Fear of/ambivalence towards university?

(29 Posts)
Year11mum Mon 10-Jun-13 12:09:33

(I'm a Year 12 mum now, just not changed name --for a whole year--)

I'd be grateful for thoughts and advice please.

A bit of family background - DD1 never in any doubt about going to university, handled the whole process herself with school, arranged and attended open days on her own and basically told DH and I where she'd applied to once the UCAS form had been submitted. I only saw her Personal Statement when she cleared out her room last year and tossed over a copy she found in a pile of paper. She went to Oxford and graduated last year. Loved it and now doing an MA at UCL.
DS1 two years later again treated university as an obligatory next stage in his education, didn't go to any open days and was happy to choose universities which offered his preferred course, which was a fairly limited number. Because I insisted he did go to two post offer open days, albeit complaining bitterly. He has just completed his second year at Durham reading PPE and is very happy.

And now it is the turn of DD2. She has had a tougher time than DD1 and DS1 at school ( she has had CFS for the last four years). She goes to a different school than DD1 and DS1, and her school seems to take a much pushier approach towards the university application process, holding talks and sending emails and chasing up on open day plans. It is relentless.

DD2's CFS has brought with it anxiety issues as well as the overriding fatigue and "fogginess" which makes many challenges seem insurmountable. She doesn't share the same excitement of her friends at the thought of university and seems to want to bury her head in the sand and hope all the decisions she is expected to make will somehow go away. At the weekend she said "she knows she has to go" but doesn't want to think about it. I wondered if a Gap year would help, allowing her to concentrate on her A2s this coming academic year, lift the pressure of wider reading and aptitude tests and interviews and give her the chance to recover from her CFS before starting uni. She says she doesn't want to do this. I think the effort of opting out of the conveyor belt process is itself too much for her to contemplate.

Sorry this is long. Any thoughts or ideas?

I don't have any experience of CFS, so sorry if this isn't helpful, but do you think she is even up to getting the most out of university anyway? Specially if she'd be looking at moving out to go into halls. Is university even the right choice for her? It sounds like she has got it into her head that she "must" go to university because her older siblings did, and because the school assumes they will, not because she has any actual interest in it.

Could you sit her down and actually say that she doesn't have to go to uni at all, and certainly not this year. She/you could look into a college course for the coming year if that would feel better than having nothing planned.

Year11mum Mon 10-Jun-13 12:57:50

Thanks AMum...the bit I forgot to mention is that she has always wanted to be a doctor so that is why she "must" go to university. Maybe it's the realisation that she is unlikely to succeed in getting a place, (only 40% of applicants do) let alone keeping up with the most relentless workload once there, that is causing her to stall.
DH and I ( and the other DCs) all suggest maybe thinking of another subject ( probably Biology or similar) and then there's always the option of graduate entry medicine if she still wants to follow that dream. But she hasn't wanted to look into that idea.
I certainly feel very strongly she shouldn't apply at all this year, for any subject, and she can take stock after A2 levels, with the benefit of a summer holiday behind her.(The one thing she doesn't need is disappointment and extra stress while trying to work for her A2s as well.) Away from school there won't be the peer pressure and expectation of university applications and you're right, there could be something else entirely that she might like to do then. Or at the very least she would hopefully feel better and more confident about starting at uni if she decides to stay on that path.

mummytime Mon 10-Jun-13 13:16:24

What has she done towards studying medicine? What kind of work experience?

In your circumstances I would lay off any pressure. Let her apply if she wants to/school pressurise her to, but keep up the "you can change your mind, take time out to think" message in the background.
To be honest she doesn't sound that committed and if she is not well medicine is not the best course to take (it is highly pressured and physically demanding). But as you know from your older children they will find their own paths.

I don't know how hard it is to get into a medical degree later, but the workload is likely to be too much if she's still struggling with CFS. And failing a course would probably be much worse than starting later.

Does she respond best to being allowed to make her own choices, or is that too tiring for her at the moment? Normally I'd say at this age it's up to them, but if she finds even deciding not to go too much of a decision to face then it might be better if you found her an alternative and frankly pushed her towards it.

Could you/she get in touch with one of the universities she might consider and ask for advice? Maybe seeing it from their head of admissions might help her to focus. I agree with you that applying this year sounds like a bad idea to me.

Year11mum Mon 10-Jun-13 13:43:19

mummytime last summer DD worked in a GP practice for 10 days and with a consultant oncologist at a cancer hospital for a week, she has been helping out at a residential care home, reading to residents and leading games and quizzes etc most Saturdays this year and in September is due to start volunteering at a local neurological hospital (she was meant to have started earlier this year but the personnel in charge of volunteering changed and a new procedure brought in which has delayed everything by 6 months to allow for training etc). This summer she is doing work experience with a plastic surgeon. Everyone she has spent time with has commented that she's got the right empathy and approach for a doctor ( one said it as the "X factor that can't be taught" - though doubt that would count for anything on a UCAS form!!) Her work experience activities are in effect her extra curriculars - she chooses to go to the care home instead of going out with her friends. Without CFS she would be able to do both the work experience and the socialising.

AMum. Yes, I'll speak to a couple of universities ( interestingly the school's intended approach would be to avoid mentioning her CFS on any application - which strikes me as very odd). I think DD has got so used to driving herself on despite feeling ill and being in pain that she thinks she has to go on doing this. I'd hoped that she'd reach the decision herself to at least delay but you're right, maybe she wants someone else to take charge. At school she's one of the "clever" ones, so I suspect most teachers don't realise the efforts she makes or the anxieties she has...

She's also starting a course of treatment tomorrow with a specialist CFS research unit at Kings College hospital which we hope will help her manage better.

Thanks for letting me sound off here....

UptheChimney Mon 10-Jun-13 14:16:22

At the weekend she said "she knows she has to go"

No-one has to go to university. If they don't want to go, don't know what they want to do there, and are too unwell (or recovering) to go, they should NOT go. No-one should go to university unless that's the only thing they positively want to do: there are enough people who really do want to go who cannot, or don't get the chance.

You may want to examine the family dynamics here, and of course, her health. CFS/ME can be a mental health issue as well as a physical one.

I had a fairly severe illness just before my A levels. I managed, because I really really wanted to, and I knew I wanted to be at a particular university and a particular degree very positively. But I still took a gap year to recover my health, and I took a further gap year in the middle of my degree (well, actually I did 2 UG degrees in the space of 4 years, so I took a gap in the middle of that).

Gap years are excellent.

UptheChimney Mon 10-Jun-13 14:26:05

(oh dear I should RTFT) -- so, she knows the area she wants to work in, and it requires a degree. But the degree she wants to read is very very very difficult to get into, and there WILL be questions asked about her health. The course is a physically rigorous and challenging one.

I often am asked for references for my personal tutees to do PG courses (Masters, PhDs) and there is generally a question about their likely capacity for the rigours of study re health -- and I'm not in a medical field.

This is probably why your daughter's school is not mentioning the CFS -- I think that a medical school would be quite wary of a student not recovered from that illness, as she could have some difficulties in keeping up with the workload and hours, to be honest. And -- before people jump on me -- the DDA requires 'reasonable adjustment' -- and for medicine, that would mean adjustments which enabled her to cover the whole curriculum in a way which would not jeopardise her competence as a medical doctor ... it's a very tricky one. Part-time study would be ideal, but I don't think medical schools do that!

I take your point about the effort involved in stepping off what might feel like the inexorable production line carrying her along. But maybe you could show her that stepping off, taking a break etc, might be better than being pushed off by what she might perceive as 'failure'? Which wouldn't help her health, either mental or physical.

UptheChimney Mon 10-Jun-13 14:27:01

Better to jump than be pushed, I always think ...

Year11mum Mon 10-Jun-13 14:52:57

Thanks UptheChimney - all valid and interesting points.

I think DD2 so doesn't want to be "different" from her peers (even though she clearly is by reason of her chronic illness) that she has felt it is an easier option to go along with the usual process. Especially since she has for so long wanted to be a doctor which requires following that process. She has got stressed and anxious now the time has come for that process to involve doing things and putting her head above the parapet with a Personal statement/ attending open days/ having mock interviews etc. It all seems overwhelming to me, so goodness knows what it feels like for her. (And I do so wish her school was more like her siblings' schools which seemed to take the whole UCAS process in their stride without stressing the pupils out. It was the different approach adopted by DD1 and DS1 to their uni applications, compared with DD2 which was the point of my opening paragraphs of the original post).

I think I need to get teachers on side to recommend a gap year, and perhaps ask amongst her friends who is thinking of a gap year, so that school ( both staff and friends) understand and accept the idea that she isn't applying this year and can encourage her that that is the right thing to do. If her AS and A2 results are as good as school hopes they'll be, if she can take time to build up her strength ( her doctor has said that at some point DD2 has to make her priority getting better not keeping up at school) then she can apply for uni. Or wait longer. Or do something else. Once she feels better physically she will be in a much better place mentally as well.

