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Advice to my students – scroll down for each of these topics

  • What do I do when my paper is late?
  • What do I do when nothing is going right?
  • I’m really nervous about writing, and I’m not a good writer.
  • Asking professors for letters of recommendation

What do I do when my paper is late?
Success in college (and life) is not just about staying on top of everything and being perfect. That’s always nice if you can pull it off, but it’s important to know how to handle things when your life falls apart. Here are a few tips.

First, know what the late policy is for each class. Does your professor accept late work? Is there a penalty? If you don’t know – ASK! Don’t assume that it’s not worth doing late work.

If you fail to complete an assignment altogether, it can wreak havoc on your grade. Here’s an example: A writing assignment is worth 10% of your class grade, and 5% of the assignment grade is deducted for every day it is late. You are having a tough semester, so your average on all other assignments is 80% for that class (i.e, for the other 90% of the class you have 72 points). The assignment due date sneaks up on you, and you just can’t pull it together. You are so overwhelmed with other things, you decide to just ignore the assignment completely, and you get a 0. Your final course grade is 72, or a C-.

Alternatively: You anticipate having trouble with the assignment, and you ask your professor for an extension before the assignment due date. You achieve an 80 for this assignment (in keeping with your overall performance), and you get a B- for the class.

Alternatively: You don’t manage to get an extension, either because you didn’t ask or because your professor wouldn’t give it to you. You miss the original due-date, but you pull something together for the next day. It’s not your best work, but it earns you a 70 for that assignment, which gets knocked down to 65 for being one day late. Your course grade is 78.5 and you earn a C+. Sure, that’s not great – but a lot better than a C-.

The moral of the story is: Always turn your work in, even if it’s late. Even better is to anticipate problems and deal with them before it’s too late.

What do I do when nothing is going right?

UNC has great resources for students. Take advantage of them! If you are having any trouble at all, for whatever reason, a great place to start is the Office of the Dean of Students.

You can contact them here: (919) 966-4042 or email

They help coordinate a variety of personal, health and academic services, and can point you in the right direction.

I’m really nervous about writing, and I’m not a good writer.

Writing is a skill, it’s not part of your personality. You have good ideas, but you may not have practice with the skills of putting them down on paper. Learning to be a good writer is worth your time. These things will help:
* Read a lot
* Work at your writing — think about how to say things in the best way, and revise
* Get input from other people — ask friends to read your work and give you feedback
* Take advantage of the Writing Center while you are at UNC, it’s a fantastic resource
* Read the handouts from the writing center on-line for good tips

Asking for letters of recommendation

Students apply for all sorts of things that require letters of recommendation from professors.  Before you ask a professor, think about what they might be able to say about you. If it is a large class and you’ve never had a conversation with the professor, all they can comment on is your grade, which may not help you that much. Try to get involved in projects, such as lab research, so your professors will see how you work and can make specific comments in their letters.

After your professor agrees to write a letter, make sure to do the following:

  1. Give your recommender the relevant materials for your application, e.g. your statement of purpose.
  2. Give your recommender a list of all programs/universities you are applying to. Make sure to specify the department or program, because many areas are represented under programs with very different names, e.g. “Cognitive Psychology”, “Cognitive Science”, “Brain and Behavioral Sciences”.  Make sure the due date is on the list.
  3. If any paper recommendations are required, provide the forms and addressed/stamped envelopes.
  4. A day or so before the due date, send a polite email to remind your recommender that the due date is approaching.  If you don’t hear back, keep checking in until you do.
  5. Check online to see if you can find confirmation that all your letters have been submitted.