DD has v little in way of references for UCAS - is there any hope?

(34 Posts)
Mondayschildisfullofwoe Tue 10-Dec-13 13:33:06

Namechanged for this. DD did very well in her GSCEs, and pretty well in AS, despite being diagnosed with clinical depression. She unfortunately got worse at the beginning of this academic year, and despite treatment, is coping reasonably well on a personal level, but not well academically. She is insistent that she wants to keep on with A levels, and apply to university, and has now just about managed to get a UCAS form together.

Unfortunately she apparently has very little in the way of references as she's been absent or has had problems completing work this term. School have been very supportive, but say they can't say what isn't true, and so have written very brief references. DD is still adamant she wants to apply, but says she can't cope if she gets 5 rejections. She's scaled her ambitions down from top ten, and is applying for a range of universities with a range of entry requirements.

I don't mind if she has this year off, next year off, gets through clearing or doesn't go to university at all, as long as she is happy doing it and manages to maintain her mental health.

Can I ask if anyone knows if she has any chance of getting offers? I am going to ring the school and find out if their forecast is as dire as DD says (she doesn't always get the right end of the stick at the moment).

I would like to have some information to give her, other than my own hopelessly out of date experiences.

lljkk Tue 10-Dec-13 13:53:03

I thought the strategy of Uni applications was to spread your bets. Have a "if all goes best first option" all the way down to "Oh well if that's all I can get sobeit" 5th choice course. And then there's clearing. I'm no expert, but there was a whole thread (in Higher education, recent) about how tough it is to get Nothing in clearing. It may be harder to get her first choice, but that doesn't mean there's no choice.

Mondayschildisfullofwoe Tue 10-Dec-13 14:18:27

Thanks. I will pass that on. She has spread her bets, and we've discussed clearing numerous times, but she regards that as failure (despite fact her brother went through clearing and ended up doing very well).

lljkk Tue 10-Dec-13 14:24:19

So what, the thousands of teens who go thru Clearing each year are all failures? Don't be daft. Wouldn't be life be boring if you always got everything you wanted.

Here's thread about offers.

MrsBright Tue 10-Dec-13 14:43:17

I think you have to think VERY carefully about her going to University at all. Its a very stressful environment and leaving home/being with strangers is never a good option for anyone with active MH issues. Fgs dont even think of Clearing - can you think of anything more stressful than not knowing if/where you are going to Uni until 3 weeks before it starts. G

Pull out of UCAS this year. Let her really concentrate on the A levels and getting the best grades possible without any extra pressure. Then once the grades are known, contemplate retakes or a carefully considered application for 2015 entry. She really does need time to sort the depression out - how on earth will she/you cope if she hits rock bottom at Uni, possibly miles away from home? Could you live with the possible consequences?

Kez100 Tue 10-Dec-13 14:45:32

IMHO she needs to get well before she takes on the big move that is University. What is all this talk of failure? I would try and persuade her to take a gap year.

Mondayschildisfullofwoe Tue 10-Dec-13 14:50:05

MrsBright, that's what I want her to do - pull out and do it next year, if at all, but it's not what she wants to do. And yes, I do absolutely and entirely agree with you about not going to university with MH issues. One of the worst things about all this is that I can see only too hideously clearly what might happen, but I can't get her to see that, and neither at the moment can anyone else get her to see it. She is absolutely fixated on doing what everyone else does.

It is a terrible juggling act, all the time, between somehow attempting to foster her confidence, protect her, and allow her to be in an environment where she will get better. I wish I knew what the absolute best thing to do was, but I don't.

Mondayschildisfullofwoe Tue 10-Dec-13 14:57:48

The talk of failure comes from her, btw. I don't think Clearing's a failure. IMO it doesn't matter how she gets there, if she goes to university,or whether she stays at home, does an OU course, doesn't do anything, or what, as long as she's happy, and she gets better, but that is NOT, NOT, NOT how she sees it.

I know she is making life terribly hard for herself, and that is probably one of the things that is contributing to her condition. Unfortunately I am the mother crying in the wilderness as far as she is concerned.

lljkk Tue 10-Dec-13 16:50:39

I didn't mean that you had said it was a failure... but she might take the msgs on board if she reads it from strangers on the 'Net, too. Who don't know her from Eve so aren't biased to be nice like she thinks you are biased, but we do know a bit about life.

Mondayschildisfullofwoe Tue 10-Dec-13 18:06:53

Thanks - sorry for wailing and misunderstanding. I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all today. Normally I cope better. I spoke to school, who say that isn't quite what they said, but DD has refused to discuss it with me. I'm going in next week to see them.

lionheart Tue 10-Dec-13 18:19:59

Monday, I would try to ensure that the referee says something about the difficulties your daughter has had. I am speaking as someone who deals with admissions and would like to have a fuller sense of any particular issues the applicant has and which might have an impact on their academic profile. It's not at all out of the ordinary to include this information in the reference.

If she does go ahead with her plans then it is a good idea to look at what support systems the university has in place (health centre, counselling, registration for additional needs etc). If is is a good university it will help your daughter with the transition and work with her beyond that point.

creamteas Tue 10-Dec-13 20:02:28

I would second what lionheart has said. The reference needs to explain the difficulties and give an assessment of potential, rather than just the predicted grades.

Also try to encourage to declare a disability the UCAS form, as this will usually trigger contact from the support services asking about her needs.

Mondayschildisfullofwoe Tue 10-Dec-13 21:34:22

Thanks - I didn't know about the disability thing. She has had physical problems as well. School does know, but I'll check when I go in that they are mentioned in the reference. They are definitely going to include the depression.

I must admit it does seem very odd to be doing this. It's like we're pretending to be normal

UptheChimney Tue 10-Dec-13 22:12:33

Mondayschild I'm going to sound harsh here, but it's from over 20 years of dealing with, teaching and advising undergrads.

If she's not quite coping academically, and she's ill, she should be focussing on getting better, getting stronger. If she'd had a bout of cancer, we wouldn't be expecting her to stride on & cope. Mental ill-health should be the same & it's such a pity it isn't.

But -- this is where I may sound harsh, but honestly it's meant as compassionate advice -- too often young people cling to their ability to "manage" to keep going on their studies, as a bulwark against feeling a failure. But that is NOT the purpose of a university education. University is NOT therapy. And you don't get a degree for being ill -- this is a tough lesson your daughter is already learning re her references.

If she's not coping well academically at A level she really really will not cope well at university. Better for her to take a break, do something physical and not in her head -- I sometimes think that the intense self-reflection, self-discipline, mental toughness, and introspection that a lot of university courses require is akin to mild depression anyway.

I know it sounds all stiff upper lip, but there is a lot to be said for a period of non-self-consciousness: of a lot of physical exercise, of productive work, with perhaps creative but not competitive activity for a self-help "mental fitness" sort of maintenance approach to depression (and its been seen in clinical work apparently). Not that that is a "cure" but it can help to alleviate the severity of some people's sufferings.

If your daughter is in a period of severe and/or chronic depression (and it can be cyclical) then frankly, university studies may not be her best life option at this time. Her long term health for the rest of her life is more important.

And at my current place, with a patchy record of attendance etc, she'd be on our "reasonable diligence" radar within her first term, and we'd be recommending a leave of absence.

Mondayschildisfullofwoe Wed 11-Dec-13 09:38:54

UptheChimney, you're not sounding harsh at all. I completely agree with what you say. This is what I think she should do, and she does know that. I'm going into school to have a talk with her and the Head of Sixth, at which I shall repeat all this.

Although she knows what I think, she's carrying on down this course, and so that's what we actually have to manage. I know it's not ideal. I know it could well end in utter disaster. I know all that, but what I have to manage is what is in front of me, and it's a DD absolutely determined to apply.

titchy Wed 11-Dec-13 09:58:09

Can you persuade her to apply but for 2015 entry? That way she still has something to work towards, but if she gets offers has a year to really think if that is what she wants, and to concentrate on her health.

eatyourveg Wed 11-Dec-13 10:25:43

Will school let your dd see a copy of the reference? When ds went through ucas, once the form had gone off, everyone was given their own copy if they asked. If your dd knew what had actually been submitted, she would be in a better position to decide if she wanted to pull out.

Seems to me though that she's got nothing to lose by just waiting to see what happens, if she gets no offers she can go through extra or clearing or apply again next year.

If however the reference hasn't yet gone off they should surely be mentioning the reasons they can't write a longer one, ask the ucas coordinator to include something by way of explanation.

Lancelottie Wed 11-Dec-13 10:31:08

UptheChimney, I think that's very wise, and I'll be showing this to DH tonight.

DS is in the throes of MH issues himself and barely managing to work, but the situation is a bit different in that he's already got some UCAS offers and will probably feel a failure if he can't meet them.

The 'pretending to be normal' is so familiar, Monday!

australianegg Wed 11-Dec-13 10:52:25

I was very depressed throughout my A levels and I found university life very tough, in fact I dropped out in my first year (but I did return and complete later). The social side of university is a real challenge for any young person but as someone with mental health issues, I found it quite disastrous. I would have definitely benefited from an extra year out to recover instead of going straight into my degree (for me, ploughing on was a way of appearing to be normal and covering up my problems, which I suspect applies to your DD as well)

I got DSA (Disabled Students' Allowance) when studying to help with the costs of studying with a disability, it meant I could get a mentor to support me and a laptop with software as my depression meant I had more problems concentrating. It's definitely worth her while to look into applying for that, she'd need some kind of report/letter from a doctor to confirm her needs. Universities also tend to have reasonably fast access to counselling services, although only for short-term treatment and they tend to be for students with milder issues. I also saw the MH team at the hospital near my university but they were quite poor in offering any treatment except medication.

Mondayschildisfullofwoe Wed 11-Dec-13 11:44:05

Thanks everyone for your replies, which I really appreciate. At school and for DD I have to be the thereabouts in control parent, but it is so good to be able to say what I actually think here to people who know neither of us (if that makes sense).

Lancelottie, yes, that's the other thing. If she gets offers, she'll then set herself another goal she's going to have a massive struggle to attain. When she got worse at the beginning of Upper Sixth, I wanted her to stop school and go back and do her A levels later, but it's this absolute obsession with doing what everyone else does. Is this the same for your DS? Is it something, do you think, that they can actually hold on to because it has a progress of its own, even though it's not good for them?

Titchy, I've tried to persuade her. The thing is if I give her too many options, or even any other options, I'm not sure in her current condition that's a help. Oddly, when she was worse, last year, she concentrated on her schoolwork because I think that was actually all she had the energy to do. Now she's in some ways better some things are actually harder. Decision making is something she finds hard, though some of her therapies have addressed that. She still has a way to go, imo.

Eatyourveg, yes, I am going to see a copy of the ref.

Australianegg, thank you for what you said, which confirms the way I think she'll struggle, which is socially. I am sorry it was so bad for you, but you've shown amazing courage (sorry if that sounds patronising - it's not meant to be, but I know from seeing DD just how difficult it will be, and how it must have been for you). Thanks too for the info on DSA and support. I just hope she's not going to need it. It's bad enough thinking about your DC setting off on their own when they're reasonably ok, let alone when you know they're not.

Trapper Wed 11-Dec-13 11:53:20

How about providing the teacher with a framework to consider when writing a reference? They may be used to writing fairly generic references and simply dropping the sentences that do not apply to the individual. If you give them points that they can add easily (assuming they agree with them if course) then it may help?
Who do they need references from, I wonder if a reference from a mental health worker may be permissible? This may help the uni better assess her ability to adapt to uni life.

Note: I have no experience if UCAS whatsoever so I don't know how practical/useful these suggestions are!

SlowlorisIncognito Wed 11-Dec-13 15:10:48

Has her UCAS already been sent off? If so, then there's not much you can do, except wait and hope for the best.

If not, I would encourage her head of sixth (or another teacher who knows her well) to write a bit on the reference about the difficulties she has faced, and comment on her potential, as well as explain what is actually happening with school work right now. This may work in her favour, as it may lead to her getting contextual offers from universities due to her diffculties. It may be better to have a reference written by a single teacher explaining her circumstances, rather than each teacher writing a little bit, even if that is not what the school usually does.

However, as her teachers have said, they can't outright lie on the reference. Perhaps these breif reference are their way of saying she is not quite ready for university education yet.

What are her predicted grades like? If these are low, even with extenuating circumstances, they could put universities off. What is the spread of universities she is applying to compared to her predicted and AS grades? Ultimately, this will probably be the deciding factor as to if she will get a place or not.

If she has missed a lot of work this year, it might be better for her to focus on getting the best grades she can this year, and reapplying next year, whilst taking a gap year to try and improve her mental health. Lots of people take gap years, and apply during them, so she would still be doing "what everybody else does". She must know some people planning on gap years, or who have taken them in the past, surely?

Needmoresleep Wed 11-Dec-13 15:29:40

If things have been missed off, which need to be added, quite a lot of Universities seem to allow/encourage additional statements. For example at the open day Warwick said specifically that in order to ensure a level playing field if there were additional issues which meant a student was in some way disadvantaged, eg around home circumstance, which they had not wanted to put on their personal statement they should add an individual additional statement to Warwick. (I cant remember what is was called.)

DS was also told by another University in response to a phone query about their specific entry requirements that he should email them directly with additional information. You might phone the admissions offices perhaps without giving your daughter's name and ask what they might want to see in the circumstances.

Obviously it depends on finance but if you could afford it I might look for a structured year long course rather than a gap year. Perhaps a year spent at a German University learning the language, something vocational or some sort of art foundation etc. Something that would add to a general CV and aid eventual studies, but which could be dropped out of. The problem with a gap year as such might be the lack of structure. Your daughter might be afraid of drifting. Starting a full university course sounds as if it would be a risk, and really damaging if she should then fail. .

creamteas Wed 11-Dec-13 20:55:07

If she needs a reason to take a gap year, the cap on numbers looks like it will be lifted for 15/16 entry (was mentioned in the spending review, waiting for fuller details to come out from HEFCE).

So entry to many university courses will be easier then even without high grades.

Mondayschildisfullofwoe Thu 12-Dec-13 09:45:07

I've now seen the reference, which is fair, and I think an accurate picture of her. It talks about what she's done, and her potential, but gives a fair picture of her current state. If I were reading it, I think I'd have a pretty fair idea of her from it.

Her predicted grades were As and Bs, but I think have probably come down after the results of recent tests, so she thinks may well be Bs and Cs. One of the universities she's going for is top ten; the rest middle to lower rank, with entry requirements she's likely to get. She's still determined to send the form off for this year, and we've discussed it all again. It might be that she gets a lot better of course, and copes fine, but I tell myself that applying is not the same thing as actually going. We've taken a step along that road, but a step is all it is.

Needmoresleep, yes, she is afraid of drifting if she takes a year out, and I can see the sense behind her having something structured to do, but if she's not capable of coping with going away to university, she's not going to be capable of going abroad, or possibly going anywhere for a year. If she does stay, I think I'd be tempted to try her with a practical course for a few months, if we can find something suitable: something at any rate which doesn't demand the same things of her, but which lets her achieve something at not such a cost as academia.

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