How Long Should You Wait for a Late Professor?

Students sitting together under a clock in back of class.

PNC / Getty Images

No matter how great your college, it's bound to happen: a professor is going to be late to class. But how long should you wait for them to show up? Ten minutes? Fifteen? The entire 50-minute class period? Do you tell someone? When is it okay to leave?

Rules of Thumb

At most schools, there are rules of thumb about how long to wait if your professor doesn't show. Fifteen minutes is pretty common, though each campus has its own variation. Some students believe that 10 minutes is long enough.

Few schools—perhaps none—have a written policy about how long to wait for a late professor. How long you hold out depends on many factors, including the campus culture and your own attitude (and patience) as a student.

Is It Normal for the Professor to Be Late? 

Professors are people, too, and some of them have a habit of always running late. If your professor is one of them, you might want to consider staying awhile on the chance that they will show up sooner or later.

Is Your Professor Never Late? 

Some professors are extremely punctual and expect you to be on time, too. If that's the case, and your professor hasn't appeared after 15 to 20 minutes, you may consider their tardiness a sign that something is awry. Your professor's punctuality is an important pattern to consider when you're trying to decide what to do if and when they are late to class. 

Guest Professors

Perhaps your regular professor is out of town and someone else is supposed to be teaching today. If that's the case, you should wait as long as possible. The guest professor could be lost, looking for parking, stuck in traffic, or dealing with unexpected issues. If you (and other students) leave before the guest professor arrives, your absence could reflect badly on the school.

Traffic

If students who live off campus are talking about a bad backup on the freeway or other event snarling access to campus, your professor might be facing the same situation. Consider what they might be facing during his commute when deciding whether to stay or wait.

Consider Your Class Schedule

Is it the first day of class and you need to make a good impression or get a signature to add the class? Is there a major assignment due or an important exam scheduled? If so, leaving early might be a bad idea. In some circumstances, being one of the last students to leave the class may be your better option.

What to Do Next

If your professor is late and you decide to leave, what should you do next? If it's really out of character for your professor not to show, consider stopping by your college's registrar's office and letting them know. Also, consider sending an email, letting them know you were in class and are checking in. Was the class supposed to meet somewhere else? Did you miss an announcement? It can happen.

And Finally...

There's no magic number about how long you should (or shouldn't) wait for a late professor. It all depends on your campus culture, your professor's habits and expectations, the situation, and what you are personally comfortable with. Given all of that, however, it's important to remember that your education is what you make of it. Leaving or staying is a judgment call you'll have to make.