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Articles / Applying to College / Can Prof Legally Demand Proof of Illness?

Can Prof Legally Demand Proof of Illness?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Sept. 25, 2010

Question: Is it legal for a professor to ask me for a doctor's note or a copy of a medication being prescribed for a health issue that caused me to miss one class?

This is a good question but a tough one to answer. Most universities allow professors to set their own class-attendance policies. However, if your reason for missing a class is connected to a medical condition or disability, the professor cannot require a specific explanation of your absence (i.e., he or she cannot request the details of your health condition but can expect verification that your absence should be excused for health reasons). So, as you can see, there's some gray area here between what the prof can demand and what you should feel obligated to provide.

At many universities, a one-time absence falls under the rubric of the Honor System ... that is, the professor will not expect proof of the illness unless it persists through three or more classes. However, professors typically do have some leeway when it comes to setting their own policies on absentees.

Since you may encounter this situation again during your college career, I suggest that you check your student handbook to see if there are rules in place that govern the reporting of an absence to a faculty member. If the handbook is confusing ... or if it's too much of a treasure hunt to find the information you need ... ask an academic dean. If the dean isn't helpful or the response doesn't satisfy you, try the disabilities coordinator at your school (even if you don't have a disability). Most colleges have someone in this role, although their titles may vary. Ask about college policy regarding reporting absences due to medical conditions.

Since few students make it through four years of college without skipping some classes for illness, and since it sounds like at least one faculty member at your school is a stickler for attendance, you would be wise to find out about the guidelines at your school. If you anticipate ongoing absences due to your health issue-- even just sporadic ones--you might want to ask your physician for a generic note that simply says that you are being treated and may occasionally be unable to attend class. This doesn't give up very much and may keep the pickiest profs off your back.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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