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An Unconventional Road to Oxford Graduation

By Amy Ellis Winter

Now entering my third year at Oxford, I haven’t had the easiest University experience. During my first 2 years here, I had a long struggle, (like many others) to gain an ADHD diagnosis which finally came through in October 2023, and I spent a large portion of my time in and out of hospital and GP offices with an undiagnosed severe abdominal pain.


The Diagnosis


Prior to receiving any diagnosis, I was fortunate that my personal tutor, along with many other tutors, was very sympathetic to my condition and a great support in my move to go part-time. Another tutor, was more reluctant to make my classes accessible until I had an official diagnosis (which for any of you who have been following Tilly’s story know can be incredibly hard to come by!), thus setting me back in my degree. Fortunately, my personal tutor and my GP both encouraged my ‘part-time’ application, and over the summer of 2023, I was diagnosed with endometriosis. As anyone who has endometriosis, or knows someone who has it will know, there is no specific cure  - it can be genetic and later require surgery if it becomes severe (life-threatening) - and the hardest part of all is gaining the diagnosis as conditions such as PCOS and endo are often labelled “just period cramps” or misdiagnosed.


What is Part-Time Study?


The truth is, ‘part-time study’ isn’t actually quite what it says on the label. In my case, I am still a full-time undergraduate student at Oxford and I still attend all my required classes, tutorials and lectures (with some available online if I can’t physically attend.) To be clear, I get the exact same number of classes and tutorials as everyone else - no more and no less. The ‘part-time’ aspect is simply an extension of study.

I am allowed to split my final year over two as to lessen the potential impact of my condition on my final exams. English Language and Literature at Oxford is made up of 7 final exams; 4 sit down papers, a portfolio, coursework and your dissertation. I have chosen to do 2 of my sit down exams this year (I selected my hardest 2), and the following 2 next year along with my 3 longer projects. Meeting all of the requirements for this is a long and tiring process - in my case it took about a year to be officially approved and for all of the necessary paperwork to be signed by my college, faculty and the university. *Not every student is offered the opportunity to split their finals, and the structure of part-time study will differ on a case by case basis.


Breaking Down the Taboo


There are many taboos surrounding alternative routes to completing your degree and I have heard some unfortunate misconceptions about ‘part-time study’ as I have undergone the process myself. Some have claimed that this means you ‘double’ your degree time i.e. 6 years instead of 3 (this rumour made me chuckle a little). Others more ignorantly have expressed that ‘part-time study’ is for those “too lazy to do the work.” I want to assure you that if you are undertaking part-time study, are considering it, or have suffered from difficulties with your mental or physical health whilst at Oxford, that this is blatantly untrue. To prove this I will list some of the requirements that I personally had to meet:




In the case of myself (and 4 other Undergrad students I know of taking this route), ‘part-time study’ wouldn’t have been an option had my grades not been high enough. It is far easier for colleges to tell a student to rusticate. But when your academic performance has been high, rustication isn’t justifiable. There is absolutely no shame in rustication, as it can be an excellent opportunity to clear your head and come back stronger, but for those whose condition won’t necessarily improve, and yet have been performing to a high standard, then rustication won’t solve anything. There were no worries from academics with the quality of my work, but my ability to attend classes, lectures and work consistently was made difficult by my physical condition.


Personal Circumstances


The sad reality is that the ability to experience misfortune doesn’t magically end when you get to University. Following a diagnosis for anxiety in first year, I then had multiple bereavements and spent a large amount of my time searching for diagnoses’ or a cure to help with the physical pain I was experiencing. Part-time study isn’t easy to obtain, there often have to be multiple debilitating circumstances for the colleges, faculties and university proctors to reach a unanimous agreement on what should be done - occasionally consulting a GP. But it can be an absolute life-saver for those of us who have proven to be more than capable of performing to Oxford’s high standard, but find ourselves in difficult circumstances beyond our control.


How I Secured Part Time Study


Ironically, much like anyone who has endometriosis will know, the hardest part was convincing my college to believe that ‘part-time study’ existed. I found little information during the initial stages of my investigation into some miracle way to balance my health and remain doing a degree that I love. But, by pure chance, a friend of mine met a part-time undergrad at a party - he briefly mentioned that he had been able to extend his undergrad another year for personal reasons. This exchange, no matter how vague, was enough for me to have hope. I raised it with my college and was immediately shut down, told it didn’t exist and that I was mistaken. I was determined not to give up and something inside me told me to keep on trying; that’s when I stumbled across this article:,place%20for%20me%20were%20working. 


I had struck gold. There it was in front of me, black and white proof that I wasn’t going insane, and better yet I read this “if you were trying to find out if part-time was possible at Oxford University, it wouldn’t be surprising if you came to the conclusion that part-time study was simply impossible for undergraduate students.” I no longer felt alone. With this article in hand, I went back to my college and with the full support of my tutor and GP. After presenting my evidence, the college acknowledged that ‘part-time study’ was a viable method of study, but as it’s largely unspoken of they weren’t very well informed about its existence in the Blue Book. From there the college took care of the rest on my behalf.


Cambridge advertises Part Time Study, so why don’t we?


Cambridge University has a word for going part-time with your studies, ‘double-time’ and it’s advertised on their Student Union website. So why doesn’t Oxford? I know I’m not an exception by any means. Every student I know of who is currently in this method of study, has also initially been informed by their respective colleges that it ‘doesn’t exist.’ One student had to read the entire Blue Book to eventually find a section proving that it is in fact a university approved route through an undergrad degree. My hope is that part-time study becomes a greater discussed option for undergraduates with disabling illnesses. No one who has worked extremely hard to get here should have to experience the heartbreak of having it taken away from them by illness or circumstances beyond their control.


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