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Can I ask for some advice from anyone involved with admissions, please?

(50 Posts)
BecauseImWorthIt Thu 06-Oct-11 14:04:15

DS2 has just started in the sixth form. We are assuming/hoping that he will go on to university.

Having gone through the whole university application process with DS1, who started this term at Sussex, I am very well aware of what we need to do, that we need to see universities as early as we can, and that he will need a good personal statement.

And this is where the problem lies.

DS2, apart from computer games, has no interests. He isn't sporty (has tried, but has no ability and really doesn't enjoy sport). He has been having drumming lessons for a few years, but doesn't really enjoy it, never practises, hasn't taken any exams and certainly has never responded to any requests from his teacher to get involved with any bands/orchestras.

He half-heartedly enrolled for the DoE bronze award, but it was mis-managed by his school, and he didn't complete it (he also didn't bother to push for it to be sorted out, so it wasn't entirely the school's fault). He has the opportunity to go for it again, or to 'upgrade' to silver/gold at college, but seems now to have backed out of it, despite expressing interest initially.

He did complete (and enjoyed) the World Challenge trip to Iceland that he did with school in the summer - but - IMVHO - this was little more than a glorified holiday. He (and the rest of his team) singularly failed at the fund-raising part of the challenge, so the whole thing ended up being paid for by Bank of Mum & Dad.

We have tried and tried to get him to do more things, to get involved in things - initially because we wanted him to have more interests, but latterly because I am so aware of the need to write something about him on his personal statement other than his academic achievements. (And I doubt that these are going to be 4 x A*, although I'm hoping that they will be reasonably respectable - he is certainly clever enough).

I'm tearing my hair out. We have had the conversation with him I don't know how many times, and it is just not registering with him.

Unless universities have suddenly developed an admiration for children with fabulous Facebook or Call of Duty skills, what can we do?

He can't be the only child like this though, surely? What do candidates write on their Personal Statement (that is acceptable!) if they are like this?

If it would be possible, would him getting a job make any difference?

DS2 is actually a very personable boy - I'm aware that I'm painting him to be a middle class brat, but he isn't really like that.

If anyone can help, I would be very grateful. I would be so sad if he was unable to achieve a university place because of this.

kritur Thu 06-Oct-11 16:59:14

What course does he want to apply for and why?
I say that because to be honest for some courses, the PS doesn't matter massively. We start interviewing in a few weeks (I'm in chemistry). We do read the statements, more to give us something to talk about at interview than anything else but we still make offers if they are within sniffing distance of our standard offer of AAB. When we were allocating our last few -1 places (where they were one grade down on offer) on allocation day then we did look in a lot more detail, one particularly cheesy PS combined with a weak 3rd A-level (subject wise, not grade wise) got one candidate sent to insurance. We only really bother about the grades really.

The caveat to this is that if he wants to apply for something competitive like medicine or English then he will need a lot of stuff on his statement. We get a lot of applicants but we also know that a good chunk of them actually want to do medicine etc or go to Oxbridge so we can afford to make more offers.

My worry would be how does he know he wants to go to uni and study X if he hasn't really got any interests?

BecauseImWorthIt Thu 06-Oct-11 17:09:52

Thanks for the reply.

Re subject, as he's only just started his AS year, he is not yet sure, particularly as he is doing two new subjects! He's doing English Lit, History (which he didn't study at GCSE, so it's almost a third new subject), Philosophy and Classics & Civilisation.

Personally I would be very surprised if he wants to do English, as he really isn't that passionate about it, doesn't read much, blah blah blah - despite being very good at it. His critical/analytic skills are good, and he often has a pretty unusual/insightful perspective. So it's much more likely to be something to do with the other three. All of which are, I believe, pretty competitive.

Re this:

how does he know he wants to go to uni and study X if he hasn't really got any interests

I couldn't agree more. Which is why it is so frustrating, as he says he does want to go to university!

[banging head on desk emoticon]

kritur Thu 06-Oct-11 17:15:56

Yep, all of those are competitive I'm afraid so he probably doesn't have the luxury of getting by on being bright and playing on COD. Might be worthwhile getting him some reading material on those subjects so he can begin reading around (his tutors at school will thank you for this as well!). Then something may spark his interest to find out more. Phillip Allen produce magazines aimed at broadening the interests of A-level students beyond the curriculum. They are pitched at a good level and also have hints and tips about exams etc. Here's the link for the 20th century history one
Might be worth probing why he says he wants to go to uni. Is it because 'everyone does'? Because he feels he should? And maybe make it clear that he needs to have a clear idea in about a year's time or else he could end up paying £9k a year for a course he hates.

BecauseImWorthIt Thu 06-Oct-11 17:18:19

That's great, thanks.

I think I need to have (yet another) chat with him about it all.

Reading around the subject, especially history, ought to be a no-brainer here, as DS1 also did/is doing history and DH is a bit of a history nut, so there all kinds of boring books in our house!

lovingthecoast Thu 06-Oct-11 17:30:23

Hi, I'm not in admissions but I have taught Alevel and tbh, the last few years have become stupidly competitive. As Kritur says, it will vary massively from course to course and uni to uni. Some courses/unis seem to appreciate very highly polished PSs crammed with extra curricular stuff whilst others are more interested in how the student applies themselves academically.

I would certainly say that a part-time job will help as it shows both motivation and commitment. If he can, I'd jump back onto the DoE scheme. His trip to Iceland will also look interesting.

Is he interested in a degree or career relating to his computer hobby? IT can be very lucrative and his interest in it will help if he wants to do some sort of business management degree. In the past, we have sent some lads with similar interests into local primary schools to volunteer their IT skills. Is this something he would be interested in doing? Lots of primary schools now have the hardwear but not the manpower to deliver what is expected so would jump at the chance of a little help. Again, this would show commitment. Volunteering his drumming skills may also be an option.

I would say that the vast majority of admissions staff who do take account of the PSs are much more interested in individual stuff that looks like it has come off the back of the student rather than been arranged by school or parents. But you are right to get thinking about it now.

BecauseImWorthIt Thu 06-Oct-11 17:33:49

Thank you, ltc.

I'm not really sure our local schools would appreciate him going in to demonstrate how to achieve higher levels in Call of Duty grin. I don't think his IT skills extend beyond games, or Facebook, sadly.

Volunteering is a really good idea though. I need to find out where he can do this/how he can go about it.

I know he should be doing it himself, but if I leave it up to him, nothing will get done. <voice of bitter experience>.

Is the DoE looked upon that favourably? I was wondering about that, seeing as everyone and their dog seems to do it.

lovingthecoast Thu 06-Oct-11 19:11:46

Re his IT skills; if he can use a mouse correctly and navigate his way through windows then that would be a good start. The primary schools that we dealt with weren't looking for IT people or people with higher skills than the teachers necessarily. Just an extra pair of hands willing and able to take small groups out to practise specific, but basic skills. So definitely worth considering.

As for the DoE award...It's a tricky one. It certainly shows that the student is willing to apply themselves but it has become a little jaded due to so many students offering it. I know some schools are trying out different schemes in order to offer something different.

I certainly think that if possible, a p/t job would really help but only if he is willing to stick with it. Sorry not to be of more help.

BecauseImWorthIt Thu 06-Oct-11 19:15:47

You have been very helpful, thank you smile

I much appreciate it.

mouldyironingboard Thu 06-Oct-11 19:27:19

I think getting a part-time job or volunteering experience would be helpful.

Does your DS watch the news or take an interest in current affairs? I know that for some history or philosophy courses it can be helpful. His good critical/analytic skills will be useful for both of these too.

The D of E scheme is useful because it is structured, and all the admission tutors understand exactly what has been achieved. Your DS could improve his drumming skills as part of the scheme.

slipshodsibyl Thu 06-Oct-11 19:35:08

As for the DoE award...It's a tricky one. It certainly shows that the student is willing to apply themselves but it has become a little jaded due to so many students offering it. I know some schools are trying out different schemes in order to offer something different

I'm not sure that all that many actually succeed in obtaining their Gold. It's pretty tough with considerable challenges over an extended period. The idea that is is "jaded" or ubiquitous has been mentioned before on here. I think it is probably only us old people (who didn't actually do it) who would say that. In any case, I think it's important to remember that it is absolutely new to the individual teenager taking it up and requires the kind of commitment that is eluding your son at present. I suggest he try the Silver if he is amenable. Don't go straight to Gold.

I find it not uncommon for boys to be a bit aimless at this age. It didn't used to matter so much but as Lovingthecoast says, things are competitive just now. Easy for me to say, I know, but I expect he will change and mature in the next year or so and explore his own potential.

mottledcat Thu 06-Oct-11 21:30:43

No advice, but I have a son just like yours and who is in a school with huge high achievers, ie everyone is at county level sports, national youth orchestras, winning competitions for literature etc etc.

He is a delighful boy, no trouble, perfectly pleasant and intelligent....just isn't particularly interested in extra curricular stuff, happy to play football manager or something or other on his computer with his friends.

He wants to go to university, like his older brother and sister and will be aiming reasonably high (Russell Group etc) but God knows what he will put on his Personal Statement. I think he will have to lie grin

mottledcat Thu 06-Oct-11 21:59:17

Actually, to be serious, my repy was a bit flippant.

My older DCs and my DNs all got into RG universities/Oxbridge without any particular extra curricular stuff. The one who did have the extra curricular things didn't particularly allude to it on his PS and still got his place.... (at Oxford), They were obviously more interested in his academic qualifications. Just to give you hope, although I am still worried about my youngest DC on that count.

BecauseImWorthIt Thu 06-Oct-11 22:01:42

Oh don't worry, mottledcat, the lying route is one I have considered very seriously!

We can't be alone in this.

I wonder if someone has actually ever made a virtue out of their lack of interest in anything else on their personal statement!

mottledcat Thu 06-Oct-11 22:22:05

Well if you read between the lines -the admissions tutors on the Oxbridge threads actually don't really care about extra curricular stuff. But what if your DC is bright but perhaps not Oxbridge material....perhaps my DS could actually become a football manager??smile

ICantFindAFreeNickName Thu 06-Oct-11 22:32:35

My Y11 DS is exactly the same. He loves his computer, although he does do some html programming as well as just playing games. He is likely to want to study Maths or Physics at uni, unlikely to be RG, as although clever, he does not work as hard as he could. Are these the sort of subjects where a PS will be important?

Yellowstone Thu 06-Oct-11 22:36:07

BecauseI'mWorthIt what were his grades at GCSE and what sort of school is he at? Is he able to aim pretty high, because there's a suggestion he is. That affects tactics I think.

There's a lot he can do to provide substance for a PS in quite a short space of time (he has a year, or is he intending a gap year?). But he has to be genuinely interested or there's really no point.

I've got a few CoD experts myself so I sympathize, though they're prepared to branch out (in the case of one, if he's pushed off the sofa or the controller's batteries run out).

BecauseImWorthIt Thu 06-Oct-11 22:46:30

His GCSEs were middling/average. AABBBBBCCCC. He was at a state school, now at 6th form college (one which is repeatedly 'outstanding').

We haven't really talked/thought about a gap year, although (based on experience with DS1), I think a gap year might be a very good idea, as long as he can do something useful with it. DS1 wasn't intending to take a gap year, but ended up with one, and worked in a shop all year. It was a fantastic life lesson for him, and he performed really well - ended up being promoted to management level after only a few months.

It does occur to me that this could be a route for DS2.

My worry is that everything we are talking about is fabricating an interest in something.

ellisbell Fri 07-Oct-11 08:29:28

let's look beyond university for a moment. Employers are going to be looking for someone with a bit of get-up-and-go and will want to see evidence of something other than a degree. A part-time job would certainly help with that.

He needs to do something. Conventional team sports don't suit everyone but if available near you he might enjoy a more individual sport like shooting, archery, fencing. Self-defence is a useful skill to aquire, he might see the benefit of martial arts training.

He could take DofE up - he'd have to do an activity as well as volunteering and he's more likely to get silver done than gold in the time available.

He certainly needs to be reading around his subjects to find out what interests him and he can study for the next few years. He needs to convince a university he is committed to any subject he applies for.

Yellowstone Fri 07-Oct-11 08:44:49

Very hard to persuade a DS like this to leave Facebook/ CoD to take up a long term commitment until somethings pings in his brain.

I'd try to get creative with a placement somewhere really interesting for a week asap and be clear with him that he needs to give it a go since it's only a week. And then hope that that sparks his interest.

I can think of much more for History than for his other subjects, but a lot hinges on where you are geographically.

BecauseImWorthIt Fri 07-Oct-11 09:06:47

SW London, YS.

Thanks elisbell. You are absolutely right. But trying to talk to a 16 year old about his future is, let's face it, like trying to talk to a 20 year old about saving for their pension. It all just seems so far away to them.

He hears the words, but just really doesn't get their meaning, and I think he thinks, increasingly, that I am just being hysterical about it all grin.

Sadly it probably needs someone else to say the same words to him before he finally gets it.

We did have a chat last night about it, and talked about whether he really wants to go to university or not - and he is adamant that he does. So I talked again about what it will entail, and he has agreed to have a look for job opportunities locally, as well as seriously exploring the DoE.

Yellowstone Fri 07-Oct-11 09:23:58

SW London is dead easy. Off the top of my head, since he likes CoD, I'd try to get him a placement for a week at the Imperial War Museum in the Christmas holidays. He'd have to write a good letter of application - or at least sign it grin

Anything to get him started but in London you've got lots and lots of scope.

BecauseImWorthIt Fri 07-Oct-11 09:39:38


That's a good idea!

BecauseImWorthIt Fri 07-Oct-11 10:00:01

... but sadly nothing available for the under 18s at the moment according to their website.

IShallWearMidnight Fri 07-Oct-11 10:09:23

IcantFind - ime Maths and Physics tutors just want to know that you love the subject, and don't care about the extra curricular stuff. DD1s PS had EC stuff, but all tweaked to show how it helped her maths. It all comes down to results though, and the required grades are getting higher and higher each year - for 2011 entry for Maths, the top places wanted at least one A*, and I'm guessing for 2012 (although i haven't checked) that may go up sad.

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