My Welcome to Yale

Lucinda Denney18 year-old Lucinda Denney, an A-level student from Blackpool, is one of 12 students already offered places at leading US universities, thanks to the Sutton Trust summer school. As our guest blogger today, she reflects on going to Yale:

When I was accepted to the Sutton Trust’s US Summer School Programme, I could never have even imagined the opportunities that would come as a result of being part of such an unprecedented and truly outstanding scheme.

The experience of travelling to America for the first time, staying at and visiting some of America’s most prestigious universities, having tea at the British Consulate, watching a show on Broadway and then, after I returned to the UK, having to undertake the extensive American application system and prepare for standardised testing was simply a whirlwind of excitement, joy, stress and pure satisfaction.

Despite the ups and downs of the process, the trials and tribulations, one thing did remain a constant: there is no way I would ever have been able to apply to university in the US, and get into Yale no less, without the help of the Sutton Trust and the US-UK Fulbright Commission.

The advice, dedication and sheer commitment of every single member of the team provided me with the support I needed to get through such a demanding process and come out the other side having fulfilled every dream I ever had when I set out on this programme back in the summer of 2012.

I made the decision to apply to university in America because their universities don’t just look at your academic results. They place a far greater value upon what makes a person who they are, the activities they enjoy, the things that inspire them, what drives them, and their past achievements and accomplishments. It cannot be said that universities in the US aren’t known for their superior academic excellence, as they regularly top world university rankings, but it is also the diversity and sheer talent that composes their student bodies that made me want to be a part of such a prestigious university system.

I feel that, before I have even started my time at Yale, that due to being a part of this process and by simply applying to American universities I have gained a sense of independence, the realisation that nothing is ever impossible if you give it your all, a greater feeling of self-worth in my own capabilities and achievements, and most importantly memories and friendships that will undoubtedly last a lifetime.

I found out on December 16th 2012 at 10pm that I had been accepted to Yale as part of their Class of 2017. Although that night is now quite I blur, I do remember the moment the Yale bulldog sung its song of congratulations to me and when I went on to read the Dean’s letter of acceptance.

I was overcome by emotion but I can honestly say that it really was one of the best moments of my life as it made me realise that all of my hard work and commitment to my studies and my extra-curricular activities had finally paid off and I would be hopefully heading off to the university of my dreams in the fall of 2013.

A British Take on the American Dream

James Turner reflects on the experience of the first US Sutton Trust summer school

As well as contending with the early UCAS deadline and the stresses and strains of A levels, hundreds of British youngsters are currently navigating the US university application process – particularly those hoping to make the 1st November early decision deadline.

The majority of these will be in fee-paying schools where applications to the US are becoming more common – along with dedicated advisers to help guide students through the morass.

But at least fifty of these young people won’t be from our top private schools. They are from state schools and low and middle income homes and are participants in the Sutton Trust’s first ever US summer school and advice programme, run in partnership with Fulbright.  They were recruited last winter from a pool of 700 applicants, and have enjoyed a programme centred on an unforgettable week in Yale in July.

I was lucky enough to accompany the students and witness their reactions as they saw not only Yale, but Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Trinity and Wesleyan too.  Their enjoyment and inspiration more than repaid the long hours which went into to developing the programme and numerous logistical headaches – I can testify that there is little more stressful than shepherding dozens of teenagers down a bustling Fifth Avenue.

From those heady summer days the students have really had to buckle down and put in some serious work.  In addition to the common application form, most US universities also require students to complete a supplement, which includes at least a couple of essays. Added to that, students need to prepare for the SAT or ACT admissions tests – and most colleges also want a couple of subject tests to boot. And then the youngsters need to start considering which of the hundreds of US universities are the right fit for them.

There’s also an interesting need to re-orientate from a British perspective. There is no room for English reserve in the three teacher references American universities require, for example – if the student is amongst the best a teacher has taught in their career, this needs to spelt out. And US universities are looking much more widely than academic achievement and who is going to get the best degree – they are also interested in extra-curriculars, leadership and, above all, context, context, context.   An application focussed solely on a love of physics is unlikely to cut the mustard.

