My experience of extenuating circumstances at university

Student holding notebook to chest outside.

Eleanor shares her experience of applying for an ECF and the support she received during her studies.

  • 13 January 2022
  • 5 min read

My name is Eleanor and I am a third-year student studying Sociology and Criminology. Applying for extenuating circumstances is something I am really familiar with, as sometimes I struggle to manage my mental health. 

Having to complete deadlines on time alongside coping with anxiety and looking after myself has been challenging at times. With the supportive extenuating circumstances procedure at the University of Portsmouth, I have been able to do my best in my assessments without being held back by circumstances beyond my control, and have been able to grow as a person, no matter what has been going on in my personal life.

If you’re wondering how to get the extra support you need to complete your assessments alongside any personal struggles you may be facing, I hope to offer you some advice based on my own experiences and remind you that it is always okay to reach out for support. 

What is an extenuating circumstances form (ECF)? 

Extenuating Circumstances are short term circumstances that relate to your health and/or personal matters which have prevented or will prevent you from completing or submitting an assessment artefact on time. These circumstances must be sufficiently serious to be considered for an ECF. 

You can submit an ECF if you have not submitted an assessment artefact, have not attempted an assessment artefact, or have been unable to finish an exam. 

What are considered extenuating circumstances? 

There are a range of circumstances that can allow you to qualify for an ECF. 

Some of these include:

  • Illness - This can be an acute illness of less than 5 working days or extended illness of more than 5 working days.
  • Bereavement - Death of member of family, partner, or close friend on or close to the date the assessment artefact was due.
  • Domestic and/or Personal Problems - Significant problems in the student’s domestic or personal circumstances that have prevented the student’s attendance on the date the assessment artefact was due to be undertaken or submitted.

The University provides an extensive criteria where you can check whether your personal circumstance would be valid for an ECF.

How to start the process of getting an extenuating circumstances form: 

To start the process, I first looked on the University of Portsmouth website at the extenuating circumstances page to get guidance and general information on what an ECF is, and what the valid reasons are to apply. I also spoke to my personal tutor to get advice and ask for a written note to use as supporting evidence. 

I was immediately offered extensive support from the Health and Wellbeing Support Service such as well-being workshops and courses including Talking Change which really helped me to change the way I think about stress and anxiety through talking therapy. 

What information do you need to include in an extenuating circumstances form?

From my experience, I needed to provide a supporting statement from my personal tutor in the ECF form. It is really important to let your personal tutor know about any difficulties you are facing so they can write about how they have been made aware of what you are going through, and how it is impacting your academic studies. This is a really easy way to get the evidence you need for the form and open up to your personal tutor so they can offer you a listening ear and direct you to any other support services you may need. 

Depending on your personal circumstance, providing a doctor’s note is also a good form of evidence to support your application for the ECF. 

How long did it take to get an extenuating circumstances form? 

Applying for the ECF and receiving the confirmation can be a relatively quick process. From my experience, receiving an agreed statement for my ECF took around 10 working days. This was reassuring as it gave me confidence that I had the extra time I needed to complete my assessments to the best of my ability. It is always best to start the process at the earliest possible date rather than later to allow for enough time for the ECF to be processed. I was kept up to date with the progress of the form which also put my mind at ease. 

What do I do if I am struggling during my studies? 

My one piece of advice to you is this: Always reach out to the support services available to you and never suffer in silence. Take a deep breath and don’t panic. There are people at the university who will  help you get through your studies no matter what life throws at you. It is scary trying to juggle personal struggles alongside your academic studies but never feel ashamed to talk to your personal tutor or the University Wellbeing Service — they are here to support you and offer advice. 

Remind yourself that many personal struggles are temporary, and there are a range of options available to help you get through and carry on studying for the degree you are passionate about. Applying for an ECF may feel daunting at first and you may feel anxious about starting the process, but hopefully this blog has reassured you that you can get the support you need to thrive at university. 

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