From Cleckheaton to Harvard: state pupils win US scholarships

Summer-school scheme gives young Britons a boost

A dozen state school pupils have won coveted scholarship places worth millions of pounds at leading American universities through a scheme to help less privileged teenagers attend world-class institutions.

The 12 have been awarded scholarships totalling over $2m (£1.24m) after attending the first-ever summer school for UK state school pupils in the United States. Three of the 12 have been awarded places at Yale and one at Harvard.

The scheme is run by the Sutton Trust education charity, which is dedicated to securing equal opportunities in higher education for disadvantaged young people, in conjunction with the US-UK Fulbright Commission.

It targets state school pupils with good GCSE grades who will be the first generation in their family to attend university. Priority is given to those from low and middle-income families, attending low-performing schools or from poor neighbourhoods.

The scheme was launched in the year that fees at UK universities rose to up to £9,000 a year. It is designed to help those from less well-off families compete on a equal footing in the US with those from wealthy backgrounds.

Life will be very different for the 12 than it would have been had they opted to stay in the UK for their studies. The US higher education system has a much broader approach to studies than the UK with students not having to decide what to major in during their first year of study.

One of the 12, Harry Edwards, an 18-year-old from Cleckheaton in Yorkshire who won a place at Harvard and is also in line for a scholarship at the University of North Carolina, said: "I prefer the liberal arts style of education because I think it better prepares students for post-graduate education than studying one subject very intensely as we do in Britain."

The number of UK undergraduates studying in the US is growing with 4,339 snapping up places this year.

"I will be the first person in my family ever to attend university," said one of the students, 17-year-old Ben Devaney. As a pupil at Wednesfield High School in Wolverhampton, he has been entitled to free school meals – now he will get a full scholarship to study at Colorado College. "To do so in America is beyond my wildest dreams."

Before the 12 secured their places in the US, they had to jump through more hurdles than would have been the case in the UK. The US universities require potential students to sit SATs (aptitude tests) to determine who gets in.

"As I learnt more about the calibre of students I was competing against, my confidence began to drain and it was only the support of the Sutton Trust which got me through the essays, exams and interviews," said 17-year-old Jennifer Evans, a pupil at Bryn Celynnog comprehensive school in Pontypridd, Wales.

After clearing those hurdles, they have been offered substantial or full scholarships. The average salary of the parents whose children attended the summer school was £25,000 a year.

Lucinda Denney, aged 17 and one of the three students to be accepted on a scholarship at Yale University, added: "Basically, there is no way I would ever have been able to apply to university in the US and get into Yale without being part of the summer school."

So far eight of the 12 have accepted their offers. The other four are still considering theirs with a further 10 students in the running for places.

As a result of the success of the project, the number of places on it will be more than doubled this year to take in 150 students at two summer schools, one at Yale and the other at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said the summer schools offered a "fantastic opportunity for some of our brightest young people to get a taste of life at Britain's and America's greatest universities".

Going to America: The students who made it over there

Ben Devaney, 17

A student at Wednesfield High School in Wolverhampton, where he is taking A-levels in maths, English literature and history. Ben qualified for free meals while at school and is an orphan who lives with his aunt and uncle. Has won a full scholarship to study at Colorado College.

Lucinda Denney, 18

Has been accepted by Yale on a scholarship and is from the first generation in her family to go to university. Lucinda, whose father is a welder and mother is a dental receptionist, lives in Fleetwood and is studying for five A-levels – classical civilisation, critical thinking, economics, English literature and French.

Harry Edwards, 18

Has been offered a place at Harvard and is also in the running for a prestigious scholarship at the University of North Carolina. Harry is an A-level student studying maths, further maths, economics, physics and general studies, at Greenhead sixth-form college in Huddersfield.

Elliott Miller, 17

Attends the Blue Coat Church of England school in Coventry, where he is studying for A-levels in maths, French and business studies. He is the first in his family to go to university – his mother is a holistic therapist and his father valets cars. He has been accepted by Middlebury College in Vermont on a scholarship.

Jennifer Evans, 17

Studies at Bryn Celynnog in Pontypridd. Her mother is a play worker; her father is a credit manager. Accepted at Dartmouth, New Hampshire on a scholarship. She is from the first generation in her family to go to university.

Iain Barr, 17

He has been accepted by Yale on a scholarship. Attends Cheadle and Marple college in Stockport, where he is taking English literature, history, German and maths A-levels. His father is a retired lab technician; his mother is a teacher.

Joseph Vinson, 17

Attends Queen Elizabeth's school in Barnet, where he is taking geography, English literature, history, and government and politics A-levels. He has been accepted at Yale on a scholarship. His parents run a small electrical business.

Rob Jones, 18

Studying at Robert Clack school and taking A-levels in English literature, history, and philosophy and ethics. He lives in Dagenham and his mother is a secretary. He has been accepted to Connecticut College on a scholarship.