I’m at state school but next year I’ll be at Harvard

We spoke to the British child geniuses heading to the Ivy League


Of the 5,000 Brits studying as undergraduates in America, an alarmingly small amount come from low and middle income homes. Now 43 students, sponsored by the Sutton Trust, have been accepted into a total of 28 institutions, four at Harvard, four at Princeton and two at Yale. More than half of them come from households that earn less than £25,000 a year and for the vast majority (86 per cent) they will be the first in their family to go to university. Between them they have been offered $10m in financial aid from the universities for the next four years, meaning that many of them will graduate with little to no debt.

We caught up with six of these high-achievers to chat about their success in the past year, and their hopes for their future, as they prepare to take the big leap across the pond.

Jack Tait – Princeton University

Jack is from Chingford, East London. He is a fan of politics, having done two weeks of work experience in David Cameron’s office and spending a week at a think tank. He is also Head Boy at his school and is fully qualified football referee with the London FA. When his mother fell seriously ill Jack became her main carer for nearly two years.

Hi Jack, how does it feel to be going to America?

Amazing, absolutely amazing. I’m still in shock. To tell you the truth I was shocked when I even got into the programme. It’s weird to think nine months ago I heard about it for the first time and now here I am.

Anything in particular your excited for?

Just the whole well-roundedness really. It’s so much more than just academic. So many opportunities to explore new activities –  volunteering, community service, I want to help the people around me. I want to be part of the school spirit. I’m going to go to all the sports events, especially the American football, I’m a big Patriots fan.

Have you always wanted to go to America?

America has always been at the back of my mind – but until recently it didn’t seem like a real option. I looked at a lot of British universities first but when I got involved with the programme I realised that America was an option.

But why America instead of Britain?

I felt that in England, time outside of class is time wasted. At colleges in the U.S, everything helps, everything counts. It’s like they really care about you as a person. I’d really like to learn to play American football and learn Mandarin – at Princeton I’ll be able to do both.

Are you nervous?

I’m nervous-excited, if that makes sense. I’m going to really miss my mum, she’s supported me 100 per cent throughout this. She’s going to miss me too, but she can’t wait to hear how totally great it is.

And what about the drinking age, does that not put you off?

Of course I’m not naive enough to think there isn’t any alcohol, but I guess my uni life will be a different experience to what it would’ve been here. Instead of going to the pub, I’ll probably do something fun that doesn’t involve alcohol.

Ibrahim Butt – Duke University

Ibrahim lives in Blackburn and is from a family of ten. He will be in the first generation of his family to attend university. He sits on the board of directors of a regional youth development initiative, which has given him the opportunity to travel on exchanges to Bosnia, Germany, and Tunisia. While at school he also introduced Model United Nations to students.

So Ibrahim, not only have you got accepted into Duke, but you’ve also received the Robertson Scholarship Award. What is that?

It’s a scholarship for those who have demonstrated leadership in their community. It’s only given to two students a  year.

And what was it you did to demonstrate your community leadership?

Back in Lancashire I created a community organisation called 2020 Vision. It aims to develop leaders for the future. I come from a Muslim community and at 2020 we’re trying to break the balance between integration and segregation.

Are you excited to be going to Duke?

I’m excited but kind of scared. In eight months I’m going to North Carolina where I’ve never been before, to go to a university I’ve never visited. I only heard about Duke in April.

You’re going to a University you’ve never seen before?

Yes, when we came here last summer with the Sutton Trust, we looked at a lot of universities but we didn’t actually look at Duke. I’ve heard so many great things about it though. I’ve been watching a lot of campus Youtube videos and basketball games.

What are your plans when you get there?

Well I want to join the Muslim Student Association. Also I’m meant to be doing community service every summer as part of my scholarship – apparently in rural areas of Mississippi and Alabama at first. But then in a couple summers I can go to Africa or Australia.

Anything else?

I want to be Student President.

Carol Rossell – Tufts University

Carol is from the small seaside town of Bognor Regis, home to Butlins – where she works as a lifeguard. She is the co-founder of the Rights Respecting Schools ambassador group. Carol also mentors younger students in the sciences and Maths and runs the school’s Science club. She will be the first person in her family to attend university.

Hey Carol – how you feeling about going to America?

It’s a bit scary going away across the pond from my family for 4 years. I’m really excited to experience a new culture though.

And why not go somewhere closer to home?

I wanted to take the opportunity to take the path less trodden – but also the financial help from the Trust was a big factor. If your household makes under a certain amount, which mine does, you’re entitled to financial aid. When I get over there I’ll only be paying out of savings I already earmarked for university. Which means I’ll get to leave debt free.

You’ve been to America before right?

We came here last summer with the programme. we visited all the big universities like Harvard and MIT – we even got a lecture from an MIT professor.

Were the universities like you expected? Maybe like how they look in films?

