Each year hundreds of sixth formers from schools and colleges up and down the country benefit from residential Summer Schools run by the Sutton Trust, an educational charity dedicated to raising aspirations among less privileged groups. As the deadline for this year’s applications approaches, we caught up with two Cambridge students whose lives were changed by taking part in the Summer School and who formed a lasting friendship as a result.

Will I fit in? Am I going to make friends? Am I going to have any fun? These were the nagging questions in the forefront of the minds of two sixth formers as they made their way separately, by public transport and with some trepidation, from London to Cambridge almost two years ago.

Ashley John-Baptiste (pictured left) and Kalu Onwuka (right) were on their way to one of the Sutton Trust Summer Schools held annually at the University of Cambridge. They would soon be meeting other sixth formers from all over the country, staying at a Cambridge college and getting a taste of undergraduate teaching.

For both, venturing beyond London was a novelty and neither were from families with any immediate experience of higher education. Ashley, a student at Bacon’s College in Rotherhithe in south east London, had never been to Cambridge before – and admits he wasn’t too keen on the prospect of “spending a week working and not having any fun”, as he saw it.

Kalu, who was doing his A levels at Brentside High School in Hanwell, west London, had visited the university once before, on a school trip to take part in a GEEMA Open Day. He quite liked the idea of being away from London.

Neither considered themselves realistic Cambridge applicants. Ashley’s head of sixth form had encouraged him to apply for the Sutton Trust Summer Schools and he had filled in the forms “just to give it a go”. Kalu had come across the Summer Schools while surfing the internet for “anything that would give me a taste of university”.

Within just a few hours of arriving at Sidney Sussex College, where they were based, Ashley and Kalu had teamed up with three other students taking part. By the time they left for home, they had swapped emails and vowed to keep with each other. Their confidence boosted, all five applied to top universities and kept tabs on each others’ progress.

Today Ashley is in his second term studying history at Fitzwilliam College and Kalu in his second term reading engineering at Jesus College. They stayed in touch through their second year of A levels and have remained friends at Cambridge.

Both say that the Sutton Trust Summer School was a turning point in their lives. “Before I took part in the Summer School, I thought that Cambridge was way beyond my reach – a place for scarily clever people, not for someone like me,” says Kalu.

“Now I’d say to any A level student thinking about Cambridge: if you’re predicted three As and enjoying your subjects, don’t pre-judge yourself and rule yourself out by not applying. Apply and let the admissions tutors judge whether or not you are good enough.”

Ashley feels so passionately about reaching out to students like him, from state schools, that he has become undergraduate Target and Access Officer for Fitzwilliam College, contributing to schemes that encourage more applicants from state schools and under-represented groups.

The deadline for applications for this year’s Sutton Trust Summer School is 13 March. For details and information on how to apply go to http://www.suttontrust.com/index.asp.

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