Do you actually have to miss class?
You have another class or meeting
Some students panic when another instructor schedules an extra workshop over one of their regular classes or they are told they have a mandatory meeting (for example, for all international students, students with financial aid, etc.) Quite simply, your regular class normally takes priority. All you have to do is explain to the other instructor or to the person in charge of the meeting that you have class. In most cases, the instructor will reschedule your workshop and the meeting organizer will tell you class is more important than a meeting (and you may be able to get the same information in an email anyway). If you cannot get out of these obligations, tell the instructor of your class that you tried and were told you have to attend said workshop/meeting. Your instructor might send an email on your behalf because they will probably not be pleased that someone else is cutting into their class time. Or, you may have to choose: is class or a meeting more important to you?
You have a club or sorority event
You’re in college to learn and your classes take priority over your extra-curriculars. If you tell your professor you are missing class or leaving early for an event like this, they will probably tell you that you can choose to do this, but they are sticking to their attendance policy. So you will have to decide if you’re willing to lose points or be marked absent so you can go to your event. Keep in mind that you don’t want to risk your grades for something like a sorority, however. You don’t want to discover, for example, that you lost your scholarship because you didn’t maintain a high enough GPA, and you don’t want that instructor to think you don’t care about their class because one day you might want a recommendation letter from them.
You think it’s unsafe to travel.
Maybe it’s sleeting and the school didn’t cancel classes, but you think the roads are too dangerous to drive on. Don’t go to class. Your instructor should care about your safety and if you email them ahead of time to inform them that you think travelling is unsafe, they should accept your judgment. They may inform you that you will still be marked absent but, in a case like this, you should prioritize your physical safety.
You are sick, have a medical emergency, a family matter, etc.
Yes, you can miss class. Your professor understands and will not be upset. In fact, they probably don’t want you spreading your illness to the rest of the class and would prefer you stay home, anyway.
You Will Miss Class
Informing the Instructor
If you will just miss one day because you have a cold or something, you probably don’t need to tell the instructor, especially if you have unexcused absences you have not yet used. You can just miss class and get notes from your friend if it’s a lecture, or you can email the instructor to ask if there is any work you will miss and need to complete. The instructor will likely not email you to tell you you missed work; it’s up to you to figure out what you need to complete.
If you anticipate extended absences because of an injury, illness, or family matter, inform the instructor and ask what work you need to complete. Also inquire if you can get an extension for any work if you think you’ll need one. In fact, even if you don’t think you need one, you might want to ask for one anyway. It’s better to turn in an assignment early than late. And you don’t have to go into detail about your circumstances. You can say you’re sick or having surgery or have to tend to family matters. You have a right to privacy and the instructor doesn’t need to know why you’re going to the hospital. However, keep in mind that some instructors require documentation for an extended absence so you might have to ask for a note from your doctor.
You Missed Class and you weren’t expecting it
So you took a nap at 2:00 p.m. and somehow slept through your 5:00 class. If you have unexcused absences you have not yet used, you don’t need to tell your instructor this. You can let them assume you were ill or whatever instead of admitting that you did something kind of silly. It’s not likely they will care where you are or ask. You can just email another student in the class or an instructor to find out what you missed. If you missed something like a lab, you may have more trouble making up your work, but if you email the instructor hopefully you will be able to work something out.