College Myths Debunked: My Professor is Late! Should I Wait?

Empty Classroom

As college students, we are constantly inundated with new knowledge. It can be useful, thought-provoking, or crammed into our head on a Starbucks-fueled binge several hours before an exam. However, very rarely do we question the validity of all this new knowledge (unless you take philosophy classes, then you’ll question away).

That’s where College Candy comes in. We’re not going to debate whether or not the Theory of Relativity actually exists (a disappointment, I know, but I’m a communications major and stopped taking science classes after Baby Bio fresh year). However, we are here to thoroughly investigate the most widespread college knowledge (no, not rhyming)—the myth.

We’ve all been there. It’s 9:04 am on a chilly Wednesday. We’re regretting our decision to pass on Starbucks (and especially regretting the decision to have a “practice” beer pong tournament with the roomies last night). We’re drumming our fingers on our desks, thinking of our still warm beds, wondering if our professor is going to show (and praying that she doesn’t).

Ok, now it’s 9:05, only 15 more minutes (10 if we’re waiting for a T.A.). If Dr. So-and-So still hasn’t shown, we are free and clear to peace out and crawl right back into bed. It’s the golden rule of classes- if your prof is x-amount of minutes late, class is automatically canceled, and the students who waited so—ahem—patiently, will suffer no penalty.

I remember the first magical time this happened to me. I was a nervous freshman, bundled up in my Hollister jean jacket, listening to the agitated upperclassmen counting down to 15 minutes around me. When our T.A. still hadn’t shown, they simultaneously dipped out, and one sophomore took pity on me enough to explain that I, too, should leave. “It’s like, on the campus website as an official rule,” she’d told me. From that day forward, even the slightest offense of tardiness starts me on an internal countdown.

But am I right? Yes and no. Most schools (including mine) won’t waste precious ink in the student handbook to specify such a rule. An official at University of South Florida agrees: “ I have never seen a written policy on this question.   I’ve heard the rumor about waiting 15 minutes for a prof with a masters, 30 minutes for a PhD….but I have never been able to locate a formal policy.  (And if I were a student, I would be sure to be the last one to leave, however long the rest of them waited).”

According to Snopes though, some schools do specify the elusive waiting period. At Clemson, it’s a required component of every class syllabus. However, the differentiation between T.A. wait time and professor wait time is pretty nonexistent. While fully accredited professors do enjoy more benefits than their assistants, they don’t automatically earn an extra 5 minutes of students’ time (when they’re late to class.)

So how to deal with this dilemma? When in doubt, check your syllabus, if there’s nothing in there about a “wait” policy it’s up to you whether you sit there for 15 minutes or the entirety of the class period (or just see what your classmates think). But unless you can find a specific rule in your student handbook, this myth is most likely false at your institution of higher learning. As for me, I’ll continue to interpret my professors’ lateness as a perfect excuse for me to skip class (although I normally don’t have any trouble coming up with them on my own).

What would you do? Have you ever had a professor explain their “late-wait policy”?



  1. Vicki says:

    I had a professor who said that, if he was 5 minutes late, he probably wasn't coming, so we were free to leave.

  2. Erin says:

    I had a few professors say that we were to wait until the class was over even if they hadn't shown, they were ass holes and the classes were like 2-3 hours long. But my regular teachers, all artists who ranged from lazy to strict, usually told us that 45 minutes or more we could leave. Also some schools have class e-mails and you can get e-mails from class mates and teachers, which is great because I got 70% of "class is canceled" notes that way, the night before the class. Talk about considerate!

  3. Hannah says:

    I had one professor tell us if he wasn't there in 10 minutes to leave. Most of the time people wait 10-15 minutes and then leave

  4. Sara says:

    I've only had one instance where the Professor didn't show up, so the class waited about 15 minutes and then we all left. The other times, the Professors e-mailed the class the night before.

  5. Casey says:

    I've heard these "rumors" as well. I think it's extremely unfair that this isn't an actual policy. It's almost saying that, as students, our time isn't valuable, or at least AS valuable. But I think it is. If a professor is late, then we should be able to leave. It's their fault that they are late to their own class, and without us, they don't have a class to teach. To punish us for not wasting a perfectly good hour, or 3, of our lives is absurd. In a world that moves at such a quick pace, time is very important to all of us. If we wait, and the professor never shows, that's time we could have spent doing homework, working on a project, or studying for other classes (classes whose materials we don't have with us since we thought our teacher would be in class).

