As your roommate yells at you to stop hitting the snooze button on your alarm clock for the twentieth time, you realize you’ve overslept.
You knew signing up for that 7:10 a.m. Monday through Friday class was a bad idea, but having last registration rotation didn’t leave you many options. Lying in bed during that initial moment of panic, you ask yourself the inevitable question every college student does: Do I go to class late, or just go back to sleep?
Make the decision
Before you worry about how to walk into a class late, it’s important to decide if it’s even appropriate to go. If the class has 10 minutes left, you’re not going to make it in time. But how late is too late to walk into a class? If a student is going to miss more than half the class, it’s probably not worth it to go late, psychology professor Don Ryujin said.
However, if it’s the day of an exam, students should show up to class no matter how late they are. Economics professor Eric Fisher said he would encourage a student to do everything in their power to show up for an exam, even if it meant taking a taxi to campus if their car broke down on the highway.
“If you’re going to be late, definitely show up, because it’s way better getting credit for your exam than getting a zero and failing a course,” Fisher said.
If you decide it’s acceptable to walk into class late, proceed with caution. It’s rarely noticeable when a student sneaks in late to a lecture with a few hundred people, but in a class of 40 students, it can be disruptive, Fisher said.
If you know you will be late to class, try sending an email to your professor beforehand. When a student is aware of a situation that will prevent them from getting to class on time, it’s best to provide a warning in advance, mathematics associate professor Paul Choboter said. He considers it respectful to himself and the student’s classmates when a student emails ahead of time, he said.
However, if you are unexpectedly late, be discreet. When you walk through the door, don’t try to offer an explanation or engage in a conversation with your professor.
“If the class is doing something or I’m in mid-sentence and they come right in the door and greet me when I’m in mid-sentence, I would say that’s pretty disruptive,” Choboter said.
If possible, walk through a back door, Ryujin said. If a student walks in the front door, they are in the view of their classmates, which disrupts the flow of the lecture, he said.
If the only door is in the front of the classroom, walk in quietly and try to take a side aisle towards your seat, he said.
Know the consequences
There’s a good chance late students will miss important information during those first few minutes of class. Ryujin often does announcements before a lecture starts, so students could miss a reading assignment or requirement if they’re late, he said. It’s always a good idea to check with classmates to see what you missed so you’re not blindsided by a quiz later in the week.
Some professors may also give credit to students who arrive on time for class — which can mean loosing a lot of points quickly if a student is frequently tardy. For example, in Fisher’s macroeconomics class, he asks students to answer no-brainer questions for an extra point at the beginning of class, so those who arrive on time get credit for being there, Fisher said.
“I’m not penalizing the kids for being late, but I’m rewarding everybody for showing up on time,” he said.
Students also risk harming their reputations with professors if they are consistently late to class. Though Ryujin admits he’s sympathetic to students who run late once in awhile, constantly tardy students leave negative impressions on professors, he said.
In a class of 30 or 40 students, professors usually know all of the students’ names, and those who are usually late won’t receive the benefit of the doubt at grading time, he said.
“If it’s persistent or consistent, then there’s something wrong,” Ryujin said. “If it disrupts too often then that student has to change behavior. It’s definitely going to affect a grade and a faculty member impression.”
Though professors understand that students have emergencies or unforeseeable circumstances that prevent them from getting to class on time, students should try to show respect for the learning environment. Whether a student is three minutes or five minutes late, they’re still not on time, Fisher said. As a professor, it saddens him to know that not everyone is eager to learn and be respectful to the process of learning, he said. He encouraged students to realize this isn’t high school anymore, and that in the real world it’s important to honor obligations and show up on time.
“We’re all engaged in a world of scholarship, and so we all show each other respect — the students, grad students and professors,” Fisher said. “Punctuality is the courtesy of kings, so if a person comes to class late, maybe chronically, then it kind of is a disrespect for the whole notion of learning.”