The Incomplete “I” – Fix It Soon, or Lose the Credits/Tuition

As we approach the end of the fall 2021 semester let me remind (or inform) everyone about the situation surrounding the “incomplete” or “I” mark a student might request/receive in place of an actual grade.

An “I” might be granted by a professor to students who have completed most of the required work for a course and who have met attendance requirements. The incomplete is intended for emergency situations, for students who experience an unexpected crisis (such as an injury or debilitating illness) at a specific point during the term which unexpectedly interrupts their ability to complete all required work for a course. Each professor has the right to not grant an incomplete and instead grant some other grade, including an F, based on whatever work the student completed during the regular term.

Students who find themselves in a situation that might warrant an incomplete must request it of the professor.

Sometimes an incomplete can be a life-saver for students who experience sudden crisis, but in just about all cases students should avoid incurring an incomplete if at all possible. Many students who take an incomplete never resolve it: because life goes on, new responsibilities and coursework come along, and it just becomes very difficult to find time to go back and do work on past requirements. It is also difficult for your professors to deal with incompletes because their work, responsibilities, and lives move forward; but the incomplete forces them to have to accommodate, tend to, assess, and sometimes even just remember what this work is that a student left untended in the past. It is a big deal for everyone when a student takes an incomplete, which is one reason why a professor simply might not grant it.

If a student is granted an incomplete, the student should work to complete the missed work and so remedy the incomplete as soon as possible – and ideally prior to the start of the next semester. At the maximum, and technically speaking, students have one year in which to remedy the incomplete. After one year, the potential credits for the course and tuition for the course are lost, and the incomplete cannot be changed into any real letter grade.

But please note: professors are not obligated to drop everything to prioritize reading late work. Your professors will at any point in the year but especially at the end of each semester have tons of new work to tend to, potentially hundreds of current papers to read and students from the current semester to help, which is another reason why you should not be waiting until the last minute or even the last few weeks of the year to tend to an incomplete. If you submit late work from fall 2020 on the day before the end of the fall 2021 semester, there is no chance that your professor is going to be able to drop everything else to tend to the last-second submission, evaluate it, and get the required paperwork done in time. The bottom line is this: anyone still seeking to correct fall 2020 incompletes should be working to resolve them and submitting work right now. Anyone with incompletes from spring or summer 2021 should also be working to resolve those asap.