    I think every institution should move toward securing a policy on this. If they don't, it shows just how little they actually care about their students and their time.

  6. Lauren - University says:

    I remember this happening my freshman year. Everyone wrote their names on the board (to prove tehy showed up) and left. I sat there and waited. FOr an hour.

    The prof never came.

  7. Olivia says:

    It is kinda an unofficial rule at my school. Everyone abides by it unless a professor tells us otherwise. It is 15 minutes for a prof. w/ a Masters and 20 for a Phd. I've only ever had the occasion to use it once though.

  8. Jessica says:

    My school hasn't said anything about it, but it's pretty much if the prof, regardless of a masters or phd, is 15 min late, you can leave.

  9. Michelle says:

    As a general rule (unwritten, but general nonetheless), you wait 10-15 minutes for those below Ph.D level, and 15-20 minutes for those with a Ph.D or higher. I can't give the general rule on T.A.'s since they don't teach at my school.

  10. m says:

    I think waiting 15 minutes is more than enough time. If I teacher is running late or has had a last minute emergency that is keeping them from being on time there are several people that they can call to come let their class know, department head, fellow teachers etc. I have had that happen once, my teachers daughter broke her arm and she had to take her to the doctors, it was taking longer than she thought it would and called another teacher to come let us know that we could leave. I think that is common courtesy, if I am going to miss a class I call a classmate to let the teacher know I am sick, car accident etc, and I email the teacher.

  11. Rebecca says:

    You are supposed to stay for the whole fucking class you ungrateful mother fucking twits. You are at college to get an education. While you are in an environment of academic enlightenment, you need to keep all your fat asses in the desks until the class is over. The lack of educational aptitude from the people commenting makes me lose faith in humanity. Sick.

    1. jimbo says:

      you are retarded… as in, severe mrdd… have a nice day.

  12. Engineer says:

    My school doesnt care if students attend or not. Its our own decision which we then have to live with if we fail the exam. Just like today, I skipped two classes cause of hangover :P

  13. R says:

    My profe (with a PHD) just explained this to us last week. He said that if it is a TA then you dont have to wait at all, if they are not there by the time class starts you can just leave. If it is a professor who only works there part time (only teaches one or two classes) then you only have to wait 5 minutes. If they work there full time… 10 minutes. And then if they have a PHD or have been working there for x number of years then you wait 20 minutes. But I think that most students just wait 15 minutes for everyone since they usually don't know if their profe is a part time/phd/whatever.

  14. Michelle says:

    Bitter much, Rebecca?

    Many of us do learn while in college. Unless I’m throwing my guts up or have a religious holiday interfering with classes, I always go. But look at it this way, if the professor never shows up, did we really learn anything that day or just turn it into a gossip/study hall session?

  15. Sonia says:

    Um, why not wait? Unlike HS we are PAYING for our classes. Professors are humans and sometimes they have real human problem. If they're late, wait because if they show up you're getting your money's worth.

  16. Casey says:

    Sonia, I disagree. We ARE paying for our classes, and when the teacher is late/ doesn't show up, we're loosing money. We pay for a set amount of time to be taught. If that time, which we are paying for, is wasted/ going to be wasted, then we should have the right to do whatever we want with that time that we paid for. We aren't getting our money's worth when the allotted time we have is shortened.

    Teachers can send e-mails, put a note on the door, or if it's a last minute emergency, call another teacher or faculty member to come deliver the news.

    I had a teacher not show up to a class when I was all the way across town (I live in Jacksonville FL, it's the biggest city area-wise in the country), and had to drive back when the class was over. I thought it pretty unfair that not only had my time and money for the class been wasted, but also my time and money on the gas to get there and back.

    1. EvanMcToshin says:

      True. Very true. Now that my school's dispursments ahve been dispursed, and the teacher got all his funds, he hasn't showed up for an entire week, which makes me wonder if he's going to show up today. I'm not even making that great of an effort to get to class on time, because I have a gut feeling he won't and its starting to worry me more and more, because he's the only teacher that makes me feel that I'm not getting my money's worth sitting in his class. It does not take an entire class period to go over nouns. If we don't know our nouns, we woudn't be even be this far such as college. Keep in mind, this person works for you, they are like personal trainers, yes you follow their rules, but they still work for you. And as far as what Casey said, I live a couple cities away and gas isn't cheap, and it's even more money out of my pocket when I drive an hour just for him to not show up when he could have notfied us through E-mail class won't be in session.

