Late Assignment

A student, who was absent most of the semester, recently asked me if she could turn in her final paper four days late. She said she had been overwhelmed with other finals and so was only starting to write the paper. This was my response.
I'm sad that you missed most of the semester. I would've loved to have heard your input on the variety of topics that we discussed. But I understand that there may be multiple reasons why a student is absent, so I'm not judging you negatively.

Regarding your paper, I am willing to accept it, but there would be a penalty--specifically, if you were to turn it in today, you'd get a D. That, in turn, would give you a D- for the class.

I'm not sure if that'd be worth it to you. If not, then I'd recommend taking ethics again. I think everyone would benefit from such a class. 
Saying that I'd accept a paper but give it a D may seem odd, so I want to explain my reasoning. Turning in a final paper four days late without a good reason and without a severe penalty is a lot to ask. Saying that you were overwhelmed with other finals is not a good reason. Responsible students need to manage their time. Furthermore, it's common for teachers to take off one letter grade per late day, which I find to be a suitable penalty. Given that I would've only taken off three letter grades for a four-day late paper, I would've actually been more lenient.

If the student had good reason to get an extension, then she should've asked for one before the deadline. Then, she would've at least given off the impression that she was a thoughtful and responsible student, instead of a lazy and irresponsible one, one who forgot about the final and so is scrambling to get something turned in. Of course, I don't know her well enough to judge her character, but I'm also not naive. I know some students don't care about learning.

Another factor that influenced, though did not determine, my decision was that getting such a low grade would likely force her to retake ethics, and I thought that was good. Ethics is a very important class for people to take, because it's about how to be a good human being. While I do not think that people would otherwise be evil, it's nonetheless valuable to learn how to think about the right things in the right way, which is something students learn in ethics.

But why didn't I just say that I wouldn't accept it? The reason is threefold: (1) I generally want students to do the work, even if they turn it in late. Doing the work forces them to think about the content of the class. (2) The student asked me close enough after the deadline for me to be willing to accept it with a penalty. And (3), I'm not sure what getting a D- means for undergrads here. I think they'll likely have to retake the class, but I'm not sure. Perhaps they can still get credit for it, or they can choose to take a different class to satisfy the requirement. By saying that I'd be willing to accept the paper, I possibly gave her more choices.