It's sods law isn't it that the one DC I have who knows what she wants to do may not be able to do it and says she'll feel she's let herself down if she isn't a doctor, while the older two, who could probably do whatever they wanted do, have no particular career aspirations.

Slipshodsibyl Mon 10-Jun-13 15:54:14

Given the quote from her doctor about having to decide to prioritise getting better over keeping up at school, I think you have your answer. She is already doing a fair amount of demanding volunteering on top of her school work. She can slow down and do it over her gap year instead and have some time to reflect and rest.

TheHonourableAlgyLacey Mon 10-Jun-13 16:07:31

I would:

-be having extremely firm words with the school if they showed signs of bullying rather than supporting her. If they're just trying to push her to help her achieve realistic ambitions, fine. If they're shoving her on to a one-size-fits-all conveyor belt without stopping to think sensitively about her individual aspirations and situation, not fine.

-consider getting her a few therapeutic sessions for her, in case she needs support to slow down a bit and think.

-make sure that she knows that you will support her in trying to achieve her ambitions, while also telling her that she will not have missed the uni boat if she decides to take a gap year and focus on her health and confidence

-point out to her the importance of reaching a place where she is resilient enough to undertake such a challenging course. She could then include a para in her PS talking about her own experience as someone who has conquered a debilitating condition, and what she has learned from it that will be useful to her as a medical student/doctor. It might help her to see that the CFS is something to be reflected upon, something that might actually contribute to her ability to be a good doctor, as opposed to something that the school simply want to pretend doesn't exist.

Haven't read everything here but I think a good plan could be to help her plan for a gap year - she could perhaps do some valuable and interesting volunteer work abroad with a medical related charity, which would give a good "reason" for the gap year before applying for medicine, and could also work well with reducing stress levels and increasing general enthusiasm I think ?
You'd just have to think how she'd cope living abroad and whether you all feel she'd be well enough for this ? Or I'm sure she could also make good use of a gap year mainly in this country.
If you make having a gap year seem like the natural thing to do so she doesn't feel too much pressure of having to decide to do something different ? Could that work ?
Making plans of what to do in a gap year sounds more fun to me than navigating interviews and offers whilst doing A levels !

Copthallresident Sat 15-Jun-13 10:19:50

I would strongly counsel against not providing the contextual information on your DDs illness in her UCAS application, it will enable the uni to put the right support in place and may well support your daughters application since universities will take it into account in evaluating her academic performance, she has experienced disadvantage, and a medic who has themselves experienced chronic illness is going to have greater empathy. In any case do you really want her to get to uni and discover she really can't cope? I speak from experience as DDs school advised her not to include her dyslexia on her UCAS form since she it did not affect her exam performance sufficiently enough to warrant extra time but it has affected her in uni exams and in terms of her assimilating knowledge in lectures. Her schools attitude left her with the perception that it is a dirty secret but i know as an academic that unis are very receptive to understanding the challenges a student faces can also make them into stronger candidates as well as being very proactive in terms of providing support, and i just wish that support had been in place for my DD from the start. Schools are very wrong to endorse the idea that illness or a SLD carries a stigma.

Also in the experience of my DDs peers empathy and a real sense of vocation count for more than academic results in the medic selection process. It has been quite heartening to see that they have recruited the ones you would actually want by your bedside rather than the brilliant A* students. Your DD sounds an excellent candidate.

My DD2 is dyspraxic and gets incredibly anxious during exams and I am absolutely sure she needs a gap year and to apply to uni later to take the pressure off in the A2exams and give her a chance to get her academic ambitions into perspective. She also has the burden of a very academically successful sibling and does feel in her shadow, however hard we try to ensure she realises she isn't and has her own very different strengths and talents. Your DD sounds to be perusing a punishing schedule with her illness, academic, work and medical work experience, she may be a bit burnt out, my DD would not be able to cope with those demands, perhaps she should have a chance to rest and consolidate her achievements over a gap year.

