Thinking through an Exceptional Circumstances application

This page will not tell you all the technical details you need to know in order to make a successful application – see the University's Exceptional Circumstances Procedure itself for that sort of information. What we set out to do here is to introduce you to the ideas behind the system and help you think of a good case to put forward.

In short, the system is there for when an event you could not prevent has impacted on your studies; and you've not been able to catch up despite making every attempt to do so; meaning your assessments have been affected.

One very important thing is: talk to your tutor as soon as you know there's an issue. If there's a way to stay on track, your tutor can help find it. If there isn't a way to stay on track, your tutor's support will probably help your Exceptional Circumstances application.

We suggest thinking about:

1. Could you have seen the problem coming?

If it couldn’t be foreseen or prevented, that helps your case. So, a good case could be things like spending a month in hospital after a car accident or a relative suddenly passing away. However, it doesn’t “poison” an application if you could see a problem coming: for example, it’s still worth applying if you knew a relative was terminally ill for some time. The point is that you could not avoid your course being affected.

Not sure how best to present things to best help your case? Ask our advice.

2. Whose fault (if anyone’s) was the problem?

If a problem’s your own fault (like enrolling on a course knowing you don’t have the money to pay for it, or your ten year old PC crashing with your entire un-backed-up dissertation on it, or getting imprisoned for fraud, or oversleeping) then it’s not an Exceptional Circumstance. Things that are someone else’s fault (like being mugged) or are nobody’s fault (like widespread flooding) are much better cases. Many problems are a mix of “my fault” and “someone else’s/nobody’s fault”. Emphasise how the elements that were not your fault affected things along with what you did to try and correct your own mistakes.

Not sure how to present things to best help your case? Ask our advice.

3. Do the dates match up?

If a problem crops up in September and is resolved in October, this won’t extenuate for an August submission (August was the month before the problem arose) and usually wouldn’t extenuate for work you submit in January (a long time after the problem) unless you can justify a link (like “I am still traumatised”) and explain why you couldn't catch up on missed academic work (like "I am still on medication that affects my cognition").

Can't work out how to relate what happened to your assessments? Ask our advice.

4. Does the scale of problem match the scale of your claim?

A problem that lasted a day wouldn’t usually explain work being a week late. A single missed lecture in early October wouldn’t usually extenuate for performance being affected on a January assessment (see point 3 about timings). Have a sense of proportion when making an application – even if you have difficult circumstances, you are expected to do whatever work you can manage as well and as promptly as you can.

5. Can you evidence the problem?

Your application will need evidence. Evidence from an official agency that has helped you with the situation would be best. This means things like: GP/counsellor for health; police for assaults; fire brigade for fires; death certificate or funeral notice or order of service for bereavements; and so on. Try to evidence both the event and its effect on you (e.g. for a bereavement, both a funeral order of service and a supporting letter from a counsellor would be ideal).

Short of evidence? Speak with us - we might be able to think of more people or agencies that could support your application.

That’s the theory. For more information on technicalities and deadlines see the University's full Exceptional Circumstances Procedure.

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