College Attendance Policies May Accommodate Job Hunting Students

But some professors say class is not the time for students to be interviewing for jobs.

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The attendance policy at Georgia Southern University is so strict that students can't even miss the first session of a class for their own wedding without being forced to drop the course. The only excused absences the school extends for the first day of class are for serious illness, military order, or loss of an immediate family member—and even then, students need to cough up a doctor's note, the military summons, or copy of an obituary. 

Another commitment that the school also won't usually excuse is a job interview. As students are intensifying their hunts for jobs or internships this spring, this invites a question that is larger than just one school's attendance policy. If one of the main reasons students attend colleges and universities is to strategically position themselves for gainful employment, does it make sense for them to forgo interviews to attend class? 

Frederick Ringwald, professor of physics at California State University—Fresno, thinks forcing students to make that choice is unreasonable. The syllabus for Ringwald's spring 2012 course, Light and Modern Physics, states that job interviews are sufficient grounds for exemptions from even the midterm exams.

"I put the provision for job interviews onto my syllabus, because one of the main benefits of taking my classes is that students can learn things that enable them to get jobs. It's only fair not to penalize students if they have job interviews," he says.

[Read three tips for students to ace job fairs.]

In Ringwald's 13 years of teaching, no student has ever asked for an excused absence for a job interview. But that hasn't been the experience of Robert Dean, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Auburn University in Alabama.

Dean states on his syllabi that job interviews can constitute excused absences and students can make up homework, exams, or quizzes from classes missed for interviews. One course that Dean has taught, Solid State Sensors, tends to be made up of seniors and graduate students, so one or two students miss each class for interviews. 

Allison Hoyt, a fifth-year senior majoring in mining engineering at Virginia Tech, estimates that she has had about 40 job interviews as a student at Virginia Tech. She typically tries to schedule interviews on holiday breaks or in between classes, so only about a quarter of the phone and in-person interviews have occurred during class. 

Most of Hoyt's mining professors announced at the beginning of the semester that they wanted students to have internship experience, so they would tolerate absences for interviews. But when she traveled with some classmates to Illinois for on-site interviews, some of her peers were told by their professor—who isn't in the mining department—that their interviews weren't legitimate grounds for making up missed exams.

[Learn how to avoid negative thoughts when job hunting.]

Hoyt advises students to notify professors at the beginning of the semester that their job hunt may require that they miss class. "Professors appreciate knowing this, especially since some classes have students ranging from freshmen to seniors—where freshmen don't typically interview, but seniors are looking for permanent employment," she says.

Students should also remind the professor about their previous correspondence a few days before the interview, Hoyt advises. "E-mailing again will be a friendly reminder and inform them of an exact day you will be missing," she says. "This way, you can be notified of what you will be missing while not in class."

Beverly Lorig, director of career services at Washington and Lee University, agrees that students should communicate with faculty members about their job hunting needs early on in the semester—an approach that she refers to as "court the faculty."

"No faculty member wants to feel that a student considers his or her course to be of less interest than getting a job," Lorig says. "Faculty can be an interesting challenge for students engaged in an active job search. Some have attendance policies that they adhere to religiously—a big ouch for the job seeker!"