British Students Find Advantages at U.S. Schools

A recently announced charity program is offering British students of less-privileged families the opportunity to attend some of America's top colleges at little or no cost.

Students hosted by The Sutton Trust in Britain visited Yale University in
New Haven, Conn., this summer.

LONDON — For Elliot Miller, the conventional path to academic success in Britain just was not a good fit.

Although an excellent student, Mr. Miller, a senior at Coventry Blue Coat School in the West Midlands, resisted the imperative of choosing a single subject to study, as is customary at British universities. “I want to do economics,” he said. “But I also really want to study French and Chinese.”

Coming from a state school, he also knew that the admissions process at Oxford or Cambridge — which take nearly half their new students from private schools, in a country where 93 percent of students attend state schools — was not skewed in his favor.

Instead, Mr. Miller decided to apply to Middlebury College, a liberal arts school in Vermont renowned for its language programs, and to a handful of other U.S. schools. “I don’t really have any intention of going to a British university,” he said.

Stephanie Addenbroke, a senior at Upton Hall, a Catholic girls’ school near Liverpool, originally had her sights set on Oxbridge. Instead, she has decided to apply for early decision to Yale University.

Eleanor Cheyne, who wants to study aeronautical engineering, is in her last year at Newstead Wood, a state-funded girls’ school specializing in engineering and languages. She, like many British students, had long assumed that colleges in the United States were out of reach both financially and academically; but she has now applied to the Georgia Institute of Technology and plans to apply to other U.S. universities.

What made these students change their minds? Last summer, all three of them attended a new program run by a British charity and the Fulbright Commission. They traveled to London for two days of orientation and then to Yale in New Haven, Connecticut, for a week of classes and an introduction to American campus life. While in the United States, they visited other elite universities, like Wesleyan in Connecticut, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University in New York and Harvard in Massachusetts. Harvard also hosted a college fair for them.

Peter Lampl, a British businessman and the founder of the Sutton Trust, a charity dedicated to increasing educational opportunities for students from less privileged backgrounds, conceived of the program.

The trust has long run summer schools introducing students from disadvantaged backgrounds to elite British universities.

“There are actually quite a few British kids already going to American universities,” he said. “But nearly all of them come from a handful of private schools.”

“I’ve always been a great admirer of the American liberal arts colleges,” said Mr. Lampl, who is married to an American and spent much of his career in business working in the United States. “The world is becoming more international, and even the kids who decide not to apply have had a life-changing experience.”

Mr. Lampl was expected to announce Monday that the Sutton Trust-Fulbright summer school program in the United States was inviting applications for an expanded version of the project, which will take 150 British students from state schools to the United States for a week to visit either Yale or M.I.T.

Like the 64 students in the pilot program last year, all of the students will be chosen from families with annual incomes below £40,000, or about $60,000, making them eligible for full tuition scholarships at many U.S. universities. Last year, about half the students were eligible for free school meals, indicating a family income of £16,000; such students will also be given preference this year.

Mr. Lampl’s goal is to give academically gifted but financially disadvantaged students from Britain access to the same kind of educational opportunities available to their counterparts in the United States.

“We want to act as a beacon to inspire other talented state school students,” the trust said in a statement.

After the students return to Britain, the Sutton Trust will pay for a week of counseling service and assistance with college applications, as well as help in preparing for the ACT standardized admissions test.

The program coincides with a sharp spike in interest in U.S. universities among British students, prompted in part by a rise in British university tuition fees, which are now capped at £9,000 a year. In September, students lined up around the block to attend a U.S. college fair held in London by the Fulbright Commission. The fair was extended for an extra day.

“We’ve doubled in size over the last two years,” said Lauren Welch, director of student advising at the commission, which is funded by the U.S. and British governments. “It removes all of the obstacles or barriers that might prevent these students from coming to the U.S.,” she said. “Even for those who don’t apply now, many have said they’d apply to British schools with a year in the U.S., or apply to graduate school in the U.S.”

According to the Institute of International Education’s “Open Doors” survey, nearly 9,200 British students attended schools in the United States last year, making the United Kingdom the third largest country in Europe, after Turkey and Germany, to send students there. (Both countries’ contributions were dwarfed by the number of students from Asia.) Germany’s numbers had declined from the previous year, while the British share had grown. Also, more German students came for graduate degrees than undergraduate degrees.

For students from less affluent backgrounds, the economic arguments can be as compelling as the academic ones. Six American colleges and universities — Amherst in Massachusetts, Dartmouth in New Hampshire, Harvard, M.I.T, Princeton and Yale — assess international students on a need-blind basis, meaning that applicants are considered irrespective of their ability to pay tuition, with financial aid awarded purely on need, Ms. Welch said. All of the students in the Sutton Trust program would qualify for full tuition and living expenses, with some schools also paying for a flight home every summer.

“What we discovered is that there is actually a huge amount of money available for foreign students — about half a billion dollars spread out over 250 colleges,” Mr. Lampl said. “And the colleges don’t know how to find these kids.”

Whereas British universities offer students government loans to pay the new higher tuition fees, “our kids will come out with zero debt,” he said. “The Ivy League schools tell me they don’t want students to feel forced into high-paying jobs instead of teaching or public service. They don’t want to put them off going to graduate school,” he said.

For Eleanor Cheyne, the senior who wants to study aeronautical engineering, the trip to the United States was a series of surprises. “I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did,” she said. But the finances made her decision a lot easier. “If I stay here and study engineering, that’s four years — so I’d be looking at £50,000 of debt. This showed me that places I wouldn’t have dreamed of before were actually in my reach — and that they made financial sense.”

- Nytimes.com


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