. To me, asking for an extension indicated that I had failed or that I had fallen short in comparison to my classmates who had been able to finish the assignment on time. I think a lot of people would agree that Cornell tests your limits, and that your time here teaches you a lot about what your personal limits are. So this is my case in support of extensions.
Obviously, extensions are not always an acceptable course of action. It is not fair or right to expect an extension on every single assignment. It is also not safe to assume that a professor will always grant you an extension. However, it’s also not best to assume that they will not. A particular instance stands out to me: I was in office hours for a problem set and expressed stress to the professor that I would not be able to finish the assignment on time since I also had a shift at work later that evening. Without even asking for an extension, I was granted one. I was fully planning on working on that assignment up until I had to go to my shift at 4:00 p.m., working for six hours, and then coming home to finish the assignment.
In my time at Cornell, I’ve experienced many such kindnesses when I was not expecting them, such as a professor who let me take an exam in a quiet room when I expressed that I was going through a lot of personal difficulties and was experiencing immense anxiety. The first time I ever openly asked for an extension, it also wasn’t my idea. I had been expressing stress to a fellow classmate when the classmate said “Ask for an extension. I did.” I was dumbfounded, and all of my values around failure and inconveniencing the professor came rushing back into my mind. I was only given 24 extra hours, but that’s all I needed to complete the assignment with not only less stress but also at a better caliber.
When you ask for an extension you have to be prepared for the answer to be no, but that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile to ask. I am very guilty of sometimes waiting until the last minute to finish an assignment, especially if it’s one that I’ve been putting off due to stress over my ability to complete it as well as I want to. For the two extensions that I’ve asked for, I got over my embarrassment by positioning it as setting a boundary. College doesn’t allow for a lot of boundaries in your life. It’s nearly impossible to tell what time is for relaxation, work, homework, studying or socializing without simply just deeming it so. Otherwise, you could spend every waking hour not eating or sleeping and only focus your entire four years on school. There is always an assignment that can be started, a quiz that can be studied for, a prelim looming in the distance, an office hour to attend or a problem set to be knocked out.
I don’t think I truly realized until late in my senior fall semester that college will steamroll your boundaries unless you set them and stay firm. I’ve always been a people pleaser. I always feel pressure to say that I’m available for that task or I will take on that part of the group project. At work, I feel pressure to take up shifts that I know I don’t have time for given my schoolwork schedule. I had a professor this semester who sent out an email during a particularly stressful week both on a Cornell and international scale. The message reminded us that we were “human beings who happened to be students, not students who happened to be human beings.” It seemed like a silly thing when it was verbalized, but honestly, I needed to hear that.
As I come into my extension-era, as it were, I now don’t ask for extensions out of fear, but because I’m slowly learning my limits. There are always going to be assignments that you let go a little too long, that just happen to be at the same time as you are studying for a prelim in another class, or that you can’t give your all. But if it’s a week out from a massive assignment and you know that two days would be all that it would take to make your deliverable great without compromising your sanity, check the syllabus and see if you might be able to get an extension. Be smart and be sparing, but consider this your permission to ask if you have had similar hangups as first-year me.
Emma Smith (she/they) is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. They can be reached at [email protected]. Emmpathy appears every other Monday this semester.