For the last three years, my policy on extensions for papers in class has been that students can request an extension of 1-3 days as long as they make the request at least 24 hours before the paper deadline. All requests are granted, no questions asked. In my experience, 5-20% of students will ask for an extension, depending on the class and the difficulty of the paper.
This policy serves student needs because it allows flexibility. Students have busy lives and are taking classes that have various deadlines and workloads. I design my schedule to meet my needs, not theirs, so inevitably there will be conflict. Since I never grade every paper the same day it’s due, so it does not hurt me to have some papers turned in later. That flexibility can be enormously helpful for students, though.
I don’t ask for documentation because I grant all the extension requests and I don’t want to have to wade through excuses and determine which are more worthy. A student perpetually has a sick cat? What about the student who has never shown up to class? What about the A-student who just needs a few extra days? To me, they all have particular circumstances that I may not be able to fully appreciate. Allowing flexibility can meet all their needs without my bias coming in, and students never have the opportunity to accuse me of being unfair. At the same time, if a student doesn’t feel comfortable sharing their challenges with me, they don’t have to.
This policy still requires a high degree of accountability from students. They have to realize that they will need extra time and make the request far in advance of when the paper is due. So the students working on the paper at the very last minute can’t take advantage of this policy.
Ultimately, I don’t believe this policy has a big impact on the quality of the papers. An extra day or two will not dramatically change the quality of the average student’s work, especially for papers take weeks to prepare anyway. But this policy could make the biggest difference for the student who has a true emergency. Overall, though, the impact of this policy is that it makes my class more sensitive to student needs and inclusive of everyone’s life circumstances.