Copthallresident Sat 15-Jun-13 11:53:10

I would add that I think for a 17 year old a year seems a long time and especially when contemplating a 5 year course, can you not engage her older siblings to point out how quickly it goes. My older DDs peers who didn't take a gap year are graduating now, to not much in the way of prospects, even the Oxbridge ones. (DD is a scientist and i think I always knew she was the type who may never leave uni hmm) That has helped convince DD2 that there is no rush. Her medic peers who are embarking on a fourth year all seem to be heading overseas to do electives, so clearly getting similar experience in a gap year would be valuable, and valued.

mumeeee Mon 17-Jun-13 15:44:41

The school are very wrong in telling your DD not to put her illness on her UCAS application. DD3 is Dyspraxic and has other learning difficulties. Her college told her to write about her difficulties in her personal statement and there was also a box on the application to tick if you had a disability. If the universities know about her illness they can put support in place to help her. Also she can apply for Disability Students Allowance . DD3 did this and she has just been for a needs assessment and the assessor has recommended a lot of useful stuff. Your DD could go to university later not everyone goes at 18. In fact DD3 is 21 as because of her learning difficulties she is only now at the stage that she is ready to go to university. She has done a couple of college courses over the years and is off to university in September. Sorry for the long post hope it helps.

Moominmammacat Tue 18-Jun-13 08:13:53

Cannot recommend a gap year enough. My dyspraxic/dyslexic DS had one and it gave him time to work out vital things like bus timetables/where his toothbrush lived. And they have the advantage of applying post-result. Good to get off the treadmill and work out what you really want to do.

And I just think if OP's DD did have a gap year she could use it to do lots of interesting things, such as volunteering abroad or in UK with medical projects. Then she could talk in a variety of ways about the benefits of the year, which could include mentioning living with her CFS, and realising the importance of learning to manage stress, but also gaining a variety of life skills (including developing empathy and maturity) through her experiences.

sashh Wed 19-Jun-13 03:45:05

Gap year, gap year, gap year.

She can concentrate on her health and as you say do lots of interesting things. She can then go to an interview and say 'yes I have CFS but it didn't stop me doing X Y Z'

She might consider taking medicine in another country, no idea if they are more or less rigorous but something to look into.

And, though I don't know, I feel medicine is the sort of thing where a well used gap year could be looked at quite favourably, in terms of gaining useful experience and developing maturity.

guineapiglet Wed 19-Jun-13 10:23:59

Hi - we are going through the same considerations here - my daughter considering applying to University next year, but really wants a gap year for similiar health reasons. Sadly her Chronic Fatigue struck in Year 10 and adversely affected GCSEs, ( She got 11 in the end, but not top grades) - she is flourishing now at a very good 6th Form College, has found subjects she loves and is good at, but still suffering from anxiety and panic and having ongoing supported therapy from the italk team here. We tend to think that a gap year would help her recover herself and restore alot of her strength, but it needs to be focussed and productive.....so waiting for inspiration, have compiled her CV and aim to start planning over the summer. She will also consider her UCAS application for possible deferred entry, and her medical history will be part of this - it is part of who she is, and the fact these children have had to fight so hard to overcome great difficulties should be seen as a strength by Universities, not a weakenss.

However, I worked as a Faculty Officer in a big medical school for some years, medicine is a tough, demanding course, requiring stamina and perseverance, but also the right empathetic and personal qualities. In my time there, I saw quite a few students, pushed into medicine early, burn out and give up the course ( usually at the clinical stages where they really couldn't handle shifts etc) - people who had the right grades at the point of entry, the right work experience and connections etc, -( we managed to find other courses etc for some of them to consider and possibly transfer to, ) - all I guess I am saying it is a long haul for all students, and for some young 18 year old just too demanding. A gap year will give your daughter time to gather her strength, get some experience and hopefully go on to a happy future.
Good Luck smile

guineapiglet Wed 19-Jun-13 10:24:54

weakness

ARegularMNersDaughter Sat 13-Jul-13 19:32:55

As the name suggests, I'm the daughter of a fairly regular MN-ing mum, who's asked me just to offer a personal perspective on this one. I opted to take a gap year prior to applying to medical school, and spent the year working on a neurology unit and LOVED it. I gained a huge amount of confidence and knowledge that you just can't get without being in the hospital environment for an extended period of time, as well as getting to know doctors of all grades, from medical students to consultants. I've now just about finished my fourth year (having been taught by some of the same consultants I used to have cups of tea with on a morning-if that's not a confidence boost I don't know what is!) and I really, honestly and truly don't think I could have made it through such a challenging course without having the skills and confidence I gained on that year. Hope your daughter makes the best move for her.

alreadytaken Sun 14-Jul-13 09:34:10

why has your daughter always wanted to be a doctor and what sort of doctor does she see herself becoming? Many young people see it in an idealistic helping people sort of way and are focused on surgery. Most of them will become gps and they need to think about whether they would also be happy as a gp. She also needs to consider if going to university now will cause long term damage to her health.

