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D has just received an offer from the University of Cambridge for a place in October 2016. To be honest though, she is only about 61% of her ideal body weight and a good 20kg away from 100% IBW. I don't think she is ready but she is desperate to go and says she will take out a student loan to pay for it.
Congratulations to your daughter on the offer of a place, but I think that you have already answered the question for yourself.  If your daughter is still actively ill with an eating disorder, Cambridge, or any other institute of higher education, is not likely to be the best place for her to recover - quite the opposite in fact.  The university deals with higher education at the highest levels - recovery from an eating disorder is not something that fits in easily alongside, or at all.

In my experience of university and mental health care in a similar institution, there is not much support on the ground typically, beyond individuals who may be aware of some part of the problem (college tutors, chaplains etc) offering their support in enabling students to take a year or more out of their studies to go home and recover from their eating disorder/depression/anxiety/other psychiatric condition that means they are not well enough to be there.  GPs are often overwhelmed by student care needs in towns where those students are temporarily resident, and also often not best able to offer the kind of care that is needed or to direct to where it might be found, IF it is even available.

It doesn't have to mean the end of the road for a Cambridge goal, there are also often options to defer a place until the student is well enough to attend.  Taking out a student loan, BTW, is only a part of the picture - it will cover fees, and it will be enough to cover either accommodation expenses OR other living expenses, but is unlikely to cover both unless the family financial circumstances mean that other bursaries and financial assistance are findable (and they are not always). 

It sounds to me like you need to have a frank conversation where the answers to this question are not either now or never, but if and when and how and with what support behind her - financial and moral, as well as medical.  It's a tough one, but better to manage expectations appropriately now than have an emergency call to make when, as is likely, she is floundering in a situation that has become dangerous/life-threatening.
Erica, UK
Hi SuperMum61

My first reaction is no!
It's too risky.
I remember the professor at the hospital where my daughter was an in patient for refeeding telling us how ED sufferers lose about 18 months of their education. Remember how much the brain is affected. The shrinkage that occurs. The ED sufferer loses important skills for study like concentration. I know. I've seen it happen to my daughter. But you know what? She went on to university later and is achieving high distinction results. She wouldn't be doing that if she didn't recover first. Getting on top of the ED is way more important. The opportunities for education will be there later.
Hi there - I'm afraid I echo others here. She needs weight restoration as a starting point and then a period of time afterwards to heal. I would start to look into deferral options, do they exist in cases of illness, what is the deadline for applying for deferral etc. Practical enquiries ASAP to help you see what is possible and what is not .You are in a good position now in terms of providing a carrot and something to work towards and having something great in place for the future and a clear target to aim for in terms of life outside of the eating disorder. So many young ED sufferers at this stage just can't see what the future may hold at all . She will know possibly that she has to recover so that she is free and well enough to enjoy this opportunity which she would not do now. . it is so hard for you I know because it is such a great opportunity for her but if you can organise it so that the place is still there for 2017 then you can focus 100% on health without the distraction of academics and the accompanying pressures. I don't know your Ds actual weight but at a low weight she would not be in a position to make sensible decisions about her own health but at 61% Of IBW it sounds like she is still very ill. I've seen too many girls have to leave university for a period because of ED and not being ready and in a lot of respects that is even more disruptive than deferring.
Hi Supermum 61,

Congratulations on your daughter's offer of a place in Cambridge! You must be very proud. I think you already know the answer to your question, as you say you think she is not ready. Last summer I was in a similar situation. My d. had been accepted to the honors college at an excellent university with a scholarship and I posted a similar thread to yours. There were many parents who replied and advised us to defer until she was well, but I was inexperienced and my D. looked healthy and was happily looking forward to her college life. So was the ED. As far as I can tell, he sprang into action as soon as she got there telling her to restrict her diet. And this was after she had been eating well at home so I felt I had no real cause for alarm in sending her off.

We worked hard all winter, spring and summer with her and her therapist and dietitian, and we all thought she was in a great place to start.
Let me say she was at no time as low as 61% of IBW. She was probably about 8 lbs less than she should have been when she went off. But I should have been clued in by the fact that she would not go above that weight which was at the very low end of her healthy weight range. And that was after months of careful care and refeeding and therapists visits here at home. 

After 7 weeks we got a call that she was suicidal and could not go into the dining hall, and we had to bring her home. We are eternally thankful that she told someone about her thoughts, and now she is in residential care and getting the help that she needs. She also feels like a miserable failure because she could not complete the semester and her strength had always been academics. In addition to almost losing our beloved daughter, we also lost a considerable amount of money which we had paid for her room and board. 

Can your daughter defer the acceptance and work on recovery and go to university after she has reached her IBW through refeeding and she is able to quiet the ED voices and not listen to them? 

I'm sorry that you and your d. need to make this choice—we all want our children to be independent and successful.


Congrats to your daughter!!  I am a middle of the road kind of person when it comes to life stops until you eat in that I don't believe completely allowing someone to have no life helps that person continue to want to live and continue to develop skills needed to survive after weight restoration.  With my daughter completely stopping her life led to a lot of depression and suicide attempts. 

Having said that though at 61% of her IDW sounds way too risky to me.  With a weight that low, you just never knew what can happen.  Is there anyway she could defer a year and then use that as a reason to gain those pounds and get well?

Many congratulations to your daughter!

May I ask which subject she intends to pursue at university? I know from when my D applied that some faculties actively encourage gap years, while some are less favourable. Cambridge is a very high pressure environment and there are, unfortunately, a lot of anorexics there. If you D is still ill I would urge you not to let her go, but instead to defer.

My son has some friends there studying sciences and they work work work. All evening all weekend pretty much. She needs to be recovered or a lot further forward to cope with the pressure.
However, what superb motivation for her to recover.
It will be life that takes over from ED when it let's go and she holds the reins.
Can she focus on recovery or will the pressure be too much? How far are you from Cambridge?
NELLY D 20 bulimic since age 12, diagnosed in 2011. 20 months useless CAMHs,7 months great IP, home March 14..... more useless CAMHs.now an adult & no MH services are involved. I reached the end of my tether, tied a knot in it and am hanging on. ED/Bulimia treatmentis in the dark ages in West Sussex.
As a mum who is currently watching her d struggle at uni I say defer. I think this is your gut instinct too but it is very hard to say no to our kids or for them to understand how hard it is to deal with an ed and being away from home at uni. Especially in an Oxbridge environment where students live and breathe the academic environment with little escape from the pressures of high achieving.
You just need to goggle Cambridge (or Oxford) and eating disorders to get stories of how hard it is to deal with an ed at uni, any uni.

See this too:-


Your d should be able to defer on health grounds. Take advice from your d's school regarding the deferral procedure.
Use the prospect of going in 2017 as an incentive for your d to fully recover in the meantime.
HillBilly (formerly registered June 2012 under another name)
Hi SM - 

How great for your d.  We are in the US, but spent a day in Cambridge when visiting the UK a few years ago.  I LOVED it and I wanted to go there! [smile]

One of the things that I think makes EDs so challenging for parents is that parenting a child with an ED (especially a young adult) is so counter-intuitive.  We feel like not letting them go away to school when everyone else does will be detrimental to them.  There is also this belief that if they can move forward with their life, maybe it will help them recover from the ED.  I know because I subscribed to this approach for awhile with my d.  Finally, it became such a crisis that it was no longer an option.  Life had to stop until she was recovered. And then, even once she was weight restored, we kept her home for a semester until she had a strong base of recovery under her belt. Most professionals believe that 6 months to a year of strong recovery is needed before they are ready to be away at school. This blog from a professional here in the US I found very helpful.


My daughter had been weight restored for about 3 months when it was time to go away to university. We made the very difficult decision of keeping her home. Her school was very understanding with the deferral.  In fact, in the US, you can automatically defer for a year at most schools without even explaining the medical reason. 

My d was furious.  She too threatened to get a loan and do it on her own. We were calm, but firm.  We emphasized that as hard as it was, she had the rest of her life in front of her once we could kick the ED.  I am one who does better with a plan B.  We knew that if she did try to go anyway, we would inform the school of the medical reason of why she needed to sit out.  Schools are very cautious of taking on students who should not be there and we knew they would probably require medical leave.  In the end, my d reluctantly accepted the plan.

I won't sugar coat it.  It was a hard and lonely semester for her.  However, two years later, she would be the first to say that it made the difference in her recovery.  In fact, when a dear friend she had met in treatment had not been able to get better after a few years in school, my d was instrumental in getting her into treatment and then taking an extra semester out of school to cement her recovery. My d was adamant that it was a necessary step for her friend.

Today I took my d to the airport to return to her out of state university.  In a week, she will leave from school to study in Argentina for the semester.  I am certain that had she not taken the time necessary to truly kick ED to the curb, she would not be able to take advantage of this amazing opportunity.

My heart hurts for you and your d.  I know though that when my d saw that we really weren't going to let her move forward with her life until she was in strong recovery, it helped her push through the worst of times.

Enjoying my 23 year-old daughter's achievement of active recovery that was made possible by the resources and education I found on this forum.

Don't give up hope!
I can only emphasise and agree that this as much as she wants to go she URGENTLY needs intensive treatment. If the figures you have given are correct doing the maths is somewhat alarming. You mention that she is 61% of her IBW and that she needs to gain 20kg. Doing some reverse maths on this it would appear that your D is currently about 31kg (68lb) for our US friends. What can you do to ensure that she is receiving the treatment she desperately needs?
D diagnosed restrictive AN June 2010 age 13. Mostly recovered 10 years later.  Treatment: multiple hospitalisations and individual and family therapy.

I would like to congratulate your D on the offer... I imagine it might be hard for her to think well of herself and so such an offer from a prestigious University, I hope, must be really lovely for her self-esteem. Which is why I feel very bad to write as such a Debbie Downer… [frown]


It sounds like other people are giving you very good answers about whether to go to university at all, but I am going to address this specific university, as someone who studied and also worked in the academic environment there. I am here for my friend, but we both fell down the ED ‘rabbit hole’ there. Things got a bit shaky for me but I was one of those lucky people capable of self-correcting without a lot of intervention, so my problems were more related to anxiety and depression and I’m fine now ED-wise. My friend was (is) not so lucky and still struggling. A previous poster is right that there will be probably be a lot of anorexics there, ‘functional’ ones and rapidly sinking ones. (There was an ED support group when I was there, though I’m not sure if it’s still running). It is just that kind of pressure-cooker environment and draws in students who are perfectionists. I would just say that it is not a particularly kind or supportive environment.


I imagine it must be unbearable to think of ‘taking away’ your D’s achievement, and I am so sorry that you are in this position. But I think like others have already said, it could be an act of love.


It’s hard to see at the time, and I doubt your D will think this way, but for a HAPPY university experience, I really wouldn’t recommend Oxbridge. Students are strongly attracted by the prestige, but in terms of enjoying herself - not necessary. Furthermore, in terms of doing well academically, she may not achieve her highest potential at Oxbridge if the environment is as toxic for her as it is to SOME others. 


I will post below the long reply I wrote to someone else, but the offer at the end still stands - if you, or your D, would like to talk to someone ‘on the inside’ at Cambridge (and if you did decide to take up the offer), I’d be only too happy to help. 


Here’s my previous reply…



It made me a bit scared to be honest, to think of a vulnerable young person going into Oxbridge. Full disclosure why...I am one of those who fell 'down the rabbit hole' at Cambridge, and I'm not alone. There is some awful statistic about 1 in 3 Cambridge students having mental health problems... I don't know how that compares with national averages and obviously I don't know what mental health problems and whether they were existent or 'caused' by the stress of Cambridge, so it's hardly a very scientifically STRONG statistic... but I'm scared of it nonetheless, and when I was teaching sixth form I advised students AWAY from Cambridge for that reason. I teach undergraduates at Cambridge and the pressure they are under seems, to me, to be MUCH higher than at some other universities. Shorter terms with increased intensity. Essays every week. More academic supervision, but I don't know about pastoral care - I didn't get any, but I was there as a PhD student.  

I can see that your dd must be extremely bright and you must be proud of her, and most importantly, you want her to be proud of herself. I can see how it would be awful to take away something that she and you feel that she's worked so hard for [frown] I am just scared of Oxbridge... I just couldn't recommend it to some of the students I taught.

Something I think is very important for these very bright students to be aware of. At Cambridge (presumably Oxford, too), you are among a lot of kids with very big egos and a lot of confidence. Of course, there were also kids like me, pretty insecure. But the thing that MOST of the kids have in common is very high ability, and MANY if not most of them are extremely hard "strivers"... I'm not expressing it very well, but to explain how it was for me... I went from an environment where I was "the genius" into an environment where I had to work very very hard to keep up, was constantly undermined by more confident students...and just wasn't special at all. Plus, and this is a big thing for me, I feel there is a climate which is more geared towards 'stick' than 'carrot'. Some people are more motivated by competition, and Cambridge fosters that; you don't get much positive reinforcement (no 'wow, well done, that's fantastic' etc). My confidence was/is so bad that in situations of competition where I don't do well, I just sink and hate myself rather than trying harder - which is what they're trying to provoke. I think a lot of students going to Cambridge have a huge culture shock, because they go from being the school genius to being a tiny fish in a pond full of highly ambitious, equally bright fish.

 My undergraduate experience was so good because I went to a less prestigious university (MUCH less prestigious - Anglia Ruskin, also Cambridge), and they were so thrilled to have such an enthusiastic student, even though I had little confidence, that they gave me so much positive reinforcement...and I responded to that and did really well.

I really think that I would not have got the good results I did at Cambridge University. Knowing the type of personality I am - quite self-loathing, insecure, NOT motivated by competition (meaning I get upset from it and give up rather than rising to the challenge). Not only would I not have got the good results, but maybe I would have become ill sooner? Who knows - but just...... I must confess I'm a bit scared of it because of my experience.

I am truly so sorry to give you this long life-story... I'm a bit ashamed. I just wanted to illustrate my points. I just was a bit scared when I read about Oxbridge, and I wanted you to hear from someone who's been there. If it would be helpful for you, or your d, to talk to someone about Oxbridge, I would be more than happy to help. I would just... think very carefully about your d's personality, as well as her stage of recovery, before you send her there. (I.e. will she cope well with being constantly challenged, very likely not given much positive reinforcement, would she be motivated by challenge or intimidated, etc). If she is thinking purely about getting a good grade at the end of it - Oxbridge may NOT necessarily be the BEST choice. It carries the prestige, but... I'm just scared that it's a bit dangerous. I get quite upset watching what they put my undergrads (the ones I teach) through.