    2. So because the teacher wasted 15 minutes of your time being late for whatever reason, you are going to waste the rest of your time and money by….not…attending the class at all? I don't think you thought that through. By attending after the 15 minutes and the teacher arrives, you are therefore attending the rest of lecture, getting more of your moneys worth of education; as opposed to just leaving and receiving none.

      Good going.

    3. Casey says:

      The professor never showed up at all actually.

  17. Katt says:

    It's an official rule at my college that students are expected to wait fifteen minutes before getting the hell out of there. Which is not a problem with me at all. ;D

    Rebecca, are you off your meds, darling?

  18. […] That’s where College Candy comes in. We’re not going to debate whether or not the Theory of Relativity actually exists (a disappointment, I know, but I’m a communications major and stopped taking science classes after Baby Bio fresh year). However, we are here to thoroughly investigate the most widespread college knowledge (no, not rhyming)—the myth. […]

  19. Sarah says:

    I had a teacher who was 40 minutes late for class. He kept calling someone who came in and said “just __ minutes more.” We waited half an hour before leaving, and he was mad at us the next day because we didn’t wait the 40 minutes. The class was only 70 minutes. I don’t think he had any right to be torqued off; if he was in another job and was that late for an appointment with the person who was funding him job, he wouldn’t have had so much leniency.

  20. Luke says:

    Everyone keeps talking about "wasted time". How about wasted money? We are paying alot of money for these teachers to teach us and they are getting "paid" to teach us. This is the only profession ive ever known that tardiness is so accepted. What am I gonna do just sit for 2 hours and do nothing while im spending my hard earned money on this asshole whos supposed to be teaching me? This semester my teacher was 20 minutes late first class, and second class after 20 minutes we all left. Its complete bullshit.

  21. Anna says:

    My teacher was late 2 days ago by like 16 minutes and I was walking down the stairs to leave when I passed her scurrying to an empty classroom. All 70 students left right at 15 minutes past. So I told her the class left and she got PISSED because there was a "very important [pop] quiz that everyone was going to get a ZERO on" because we all left. So I called all my friends in the class and we went back to take the quiz and argue with the teacher (who is an idiot) about waiting around. The students who didnt get a call, she said, would be receiving a zero quiz grade. I feel like if a student were 15 minutes late it would be unacceptable to her, but if she is late we are expected to wait around for an instructor that may never show. She acted like we were all terrible for leaving because she supposedly sent a teacher to tell us she was going to be late. Well that teacher never showed up either so getting angry at an innocent class is completely unnecessary and out of line. Yes we pay for these classes but we also have other classes we pay for and need to be studying for in our free time, like when a teacher never shows up.

  22. Amie says:

    My school has an attendance policy, although I was in one glorious class where the teacher was repeatedly 5-10 minutes late. On one occasion, my teacher was almost 15 minutes late and walked into class at 14 minutes and 45 seconds of lateness. She was an awesome teacher and simply told us that she would have left also, gave us the study guide and let us leave!

  23. vsandmnv says:

    Wow Rebecca, call us ungrateful. Looks like you may have skipped a couple classes with that dialogue you got there. Maybe you should look at some english classes to help with your limited vocabulary.

  24. Sarah says:

    As an instructor (lecturer) at a university, I would never expect students to wait more than 15 minutes. I'm one of those "never late" people, though.

    There would probably have to be a blizzard or car accident causing it, so if I probably wouldn't be getting there at all at that point. And if I'm in an accident, I wouldn't necessarily be able to email everyone, so I would hope after 15 minutes they would realize something was wrong and just leave.

  25. My professor showed up 12 minutes late today, thanked us for waiting, then said “you know, if someday I don’t show up you have to lead the class yourselves.” Dead serious. I don’t think that kind of thinking is fair to the students.

    On a separate occasion, I had a teacher who, from what I can gather, had a mental breakdown the last month of class. For weeks I would show up to a bewildered TA or just a note saying class was cancelled and to keep reading the textbook. She didn’t even show up for the final. Not that I minded easy TA work, but I really wish she would have emailed for the many times I wasted gas driving there for that one class.

  • You Might Like