Chronic fatigue can be a relapsing illness. Even if she described herself as recovered a medical school might be worried she might relapse and would not last the course. If she has managed to do work experience and gets three A grade projections while ill she is doing very well but I suspect a medical school would want to see her fully recovered before accepting her. If she wasn't open about her health and was offered a place I do not know if it would be removed. She'd have to pass occupational health and it might not be considered professional to have been less than open.

Graduate entry medicine is more competitive than undergraduate medicine and there are some funding issues as it's not a first degree. If she is totally committed to medicine a gap year might be a better choice. There are a couple of courses with some option to transfer e.g. Newcastle Biomedical Science, St George's Biomedical Science, University of Bradford course Foundation in Clinical Sciences (a few transfers to Leeds), the Bradford Clinical Sciences BSc course and at Cardiff they guarantee a medical school interview but do not allow transfers. That may not be a complete list but they are popular 5th choices.

There are sometimes other conditions causing fatigue that are misdiagnosed and one, rather rare but still worth exploring, is coeliac disease. I assume she's had blood tests but that one isn't automatically included. Looking at the Kings website it looks like she will be offered CBT. That might allow her to accept that she may need to rest this summer/ take a gap year. She could possibly get an NHS job for at least the first part of the year so she'd be around for interviews and a planned gap year might seem more appealing https://www.jobs.nhs.uk/cgi-bin/mj-account.cgi

UptheChimney Mon 15-Jul-13 10:46:25

Glad to hear a student advocating a gap year, regular -- thanks for sharing your experience.

I think gap years are generally a Very Good Idea. I wish most intending undergrads would take them, and realise what a gift and a privilege going to university actually is.

And I have a dream ... that anyone who wants to go to university can. And those who are half-hearted about it, or do it because they can't think of what else to do, or because "it's what one does" would NOT go to university until that's what they really, really want to do.

It's a huge investment -- by the individual, his/her family, and the taxpayer -- I just wish that that was appreciated by all concerned.

UptheChimney Mon 15-Jul-13 10:47:50

Added to say, that in my experience, students who've had to fight to get to university, and particularly "mature-age" undergrads who've come back to university mid-life or mid-career, are generally fantastic students, a joy to teach, and what we're really here for.

EduCated Wed 17-Jul-13 17:08:58

I took a gap year (graduated last year) and I couldn't recommend it enough. I didn't even do anything particular in mine, just kept up my old Saturday job and a bit of part-time work here and there.

However, if I hadn't done it, I truly don't think I would have made it through university. I'd always done so well at school, worked so hard, but felt like I should go to uni, rather than really wanting to. The gap year made me really want to go, mainly because my Saturday job was so horrifically mind-numbing the thought of doing that for the rest of my days made me desperate to escape and actually do something.

It meant that I started uni really, really wanting to be there and has definitely not held me back in terms of being a year behind - I don't know anyone who has gained any real advantage by going a year earlier!

Mermi Wed 17-Jul-13 17:39:22

I'm just going into my 3rd year at uni and have a few friends in a similar situation to your DD.
Several of my friends wanted to do medicine at university, as I'm sure you know it is very competitive and despite all of them getting good grades and doing enough work experience only one of them got a place in the first year of applying. I think gap years are almost looked upon favourably when applying for medicine because it means that generally people have a lot more experience and a years more maturity.

Another friend of mine has anxiety and takes medication for it, she took a gap year before going to university, got a job and continued with her medication -I think having a year out and the job helped her a lot. She now gets on at uni fine and doesn't have any problems with her anxiety.

Several people I know have felt pushed into university, not necessarily by their parents, and as a result it's not what they really want to do. When they get to uni they lack the motivation to work and do well, because it was never their idea or ambition iyswim.

So, from these friend's experiences I would say to make it very clear to her she does not need to go to university - could she potentially do other non-uni courses? Encourage her to go to open days and get a feel for it, could she go and stay with one of her siblings to help her decide?

If she does decide that it is definitely what she wants to do then from what you said a gap year would probably be best for her as she can gain more experience and have more time to get her anxiety under control and get used to the idea of moving away from home.

I know how hard it is to try and work out what is best for someone when they are ambivalent - my sister is currently going through this at the moment and I think a lot of people do so you're definitely not alone with this.

itchyandscratchy26 Tue 06-Aug-13 02:28:05

Make sure she gets extensive (and I mean very extensive) work experience, both of general practice and hospital medicine before committing to medicine. Generally, across the board, morale is very low among doctors at the moment. It is not, in my view a good career choice any more, and I will not be encouraging my own DC to follow in my footsteps.

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