3 minute read

4 Things You Need To Know about Extenuating Circumstances



We all have times at uni where we wish we’d managed our time better, or taken the time to eat well so we didn’t spend a week fighting off a seasonal sniffle.

However, sometimes bad stuff happens that is totally out of our control. While this isn’t a fun topic to discuss, it’s better to know the lay of the land before you find yourself in these stressful situations. Severe illness, bereavement, eviction, being a victim of crime and flare-ups of longterm illnesses are all examples of serious things that could prevent us from getting to our exams or meeting coursework deadlines and are referred to as ‘extenuating circumstances’ by universities.

Unfortunately, missing your bus or misreading your deadline because you were distracted by your cousin’s best friend’s dog’s wedding doesn’t count!


Who can claim?

These policies for extenuating circumstances are for students who miss exams, fail to submit coursework or send it in late, or perform poorly in their exams and assignments because of unpreventable, extreme circumstances outside of their control.

The rules and processes for these claims are very strict to keep it fair for every student - would you want your course-mate to be forgiven for missing a deadline because of a hangover when you missed yours because your appendix burst? Every university is different and you will often find that the information on their website or in the student handbook doesn’t cover your specific circumstances, so you’ll need to contact your university’s advice centre before you proceed.


What can I get?

The results of successful claims vary: sometimes you’ll get an extension on coursework, sometimes you’ll be able to resit the exam, and sometimes the examiners will just go easy on you when marking your work.

Unfortunately, it isn’t a free pass and you won’t be able to have your grade extrapolated based on previous progress. You will have to do the work at some point, when you are able to.


What are the requirements?

Universities have strict requirements for approving claims of extenuating circumstances. The circumstances must be severe and unpreventable, and you must have evidence to prove this.

A good rule of thumb for illness or injury (including mental illness or flare-ups of existing long-term conditions) is if it was severe enough for you to be hospitalised, it counts, but this will depend on your university and individual circumstances. For bereavement, usually only members of your immediate family are counted, unless you can prove that you were severely affected by the person’s passing, and it’s often required that the bereavement happened within a month of your deadline or exam.

For everything else, the circumstances must be beyond your control and unpreventable. For example, eviction is sometimes considered an extenuating circumstance because you generally have no warning, but moving house is not because you should have planned your academic commitments around it.

Losing your memory stick is not counted because you should have had a backup, but a days-long crash of the entire university network will usually be accepted.


What will I need?

You will need to supply evidence to support your claim. This must be detailed, from the time of the event and from an independent party, so a sick note from your mum scrawled on the back of a napkin two weeks after your illness isn’t going to cut it.

Illnesses and injuries must be backed up with doctors notes or hospital reports; bereavements with a death certificate; crimes with police reports (not just the reference number); and natural disasters/unpreventable transport issues (such as severe transport disruption caused by a blizzard) by news reports.

In cases of illness, you must seek medical attention while you are still ill so that you can prove you’re not faking it! Going to the doctor after you recover and getting a retrospective note is often not accepted. Chances are, if your illness is severe enough to count as extenuating circumstances, you’ll need to see a doctor anyway, but this is still necessary for things like migraines or severe vomiting on the day of an exam that you would usually treat at home.

This is another reason why you should register with a GP as soon as you move to a new area - you don’t want to lack evidence of your unfortunately-timed norovirus because the doctor wouldn’t see you until the administrators had spent a fortnight processing your medical history!

Supporting documents and statements from your course tutors are acceptable too, but they will often require evidence before they can issue these. Your tutors will also be reluctant to support your claim if you weren’t ontrack before the event happened, especially if it was a longer-term issue that they had no knowledge of.

The thing to take away from all of this scary info is that it isn’t the end of your university experience if an emergency happens.

If it is a genuine issue, the staff are likely to do what they can to help you. You’re paying a lot of money to be there and it’s in the university’s best interest for you to succeed.


#1 You must check your individual university’s and department’s policies.

#2 Your evidence must be obtained at the time of the issue.

#3 You must apply as soon as possible.

#4 Your circumstances must be severe, unpreventable and outside of your control.

#5 You must have evidence to support your claim.

#6 Your evidence must be obtained at the time of the issue.