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How to Cancel a Class Without Upsetting Students

Nic Lyons

March 21, 2022

Sometimes you have to cancel a class. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s one you’re almost certain to face at some point. Maybe the instructor got sick or the weather isn’t cooperating. Sometimes enrollment for the class is low and you can’t justify holding the session. Whatever the reason, you want to cancel the class without upsetting students who have already enrolled. 

You might worry that disappointed students will seek out classes elsewhere. They might think your program is not dependable and hesitate to register again. You can minimize the impact of class cancelations by applying the four tips in this post. Plus, we’ve included a class canceled email template to help you write that tricky message. 

Deciding When to Cancel Class

Canceling a class isn’t a decision you make lightly. You’ve made a commitment to students and instructors. Even so, sometimes it’s obvious that a class has to be canceled. If the instructor is sick or the roof caved in, you have to cancel and students are likely to be understanding. 

Screenshot of how to cancel a class on the CourseStorm platform

However, with online classes so readily available, students may be less accepting of weather cancelations. Before canceling an in-person class due to weather or other physical circumstances, consider whether it’s possible to switch to an online session. If you’re not already set up to offer online class sessions, it’s time to make that investment, even if you only use it as a backup plan. 

Perhaps the most difficult scenario is low enrollment. You have to weigh the cost of offering the class against the potential disappointment of those who have already enrolled. In the following cases it can be worthwhile to run a class session with low enrollment:

  • You own or have a long-term rental on your education space
  • The instructor is an employee who would be paid regardless
  • Materials have already been purchased and can’t be reused

In these cases, you may not save much by canceling. Even if you don’t break even, keeping enrolled students happy may be worth the cost of running the class. If the cost-benefit calculation works out in favor of class cancelation, the following tips can make the situation easier to handle. 

Have a Cancelation Policy

A clear and accessible cancelation policy can help students accept your choice to cancel their class. Often we think of cancelation policies as a way to set boundaries around when and how students can cancel their attendance in a class without being charged. These policies are also useful for outlining the factors that might influence you to cancel a class. 

Include language that explains why classes could be canceled. Tell students how you plan to notify them of cancelations. Include your rescheduling and refund policy as well. You can add these as links or as PDFs attached to your course registration form. Even if the student doesn’t closely read this policy at enrollment, it can make your decisions seem less arbitrary and more understandable. 

Let Students Know if a Class is in Danger

A storm is coming, the instructor has the sniffles, you only have three students signed up for the class. Don’t wait, let students know the class is in danger of being canceled. In the case of a storm or instructor illness, you might offer an alternative date in case the class needs to be postponed. 

How to cancel a class with CourseStorm software.

For low enrollment situations, letting students know can mobilize them to act. They might stage their own low enrollment intervention and invite friends, family, and coworkers to help fill out your roster. Who knows, those last-minute sign-ups could turn into lifelong students.

Offer Alternatives for Students Enrolled in Canceled Classes

“Class is canceled, here’s your refund” feels like the end of the conversation. Keep students engaged by offering them alternatives. You may already know that you plan to reschedule the class. If so, ask if they’d like to transfer their enrollment to that session. The new date might not work for their schedule or you may need time to pick a new date. In that case, offer to put them on a waiting list so they’re pre-registered for the next session. You might even add them to an early notice mailing list, so they have a chance to register before the next class is formally announced. 

You can also offer alternatives in the form of other related classes. Are there other sessions the student might be interested in? 

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Give Students Options for a Refund or Credit

Students don’t want to pay for classes they didn’t take. If you cancel a class, offer them a refund, or the opportunity to apply that payment toward the cost of a future class. These options should be outlined in your refund policy, but mention them again in your class canceled email. You’ll find a template in the section below. 

If you’re feeling particularly generous or just want to make the extra effort to keep students happy, you can offer a promo code for a future class. It’s not essential, and students probably won’t expect it, but it can help you build some goodwill after the disappointment of a canceled class. 

Class Canceled Email Template

Writing a class canceled email is never easy, but this template can make it a little simpler. 





Dear [Student], 

We have made the difficult decision to cancel [Class name] class scheduled for [date/time/location]. Unfortunately, [a storm is coming/the instructor is ill/we do not have enough students to fill the class.] While we know this is disappointing, we hope to see you at a future [program or organization name] class soon.

What happens next

Per our cancelation policy {link to policy}, we will offer a refund or credit toward a future class. Please email and let us know whether you would prefer a credit or refund. If we do not hear from you in the next 48 hours, we will process a refund to the card you used to register. It should arrive in your account within 7 business days. 

Other classes you might like

We hope you will consider applying your credit toward another [subject area] class in our catalog. Here are a few we think you might like: 

  • Class 1
  • Class 2
  • Class 3

Thank you for your understanding. If you have any questions about this class cancelation or the status of your refund, respond to this email or call [phone number].

Best wishes,

[name of program director]






Download all of our program communication email templates

Tips for Writing a Class Canceled Email

When writing a class canceled email your number one priority is to be clear. You want students to know the class is canceled. Next, you want to manage their expectations. Keep it as short as possible, but follow these guidelines: 

  • Be specific – Mention the date, time, and name of the class in question. That way students won’t confuse it with other classes they may be taking.
  • Be sincere – Overly flowery or apologetic language may come across as fake. Apologize for the cancelation, but don’t make a fuss about it.
  • Give a reason – People feel better when they understand the reasoning. Let them know why the class was canceled.
  • Mention options – Let them know what options they have for rescheduling or getting a refund. Refer to your published policies where possible.
  • Provide contact information – Students may still have questions. Tell them how they can best contact you.
  • Use a clear subject line – Include the title of your class and the word canceled somewhere in your subject line. You don’t want students to think it’s just another marketing email.

Communicate With Students

Nobody wants to cancel a class, but doing so doesn’t have to be a disaster. It can be an opportunity to connect with students and maybe even a chance to evaluate your class offerings. CourseStorm makes registration, student communication, and yes, even cancelations, impossibly simple. Start your free trial now or contact us for more information. 

Nic Lyons

Nic is skilled in scaling start-up edtech and education organizations to growth-stage success through innovative marketing. A former journalist and copywriter, Nic holds a postgraduate certificate in digital and print publishing from Columbia University School of Journalism's publishing course.

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