I want to be in America: state pupils to cross pond

Talented Year 12s will travel to US to explore Ivy League options

Irena Barker

"It will be really difficult for my parents, but the financial rewards and academic prospects will bring them round to it," said 17-year-old Tahmid Chowdhury (pictured below) of his plans to apply to study for a degree in the US.

"The liberal arts policy is attractive; there are so many subjects I enjoy and this would mean I don't have to give them all up," he added.

Tahmid, who is predicted to gain four As at A level, sums up the attitude of many talented British sixth-formers, who are increasingly considering studying for degrees at US universities in the face of #163;9,000 yearly tuition fees at home.

He is also one of a group of 64 Year 12 students, selected from 700 applicants, due to take part in the first US summer school run by social mobility charity the Sutton Trust.

Next week the students, half of whom are eligible for free school meals, will fly to Yale University for a week-long programme introducing them to academic life across the pond. The young people, three-quarters of whose parents did not go to university, will also visit Princeton, Harvard and Columbia universities, meeting students, professors and admissions tutors.

Tahmid, who attends Central Foundation Boys' School in London, added: "I'm so excited about going. My parents are unemployed and would never be able to pay for me to study in the US, but there are some really good scholarship schemes."

James Turner, director of projects at the Sutton Trust, said the trip would address concerns that sixth-formers may have about US study and "shine a light" on the option. "There are more than 200 American universities offering more than 50 per cent aid to middle- and low-income students," he said. "At Harvard, if your parents earn less than #163;40,000, you can get everything paid for."

The trip comes after it emerged that more state school sixth-formers are enquiring about studying for degrees in the US, muscling in on territory once dominated by private schools.

The Fulbright Commission, which encourages people to apply to US universities, said there has been a "significant swing" in the people using its advisory services, with far more state school pupils and teachers approaching it. Half the students who came to its most recent college day - attended by 150 US universities - were from state schools, a spokeswoman added.

The number of British students choosing to study at European universities has also increased, although overall numbers remain relatively low. Courses at Dutch universities, which are substantially cheaper than those in the UK and are often taught in English, attracted 1,350 students in 2010-11.

But a Fulbright Commission survey of US universities showed that the interest was yet to translate to a significant leap in applications from state schools.

"It has been the exciting trend," said Lauren Welch, marketing director at the Fulbright Commission. "There has been such a significant swing in the people using our advisory service. We are seeing people from schools we've never even heard of saying, 'We are new to this; can you help us?'

"But many people don't know anyone who has gone to the US, so they are not sure whether to go for it."

Including private school applicants, the proportion of students taking US college entrance exams in Britain increased by a third last year compared with 2008, according to the Fulbright Commission. Last year, about 4,000 British students chose to study for an undergraduate degree in the US.

Anthony Seldon, master of the private Wellington College in Berkshire, said recently that US universities are becoming more popular because British ones are stuck in a "malaise" fuelled by underinvestment. He claimed that cash-strapped British universities provide less contact time with lecturers and display only a "perfunctory interest" in sport and the arts.


The latest generation of sixth-formers to apply to US universities will be following in the footsteps of undergraduates such as Laura Spence, who hit the headlines in 2000.

The state school pupil sparked a national outcry about social mobility and elitism after being rejected from Oxford despite gaining five As at A level. She eventually accepted a #163;35,000 scholarship from Harvard and, after graduating in biological sciences, went on to complete a graduate medical course at Cambridge.

She said that the American system had offered her a "more balanced" undergraduate degree.

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Irena Barker

Irena Barker is a freelance journalist.

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