Students working on behalf of Save the Children found child refugees living in London feel isolated in school.
Researcher Meron Abebaw, 19, came to Britain with her family from Ethiopia seven years ago. She hopes to become a human rights lawyer but her careers adviser suggested she take a general national vocational qualification in travel and tourism.
She said: "I've never been pushed to my limit or expected to reach my true potential. It was always 'She's a refugee. She doesn't speak the language. What's the point?' Well, the point is, I'm intelligent. I learnt the language. I took the exams."
Meron has got a place at the London School of Economics to read politics and international relations in September. However, she was horrified at the number of pupils she interviewed "about to be denied their chances".
She said: "When you come to a country and know nothing about the education system, you need to be clear about the choices you have. Some hadn't even been told that doing well in GCSEs leads to A-levels and then you can go to university. The pupils we interviewed were given help if they failed to achieve academically, but not if they did. It's too easy for any student to fail with that attitude."
Joanne Bailey, of Save the Children, said: "The pupils were talking to people who had been through the same experiences so the answers were particularly revealing. These children are being sold short."
Let's Spell it Out, from the Horn of Africa Youth Scheme and Save the Children, is available free from SCF, 2nd Floor, Cambridge House, Cambridge Grove, London, W6 0LE.