Record numbers of sixth-formers applied for places on a summer school programme that helps state-school children gain access to the country's top universities.
Almost 2,500 pupils applied for 700 places on the Sutton Trust's free, week-long summer schools, held this month at the universities of Oxford, Bristol, Cambridge, Nottingham and St Andrews.
Applications were up by 14 per cent on last year.
Dr Tessa Stone, director of the trust, said it had become better at advertising the summer schools. She added: "I suspect the debate on access to higher education and the fierce competition for top university places has also highlighted the need for the service we offer."
The summer schools offer a taste of university life to pupils who might otherwise have no idea what to expect, including those who may be the first in their family to go into higher education.
Luke Hillary, 17, of Stanground college, Peterborough, went to the summer school at Nottingham university. His father supervises security guards and his mother is deputy manager of an old people's home. He hopes to be the first in his family to go to university and wants to study biochemistry.
"Academically the lectures were involving and interesting, but the summer school was more than that," said Luke. "It presented a package of university life, things like living in student accommodation, and it was nice to mix with people from all over the UK."
The National Foundation for Educational Research, which monitors the trust's projects, has suggested the summer schools help break down barriers between state school pupils and leading universities.
About a third of the sixth-formers went on to win a place at the university where they attended summer school, while most of the others found places at other leading universities.
Dan Rumney, 24, was at the first summer school at Oxford university in 1997 while he was a pupil at Ryton comprehensive, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. He later graduated from Christ Church college, Oxford, with a degree in physics.
He said: "A lot of people from state schools would never consider applying to Oxford or Cambridge because they think they will not fit in. But while I was there I decided, 'Yes, I am going to apply to Oxford. Why shouldn't I?'"
Richard White, 24, was at Emmanuel college in Gateshead when he went on a summer school to Oxford. He went on to study history at Keble college, Oxford.
He said: "I had already been for an interview at Oriel college, Oxford. But that had gone badly and I came away feeling totally out of my depth - academically as well as socially.
"But my teachers suggested I attend the summer school and I enjoyed it so much that I decided I was definitely going to apply to Oxford."