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5 etiquette tips for when you're late to class

You glance over at your alarm clock and it’s 8:40 a.m. Class starts in exactly 20 minutes. Why didn’t the alarm go off? You know you set it before you went to bed. In a panic, you brush your teeth, fix your hair, throw on some clothes and run out the door. And with the time it takes to walk or drive to class, there is no way that you will make it on time. Oh no.

Arriving late is better than not arriving at all — if you do it right.

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We’ve all been there. Life happens. Sometimes people accidentally oversleep. Other things like a dead car battery, flat tire, full campus parking lot or an emergency in your apartment can make you late.

Once you are late, you’re late. There is no way around it. Professors will be a lot more forgiving if you don’t interrupt class and make a scene. Follow these classroom etiquette tips to ensure that your professor is still thankful that you came to class:

• Enter the room quietly and sit in the back (or an aisle seat).


If you storm into the classroom, everyone will be distracted by the door opening loudly and you stomping to your seat. Instead, open the door slowly and hold the handle until it shuts. Sit in a seat where others don’t have to move or strain to see what the professor is saying.

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• Never walk in front of the professor.

Not only is it rude — it also makes the professor lose their train of thought. If it is a larger classroom, doing this could muffle the professor’s voice for those sitting in the back.

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• Don’t make an announcement that you are late (or any disruptive comment).

This is the quickest way to irritate your professor. It’s inappropriate to raise your hand to say that you are late and would like to know what is going on. Wait a few minutes to respond to a discussion question so you are clear about the material being covered.

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• Make it your responsibility to find out what you missed after class.

If you immediately turn to the students around you, it is disrupting their concentration and note-taking. Instead, ask if you can see their notes after class or before the next meeting. The professor will have extra materials at the end of class and can quickly tell you the main announcements.

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• Apologize for being late, but skip the long-winded reason why.

Simply tell the professor you are sorry and emphasize that you will try to make this a one-time occurrence. Honestly, it really doesn’t matter if you overslept or couldn’t find a parking spot. The long reasons why you were late are usually said in a way that makes you look irresponsible. Just get the information you need and move on.

If you know you’re going to be late in advance (e.g., you have a doctor appointment), it is courteous to email your professor before class. In your email, state when you expect to arrive, let the instructor know you will come in quietly and state that you will take responsibility for finding out what you missed.

[Tommy Nguyen]


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