The prize is certainly worth the effort, though. The fact that 50 of the 64 students we took to the US in the summer are still in the game is testament to that.  As our chairman has pointed out, if any of our students are lucky enough to get into one of the six institutions which offer a full ride to international students, everything will be free – tuition, living costs, travel. No debts on graduation and a qualification that sets you apart from the pack. Plus there are a couple of hundred of other US universities which offer generous aid, 50 or 75 percent of costs, to British students.

The programme is a classic Sutton Trust initiative, founded on the belief that if a great opportunity exists, it is fundamentally unfair – not to mention a shameful waste of talent – if it is being accessed only by a narrow section of society. Last year, 80% of the 4,500 Brits who chose the US for undergraduate study were from private schools. We need to expose US admissions staff to the great pool of talent in British schools beyond the usual suspects.

So, our US programme will expand in 2013, at Yale and elsewhere, acting as a beacon to other state school students harbouring an American dream.

Meanwhile, I am full of admiration for this year’s studentship.  The very best of luck to them all.

The Case for Fairer Fees

Sir Peter Lampl makes the case for means-tested fees as new research suggests that fear of debt is a significant concern.

Today, the Sutton Trust has published new evidence that the level of fees may be having a disproportionate deterrent effect on young people from low income homes.

Research by Ipsos MORI for the Trust shows that fear of debt and cost concerns could be deterring significant numbers of young people from going to university, or choosing the most appropriate place to study.

While it remains true that four in five 11-16 year-olds aspire to enter higher education, children from single parent families are nearly three times as likely to say their family couldn’t afford for them to be a student as those living in two parent homes. Youngsters also start to worry more about student debt as they get older.

The polling also shows that many potential students expect to pay more to attend elite universities – such as Oxford, Cambridge, Durham or Bristol – than other universities.  This is despite the fact that almost all universities are now charging close to the £9000 maximum for their courses.

This latest polling follows a report in August by the Independent Commission on Fees, chaired by Will Hutton, showing that around one person in 20 who would have been expected to apply to university in 2012 if the recent trend of increasing application rates among 18-years-olds in England was maintained did not do so. This equates to approximately 15,000 ‘missing’ young applicants.

It also comes after the latest UCAS figures for 2012-13 showing that the number of young people from the UK and the EU who have been accepted this year is 56,000 below that for last year. This figure included under-recruitment at seven Russell Group universities.

I think that taken together these pieces of evidence suggest that the Government has gone too far in allowing universities to set fees of £9000 each. The new fees are simply too high, and the cuts in teaching budgets too deep. Taken together, they make Britain a complete outlier by international standards.

I supported the £1000 fee in 1998 and I backed the increase to £3000 in 2006, because I believed that they struck a reasonable balance in funding between the state and the individual. Had the Government opted for an increase to, say, £5000, this might have been reasonable.

But £9000 is a step too far. Of course, ministers will argue that the repayments system is fair because young people need not make any repayments below an income of £21,000, as opposed to £15,000 in the old system. But the size of the cumulative debt for tuition is trebled and daunting to an increasing number of young people from low and middle income families, and their parents. Those who currently pay independent school fees can simply pay these fees up-front.

University vice-chancellors have toed the party line, arguing that extra fees will boost academic coffers and not alienate students. But the Oxford experience suggests this is not how they truly feel.

My old university recently announced a £300 million fund that builds on an exceptional gift of £75 million by Michael Moritz, a fellow alumnus based in California, that will result in no increase in tuition fees for low-income students. This surely is a bold statement – backed up by £300m – that they believe fees are a deterrent.

What would I do about it all? Put simply, I think we now need to move to needs blind admissions for universities, just as happens in many US universities. We treat young people as if they are financially independent at 18, which is plainly ridiculous. Why should a boarding-school student pay the same as a kid from a council estate? Before the era of tuition fees the student maintenance grant was means-tested, so there is no logic in treating fees differently. It could be paid for, in part, by savings from state-subsidised loans.

I saw a better vision of university funding in action over the summer when the Sutton Trust ran its first US summer school for low and middle-income British students at Yale. If those students went to a top US university, those from families with an income below £40,000 would get their higher education free.

The Government should think again about its fees and loans package. The evidence is mounting that the new fees are seen as too high, particularly by those on modest means. Ministers should means test the fees, so that merit not money is the key consideration in a young person’s decision.