Taking a Sick Day in College (Responsibly)

I missed posting last week because the start of the year virus finally caught up with me and tried valiantly to take me down. But it got me thinking about how to and how not to take a sick day in college. Here are a few definite DOs and a few definite DON’Ts when it comes to taking a sick day in college

DO: Attend Lecture if you can

Depending on your personality, you will probably approach sick days in college in one of two ways. Either your reaction is: I’ve got the sniffles, better skip my 8am class all week and sleep in OR your reaction is: If I skip any time studying I’ll never catch up, I’ll fail, and my life as I know it will be over. Neither is a healthy or appropriate option.

Here are some rules of thumb when it comes to figuring out when to take a sick day and when to power through: If you are contagious–and I’m talking the flu level contagious–do everyone a favor a and stay home from lecture. BUT if you are just feeling under the weather with a cold, take some cold meds and try to power through an attend the lecture class. Generally speaking, it’s hard to make up missed lectures, so if you can make it you should try. But be respectful and arm yourself with hand sanitizer, cough drops, kleenex, etc.

Critically, do not skip lectures in favor of attending extra curricular or other university events. Especially do not tell your professor that you missed class due to illness but that you “had to attend the football game.” Not only will your professor absolutely take this very badly, but it’s also unprofessional. If you are a full time student, attending class is your full time job.

DON’T: Email your professor with an in-depth explanation of your symptoms

I feel like this one should be self explanatory, but the number of times I have unsuspectingly opened a student email and come away feeling like I now know far too much about their illness is not insignificant. No one really wants to know your symptoms. If you do send an email, you might consider using the following guide:

Dear Professor X,

I am feeling unwell today, and will be unable to attend class. I will make sure to review the lecture materials/readings/etc. and will attend office hours if I have additional questions. If there is anything that will be assigned in class today and due for next class, I would appreciate it if you would let me know.



Keep it short, keep it sweet, and most importantly keep it symptom-detail free.

DO: Follow Guidelines for communicating with your professor

Make sure to read your syllabi at the beginning of every semester and figure out what your professors’ policies are with regard to absences due to illness. For example, in my class, I give my students a certain number of absences “no questions asked” that they are free to use for sick days. As a result, I tell my students not to email me if they are taking one of their excused absences. In contrast, one of my former colleagues preferred having students email him every time they missed class as a way of taking attendance. The key is to follow the stated policies in the syllabus.

Sometimes there are also university policies regarding absences due to illness, and you should make sure you know what those are and follow them as well.

DON’T: Expect the professor to repeat a missed lecture for you during office hours.

Expecting the professor to teach you the lesson during office hours is an inappropriate use of that time. If you missed a lecture due to illness, it is your responsibility to do the assigned reading, take advantage of any online supplementary materials (i.e. posted slides), get the notes from a peer, and generally make a good faith effort to teach yourself the material.

DO: Ask the Professor questions you have about missed material during office hours.

If you do miss class and your do make a good faith effort to teach yourself the material and are still unclear, then it IS appropriate to attend office hours to ask for help. The professor is usually happy to help clarify material when you demonstrate that you have tried to understand it on your own first.

DON’T: Continue acting like you aren’t sick, even if you are “powering through” lectures.

Acting like you aren’t sick when you are is the fast track for being sick for a much longer period of time. Even if you are feeling well enough to power through your lectures, you may still want to take it easy and rest up when not in class. Consider skipping extra curriculars, slow down on the studying and generally spend extra time resting.

The strategy I used in school was what I call “intense sick days.” Anything that I absolutely had to attend (class lectures, work, etc.) I went to, but 100% the rest of the time, I was in bed, fully medicated and alternately Netflixing and sleeping. The strategy behind doing this is to get better as soon as possible so that you don’t loose valuable study time and get behind. Taking a few intense days off and being able to bounce back is much more efficient than working through the illness and staying sick for a longer time.

DO: Try to stay healthy

Getting sick during the semester is no picnic. Make sure that you ensure that you are doing your part to keep yourself healthy. Get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, wash your hands/use hand sanitizer, and consider getting a flu shot.

I hope these guidelines are helpful in navigating your way through college sick days! While staying healthy is the ideal, the keys to taking a responsible college sick day are to be mindful of your university and professors’ guidelines, do due diligence when you have to miss class, and make sure that you take care of yourself when you do get sick.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: