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Any admissions tutors around? Need advice re changing uni

(23 Posts)
MadameJosephine Sat 15-Apr-17 20:53:30

My DS is in his second year at imperial College studying maths and computer science. He got 4 A*s in his A levels and has been getting very good marks at uni so far (averaging about 80-85%).

He has had an anxiety disorder for many years which tends to be around health and/or death. He's been coping pretty well in London but unfortunately following the Westminster terror attacks and the current situation with trump/putin/north Korea etc he has had a major setback. He's at home now and we've had to have the crisis team out a couple of times. The upshot is that he is unsure whether he will be able to return to study in London or perhaps any major city for that matter. He is currently considering a year out to get well and consider his options.

Does anybody have any advice or experience on transferring? He originally wanted to go to Cambridge rather than imperial as even then he didn't want to go to a London uni and felt he would cope somewhere smaller and quieter. Is there any point in contacting an admissions tutor there and seeing if he can join a maths degree in the second year maybe?

Gannet123 Sat 15-Apr-17 21:29:57

That sounds like a really horrible situation. There's never any harm in enquiring about these things, but be prepared for the fact that it won't be possible. Some institutions have a firm policy against transfer, and others will only take you if the first year curriculum in your current place is identical to the university you want to move to. There may well be information on this on individual university admissions websites, and that might be easier to search that to get in touch. I have no specific knowledge of Cambridge but it seems to me likely that they would have a no transfer policy because of the specificity of their teaching style and because of their interview policy.
Unfortunately I think the more feasible option will be to take a year out to get well and then return to Imperial, or reapply and start from scratch again, probably in 2018. It certainly sounds as though a year out is best for him whatever.

sendsummer Sun 16-Apr-17 04:32:35

I hope that he and you get the support he needs for his present crisis and to develop future coping strategies.
I am not an admissions tutor but generally the tutors and support at Imperial should be able to offer the best advice about what is possible for transfers since they will know more about the equivalence of other mathematical departments and standards. He will need references etc from them anyway.
Universities like Warwick, Durham and Bath are not major cities are more likely options to transfer for a repeat second year than Cambridge.
One consideration for him to reflect on after some time off and with help is how much any stress and fatigue from the academic work and exams are contributing to his present crisis. He has the ability but perhaps a loss of perspective for his work and what he needs to do well. A less intense course as well as different location may well be another compromise for his chances of long term health.

Rattysparklebum Sun 16-Apr-17 07:39:57

My DS has chosen to change uni for his final year for personal reasons, he identified an alternative Uni with a similar, not identical course, phoned them up and they explained the process, he had to apply through UCAS and has got a conditional offer as long as he gets predicted grades this year, it has been a surprisingly simple process. Hope your son is ok, whatever he decides.

WandaOver Sun 16-Apr-17 10:14:51

That sound tough MadameJosephine.
Would he be more comfortable travelling from home? Assuming a transfer is possible do you have a local uni he could try for? I realise Imperial is a top ranking uni for maths but his health is a priority.

Needmoresleep Sun 16-Apr-17 11:05:19

I am just a parent but agree with Sendsummer. In the first instance he might look at the courses offered by Bath, Bristol and Durham and see how close they are to the courses he has taken or is currently taking. If there is a good overlap and he has good grades, this would provide a good basis for a requesting to transfer, and perhaps negotiation on what he might be given credit for. (Or do you like within commuting distance of a RG University?) Though probably unusual, I suspect he is not the first to want to move from London. Obviously he should look carefully at where he might live and whether the University would suit him.

(After an initial discussion to check procedures and course content you may be better writing so the request and arguments can be forwarded)

At the same time your DS might speak to/email his tutor at Imperial, explaining the problem and saying what he wants to do next and ask for support. Academics will often know or know of academics at other Universities and the level of their courses, so a good reference or active support will be very useful.

But he should first consider whether he wants to go back, or at least go back in September. Or is there any way he can complete this year by staying at home and commuting in for exams (a parent going with him?). I assume most of the teaching will be over, and that lecture notes can be forwarded to him via a fellow student of the University. Oddly, socially, third year in London can become easier with smaller numbers taking each option, then sitting together in the library and so getting to know each other better. The reverse may be true of somewhere like Warwick where friendship groups are formed in hall in the first year and then consolidated in shared houses, leaving a new late entrant isolated.

I really don't know, but if he wants time off could he complete his degree via the Open University, or failing that look at the online courses offered by the Big name American Universities. A mixture of both, ideally somehow passing this year's exams, might allow him to graduate without leaving home, and then if he wants to return, he could for a Masters. Some good Universities will offer either a one or two year Masters depending on the strength of the Undergraduate degree, so as long as he can demonstrate ability it might not matter that he has not taken one of the most taxing degrees, plus for many purposes a good maths degree is enough whether from the OU or elsewhere.

user7214743615 Sun 16-Apr-17 16:15:53

plus for many purposes a good maths degree is enough whether from the OU or elsewhere.

This is not really true - there is so much variation between the content and depth that for maths related careers the institution really does matter.

It's not that unusual to transfer universities at the end of the first year, though transferring into Oxbridge is very unusual indeed. I would add Southampton to the above list, since he is doing Maths w Computer Science and Southampton is very strong for Computer Science. More generally, I would suggest looking at all top 10-20 universities to see which one would suit him. The ones named above aren't especially strong for Maths w Computer Science.

Needmoresleep Sun 16-Apr-17 17:14:29

I dont disagree, however if he were not ready to return to university, might it not be better to continue with some OU courses rather than give up altogether?

titchy Sun 16-Apr-17 17:23:04

Doing something with the OU risks him running out of funding. He only has one spare year, so going straight into the second year elsewhere would be ok, but taking a loan to do some OU credits, then going into a second year elsewhere is an issue.

However a year out to regroup and do some MOOCs to keep him ticking over might be a good strategy.

Is he likely to be able to finish off his year at Imperial? Often there isn't much left in the way of lectures after Easter.

MadameJosephine Sun 16-Apr-17 17:37:37

Thanks everybody. I typed a great big long response earlier but for some reason it didn't post angry

At the moment we are concentrating on getting him through the immediate crisis and then we'll deal with university. His health is absolutely my priority but for him his studies and his plans for his life are a big part of who he is and it makes me sad that his mental health problems are standing in his way.

sendsummer I discussed the workload with him as it is pretty full on, especially as he's studying joint maths and computing. He's often working until 8-9pm, 6 days a week but he actually feels that this is more of a protective factor as it keeps his mind occupied and he genuinely loves it.

We talked earlier and he's agreed that Cambridge is unrealistic which i am relieved about as I couldn't bear the thought of him feeling the way he has been feeling this week and not being close enough for me to get to him quickly. We do live close to Durham though so I think maths at Durham will be the aim and hopefully the syllabus will be similar enough for him to join the second year either this autumn or next year, depending on how well he feels.

I think the idea of OU courses might help if he does take the year out though

Does anybody know where he would stand in terms of student finance? Obviously he's already had 2 years of his 4 year course funded. Does that mean he'll have to self fund a year? If so I'm going to have to get saving!

MadameJosephine Sun 16-Apr-17 17:42:37

sorry titchy I've just seen your post. He has exams starting 2 May but at the moment there's no way he would be able to contemplate travel to London to sit them without becoming distressed. I'm hoping there will be a way for him to sit them at another centre of perhaps delay until August and sit them alongside those resitting. (Ideally he won't have to sit them at all and can transfer without based on his grades so far) There's also a compulsory group project after the exams but he could do that remotely via Skype/email if necessary

MadameJosephine Sun 16-Apr-17 17:44:29

He also just heard yesterday that he'd been accepted for research funding for a job at imperial over the summer but that's out of the question too now sad

Bloody anxiety disorder has a lot to answer for!

Brighteyes27 Sun 16-Apr-17 17:59:19

Your poor son yes his health is the most important and pressing concern. Ok I am not an admissions tutor but I do work in HE and have some knowledge here.
Depending on whether or not he has done enough to pass his course he could transfer directly into the 2nd year of a very similar course at Durham or elsewhere. Or he could withdraw from current Uni and restart his first year at wherever.
But in terms of his funding providing he hasn't had any other previous study at HE level or equivalent students are normally entitled to HE funding from SFE or their funding body for the duration of their course (normally 3 years) plus one year often referred to as a gift year.
But due to the circumstances when your son is well he/you could help him retrospectively apply for compelling personal reasons. Bascically write to SFE saying x (full name), customer reference number has been unable to resume his studies in academic year 16/17 due to x so I wish to claim compelling personal reasons. This condition is evidenced in letters from crisis team dated x and letters from GP or hospital specialist etc.
Good luck hopefully he is well enough to continue with his studies after taking some time out to focus on getting well.

MadameJosephine Sun 16-Apr-17 18:13:49

Thank you brighteyes that's very helpful, he can do without money worries to add to his burden at the moment

Brighteyes27 Sun 16-Apr-17 18:16:48

Presume he has intercalating (university term) or suspending his studies Student Finance England term at the moment? Once you mention the crisis team and have letters of evidence confirming this SFE are usually very accommodating. Take care.

bottlehead Sun 16-Apr-17 18:26:03

I had to drop out of my university course in the third year due to severe MH issues. I started another degree three years later and I got full student funding for four years, after applying for personal compelling reasons. Like your DS I had crisis team involvement and letters from psychiatrists and therapists to back me up. If there is strong evidence for a serious condition, then SFE are usually understanding.

If he isn't already getting it, he could apply for Disabled Students' Allowance to help to cover the cost of a mentor to support him through his studies. But he shouldn't worry about taking time out to recover. I spent three years out of education, spending most of the time in therapy and doing voluntary work, and that recover time was something I really needed before returning to education again. For maths he will need to keep up some study as it's a subject that needs practice, but he could do that via MOOCs without paying anything rather than doing OU study.

sendsummer Sun 16-Apr-17 20:02:31

MadameJosephine best of luck to your DS and to you in supporting him.
Durham sounds a very good option if close to you. Unfortunately talented mathematicians not infrequently have to cope with this sort of problem, the downside of their type of ability. I can see that the element of control and satisfaction of doing his work is helpful but fatigue will not be so it is a fine line.
What he does between now and his return to full time studies for his recovery is likely to be a help to giving him more resources to cope in the future so that he can fulfil his long term potential.

FlyAwayPeter Sun 16-Apr-17 20:37:21

He needs to take a medically certified Leave of Absence (some places call it intercalation). And as others have said, it is likely to be difficult for him to transfer to another university, particularly one that is oversubscribed such as Cambridge- the same would be the case if he were thinking of trying to transfer in to Imperial.

Frankly, from the point of view of a university tutor, I'd say that the issue is not where he's studying - it is his tendency to be overwhelmed by anxiety to the point where he is not fit to study. He really needs to get that sorted as far as he humanly can.

I remember growing up with a NDN who was apparently brilliant - read Maths at Cambridge - but was an appalling neighbour - shouted at us constantly & irrationally, over nothing - apparently, he'd had a breakdown at university & was never the same ...

Please don't let that be your son. Let him take the time - as long as it takes to get better.

The problem I often encounter is that students think it's a failure to have to intercalate, and I remember one lass telling me that she truly believed the only thing stopping her from becoming very ill was being able to stay on her course. The problems were that a) she wasn't actually doing the course; and b) what she managed to do, she did very badly.

Please get him to get help & take whatever time it takes. At my place, they have to be medically certified as fit to study. He really needs to do what it takes to get better - and part of that may be forgetting completely about continuing his studies. Much better to take a break, and then go back when he's more mature & can manage his anxiety.

Learning to do that - in whichever city in the world - will give him really valuable skills for managing the rest of his life - because the level of anxiety you describe is not really compatible with an adult career ...

FlyAwayPeter Sun 16-Apr-17 20:45:28

Also, please contact his Department at Imperial ASAP. Especially if there's group work - tutors need to be able to contact other students & ensure that they don't suffer a setback because of a student pulling out. Sometimes students are so embarrassed -- or so ill (sounds like that's the case with your DS) that they hide away because they feel they're letting people down. It's the very worst thing they could do in that respect, ironically. Other students (in my experience) are very flexible & understanding, and they won't be told why - it'll be something bland such as "X is takin a leave of absence, so you'll need to reorganise your group project."

The longer the lead time the other students have to regroup & adjust, the better.

The best thing is to contact your DS's Department Administrator, with a brief explanation of medical advice that your DS should seek a leave of absence till at least the start of the 2017-18 academic year. Get the Administrator to send the requisite forms, or a weblink to them for downloading. You can do all that on your DS' behalf - we're used to that & tutors will be concerned to ensure their student's well-being.

Even at Imperial, they're human beings grin

MadameJosephine Sun 16-Apr-17 21:05:41

Thank you so much, I'm touched that you would take the time for such detailed and considered replies. We have an appointment with the GP first thing Tuesday morning to discuss ongoing treatment and then the next step is to contact Imperial but knowing the right language to use is very helpful. They are already aware of his anxiety and have been very supportive, he has been seen by a Psychiatrist at university a couple of times in order for them to arrange appropriate support so I anticipate they will continue to strive to help in whatever way they can.

MiriAmmerman Mon 17-Apr-17 10:03:14

Hi MadameJosephine

Speaking as a former Oxbridge academic (not Maths), he wouldn't be able to transfer to Cambridge. He would need to drop out of Imperial and apply to start at Cambridge from scratch. Cambridge would also not necessarily be a great place if he suffers from anxiety disorder - it's a very intense and pressured environment.

It sounds like the most important thing is to get his anxiety under control. Don't make any big decisions until he is on a more even keel. SFE should be fine (lots of students take up to a year out). Although bear in mind that it gets a little more complicated if he needs to take more than a year off in total throughout his course.

Definitely see a doctor - get everything documented. If he needs to apply for coursework extensions / mitigating circumstances later on, he won't be successful without medical evidence.

It might also be worth contacting the Disability Service at Imperial. Students with MH needs are entitled to support such as flexible deadlines and mentoring; might help him if he decides to go back to Imperial.

MiriAmmerman Mon 17-Apr-17 10:05:41

I would definitely second FlyAway's advice - his interruption / leave of absence needs formalising ASAP.

user7214743615 Mon 17-Apr-17 13:51:33

Speaking as a former Oxbridge academic (not Maths), he wouldn't be able to transfer to Cambridge. He would need to drop out of Imperial and apply to start at Cambridge from scratch.

It is not impossible to transfer into Cambridge Maths (I have known cases) but it is very, very rare. 80% in Imperial wouldn't be high enough to argue successfully for transfer, leaving aside the mental health issues.

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