How to Tell Your Professor You’re Struggling

| Genevieve Carlton


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Whether it's physical, mental health, or childcare problems, most college professors want to support students during difficult times. But what's the best way to email your professor for help?

Whether you're emailing a professor about personal struggles or just because you missed a class or need a make-up exam, much of the same advice applies. Make sure to address your professor at the beginning of the email, identify yourself, and explain the problem. It's also a good idea to ask for something specific, such as an extension on a deadline or time to talk during office hours.

In this piece, we walk through how to write an email to your professor when you're struggling. These templates can make it easier to reach out when you need help.

What To Say — and What Not to Say — When Emailing Your Professor

It isn't easy to reach out when you're struggling. However, knowing what to say — and what not to say — can help. With personal challenges, it's okay to leave out many of the specifics. Your professor does not need to know private mdical information, for example.

Make sure to include the following in your email:

How To Write a COVID-19 Email to Your Professor

Millions of Americans have either contracted COVID-19 themselves or cared for someone with the disease. For college students, having to quarantine or isolate can be a major disruption to their schedule, and caring for a sick family member can also make it hard to stay on top of assignments.

If COVID-19 impacts your schoolwork or schedule, contact your professor as soon as possible to ask about their policies. For example, professors might offer assignment extensions, reschedule exams, or encourage students to switch to a distance learning format when they are sick, quarantining, or caregiving.

As with any other email to your professor, make sure to identify yourself and include an appropriate salutation. While your email does not need to disclose private mdical information, make sure to clearly explain the issue and its impact on your class participation, whether that means missing class, asking for a deadline extension, or scheduling a make-up exam.

Template for a COVID-19 Email

Dear Professor Bhasin,

My name is Phoebe, and I'm in your 1:30 Statistics for Business course. A close family member recently tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, I am unable to come to campus for class. Would it be possible to switch to the virtual class for the next two weeks? Also, if I end up getting sick, would it be possible to get an extension on the data analysis project?

Thank you,
Phoebe

How To Write a Mental Health Email to Your Professor

COVID-19 has taken a toll on many people's mental health. A February 2021 study found that more than half of young adults have experienced anxiety and depression during the pandemic. College students dealing with mental health challenges should consider proactively reaching out to their professors.

You don't have to disclose specific conditions or provide a comprehensive overview in your email. Instead, just let your professor know you're struggling and consider asking for something specific, such as an extension for a particular assignment or extra time to complete a project.

Template for a Mental Health Email

Dear Professor Prince,

My name is Damien, and I am in your 10:00 Intro to Creative Writing course. I've had a hard time with my mental health during the pandemic. As a result, I have missed several deadlines in my classes. Would it be possible to request an extension on my short story assignment? I'm also open to coming to office hours to discuss my options.

Thank you,
Damien

How To Write a Childcare Email to Your Professor

The pandemic threw everyone's childcare plans into chaos, and many children still have not returned to the classroom or to daycare. Managing your child's virtual learning schedule while taking classes can be overwhelming, and sometimes gaps in childcare mean you can't attend class or take an exam at the scheduled time.

Reach out to your professor as early as possible to discuss childcare problems. Make sure to include a specific request for accommodations. If you have ongoing challenges due to virtual learning or a disrupted childcare schedule, consider emailing your professor at the beginning of the term to let them know your circumstances in advance.

Template for a Childcare Email

Dear Professor Richardson,

My name is Camilla, and I am in your 9:30 Speech and Rhetoric class. Due to a gap in childcare, I will be unable to attend our live class session on Thursday, April 1st. I will make sure to do the reading and ask another classmate for notes. Is there anything I can do to make up for the missed participation points?

Thank you,
Camilla

If you're struggling for any reason, consider reaching out to your professor. Professors understand that the pandemic has caused stress, health problems, and childcare issues for many students. Fortunately, most professors will offer accommodations like extensions on deadlines or make-up exams for struggling students.

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. After earning her doctorate in early modern European history, Carlton worked as an assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville, where she developed new courses on the history of science, Renaissance Italy, and the witch trials. Carlton has published five peer-reviewed articles in top presses and a monograph with the University of Chicago Press. She also earned tenure with a unanimous vote before relocating to Seattle. Learn more about Carlton's work at genevievecarlton.com.

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