They were the classic image in terms of the architecture, very grand. But I was also surprised at how big and green they were – much more than English unis that seem like they have a lot of concrete and stone. There was such a good vibe, both socially and academically.

Why Tufts?

Well originally I wanted to go to Dartmouth but then I heard about the research opportunities at Tufts. I’m passionate about Chemistry and Biology and I really liked the promise of interning at Biotech industry which is also in Boston.

Samuel Fox – Dartmouth College

Samuel comes from the small Scottish town of Cowdenbeath in west Fife. Sam is the founder of  his own product design company, Infinity Design, the first and only student-led product design company in Scotland, the profits of which feed straight into the improvement of his school’s DT faculty. As a keen fundraiser, he recently abseiled down the Forth Rail bridge for Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland. He will be the first in his family to attend university.

How’s it feel to be off to America so soon?


But are you excited?

I’m really excited. Excited about meeting all these new people. Different people from different backgrounds – people with other viewpoints and lifestyles.

Have you always wanted to go to the U.S?

I’ve always wanted to go but the idea never felt real – it never felt like something I could actually do.

What about it attracted you so much?

I remember first seeing how American university was in films, I knew it wasn’t real but it looked so much better than Britain. Then my friend went to Smith College last year (also on the Sutton Trust programme) and encouraged me to try.

Are they enjoying it?

Yeah she just got home for Christmas and just won’t stop talking about it.

What are you planning on getting involved in when there?

I’d really like to get involved in a lot of fundraising, it’s something I do a lot of at home and would like to carry it on there. I also want to do a lot of extracurriculars.

And what do you think about the drinking age?

Little bit annoyed because I turn 18 two days after I get there.

Are your mates jealous?

They still think I’m going to be in 35 degree wether – I keep trying to tell them that New Hampshire gets pretty cold.

Emma Humphries – Smith College

Emma is from Widnes, Cheshire. She is a keen martial artist, currently holding a blue stripe belt in Kuk Sool Won (a Korean martial art), ranking 1st in several national competitions. She is also a member of Cronton Sixth Form College’s Centre of Excellence for Performing Arts, starring in their productions of Dracula: The Musical and Chess. She is the first in her family to pursue higher education and the first from her school to apply to the US.

So Emma, are you nervous about going to study in America?

I’m really excited to go – I’m nervous, but probably would be even if I was going to a uni in the UK.

How do your family feel about you leaving?

They know how big a deal this is to me – I put in hard work. I’m sure they’ll be sad to see me go though, especially with the time difference and all.

When did you decide to go?

Nine months ago I wasn’t even considering it. But the more I looked into it, the more I realised how suited it was for me.

And Smith?

The moment I saw Smith, I could picture myself there. We went on our trip last summer and I loved the idea of a woman’s college. The location is absolutely gorgeous as well.

A woman’s college?

Yeah it’s all girls. A big part of it is empowerment through community. The systematic gender issues that appear at all universities in the world aren’t there. At Smith’s a woman’s voice can be heard. She can learn to be a leader in employment.

So you’re already looking to the future after university?

I want to be confident and empowered in getting a job.

How far away from the classic image of American College is it then?

It’s different, there’s no frat parties obviously. But there’s much of the same drama, people getting stressed about finals and all that.

And how do you feel about the drinking age?

From what I’ve heard there is a party culture but it’s easy to avoid – I’m not much of a party animal.

Alex Cox – Princeton University

Alex lives with his mother in the seaside town of Bournemouth. He is an avid musician, playing the piano and clarinet in various classical and jazz bands – he is Grade 8 in both. Passionate about creative writing, Alex won the JR Smith Writing prize at his school – a first for a Year 11. He volunteers at a local primary school teaching Maths and is a Sergeant in his school’s Cadet Force.

How does it feel to be going to America?

It seems a lot more real now that the tickets are booked and I’m applying for a visa. I only found out just before Christmas and I haven’t really stopped celebrating since.

Do you know anyone else going?

I’m quite lucky because there are 4 other people from the Sutton Trust going to Princeton.

Are you guys all very close?

We know each other well. We’ve been on 3 residentials and a week in the US as well. When we were doing our applications we were giving each other tips and comments.

So how’s the application for the Sutton Trust programme work?

It’s kind of like a miniaturised version of an American application. It’s all online and you do mini essays about your personal character and skills. Then you record a video interview of yourself, send in a transcript of your grades, and two references from teachers. Then you wait.

How does your family feel?

I’m an only child so my parents would be worried about me going off to university anyway. But my parents have always wanted to go to America so now they have an excuse. Plus part of the financial aid packet Princeton supplies is the cost of two return flights a year.

Is the drinking age going to be a problem?

That’s one of the first things people ask me when they hear I’m going. I guess I’ll have to find other ways to entertain myself  – and get the drinking in now while I’m 18 and in the UK.