Colne Kate’s ‘experience of a lifetime’

HARVARD EXPERIENCE: Colne teenager Kate Whitaker (third from left), with others who bagged themselves a place on The Sutton Trust US Programme (S)
HARVARD EXPERIENCE: Colne teenager Kate Whitaker (third from left), with others who bagged themselves a place on The Sutton Trust US Programme (S)

Nelson and Colne College student Kate Whitaker has had the experience of a lifetime after beating tough competition to land herself a one-week placement at Harvard University.

Here, the former Park High School student and Colne resident shares her experiences, and how the Sutton Trust US Programme has helped change her perception of education:

This summer I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to travel 3,000 miles across the pond to experience life at the most prestigious university in the world.

A total of 175 state school students travelled to the US to gain a taste of Ivy League institutions, while forming lasting friendships and memories.

This was all made possible by the US-UK Fulbright Commission and The Sutton Trust.

At the beginning of my first year studying A-levels at Nelson and Colne College, my form tutor, Sam Barnes, told me about The Sutton Trust US Programme which aims to give bright, non-privileged students a taste of undergraduate study in America and encourage them to apply to world renowned institutions.

The application process reflected the rigorous nature of the programme; applicants were required to have eight or more A*/A grades at GCSE, write six essays, partake in eight extra-curricular activities, send a teacher reference and film a video interview.

Over 2,000 students applied for the programme and 200 finalists were invited to attend a residential in April.

The four-day residential based at the London School of Economics gave a further insight into the programme, while performances in tests, debates and group discussions decided the final 175 students who would continue on the programme and live on campus at Harvard, MIT or Yale over summer.

After waiting nervously for several days, I received an email that informed me I had been selected to attend the Harvard week which was the proudest moment of my life.

After spending half an hour running around my living room crying for joy, I joined an exclusive Harvard Facebook group to prepare for August.

The final 175 participants were invited to a residential at the Florida State University Study Centre in London in June to sit American admissions tests and prepare for the next steps of the programme.

The 45 participants on the Harvard week met at Heathrow Airport to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

Having met everybody at previous residentials and kept in touch, it was a pleasure to see my friends again. We filled the six-hour plane journey with loud games of UNO and funny stories.

Upon arriving in Boston, we attended the Harvard University fair, run exclusively for us, where we met up with the other students on the programme, who were getting ready to leave MIT and Yale to return home.

The fair was our chance to meet the admission officers and find out more about 26 universities from across America including: Brown, Chicago, Columbia, Stanford, Duke, Princeton, Middlebury and New York.

Having enjoyed home-made pizza and cookies, we set off to the Harvard Co-op where we spent a large amount of money on merchandise. That evening, we had free time in Cambridge, where we watched live musicians, while dancing and singing along.

Just before arriving at our halls of residence in the postgraduate admissions building, we had an information session from Brandeis University, which gave us the opportunity to meet admission officers and current students.

Throughout the week, we visited top liberal arts colleges including Colby, Bowdoin, Bates, Dartmouth, Brown, MIT and Trinity.

The girls were given the opportunity to sample lectures at the top women’s college in the nation, Wellesley, where former US Secretary, Hillary Clinton, graduated. Experiencing Harvard master classes from award-winning professors was truly insightful and prepared me for the academic rigour of a degree.

Having a conversation with a professor about women’s rights in society throughout time motivated me to strive academically.

From breakfasts of waffles and pancakes to hilarious coach journeys, young people from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were united with the same enthusiasm and curiosity about American culture.

The evening trip to Boston Quincy Market was a wonderful chance to embrace my love of shopping through quintessential market stalls and handmade jewellery.

While exploring Fenway Park under the blaring sun, we took advantage of the abundance of candy shops and the fast food stands before watching a Red Sox baseball game.

Waving foam hands in the air and cheering as Red Sox beat Houston Astros really was one of those moments that a photograph couldn’t truly capture.

We waved our yellow Sutton Trust bags in the air and appeared on the big screen in front of 37,000 people, which definitely summed up our week.

The success of the previous cohort inspired us greatly; Gemma Collins from Blackpool was accepted into Harvard and Matthew Allen from Plymouth has recently taken a place at Princeton. Words cannot do justice to how thankful I am that I was given this opportunity; the work the Sutton Trust are doing is changing young people’s lives in an absolutely magnificent way.

The week has changed my perspective on education and inspired me to make an impact to thank the Sutton Trust US Programme for giving me life-long friends from across the nation and allowing me to experience something I previously thought was a distant dream.

You can watch my adventure at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlkMzhPFzIw