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The summer that changed my life

The summer that changed my life

Embarrassing family holidays, hanging out with friends, that first taste of work – when you’re 16, the summer break is a heady mix of freedom and boredom; a chance to step off the academic treadmill before the critical A-Level years that determine your future.

But what if a Russell Group university was not on your horizon? If your school lacked the expertise to help you write a stand-out UCAS personal statement or understand university life, or if your family couldn’t offer any financial support towards your studies? For young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, alumni support really can make all the difference. 

For over 20 years, thanks to the generosity of alumni donors and partners, our Nottingham Potential Summer School programme and scholarships have helped give over 4,500 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds the tools and support they need to make university part of their future.

Each year, around a quarter go on to choose Nottingham, with statistics showing these students are more likely to graduate with a First or 2.1 than the average undergraduate. More often than not, those who go through the programme choose to act as ambassadors, sharing their experiences and developing their skills.

As we celebrate 20 years of the programme, we asked three alumni to reflect on what their Summer School experience meant to them.   

Sophie Phillips
Politics, 2011
Community Engagement Officer,
Watford Community Housing Trust

Sophie Phillips-v2

“Summer School was a game changer for me. I'd always associated university with success but it felt such an unknown as I was first in my circle to go. Financially my parents couldn’t support me and without academic role models, it’s very hard to work towards a goal that no-one around you really understands.

"Summer School joined together positive role models, financial support and the vital message that you are good enough – you can do it. You couldn't possibly overstate the transformative effect of support like that on a young person. 

“I did feel different to my peers at University – my background was so different. The Summer School kept me plugged into a network of people who understood, which eased that imposter feeling.

“The support of my Nottingham Potential scholarship was a financial lifeline. It enabled me to access a university trip to America as part of my course. I'd missed almost every single school trip as a child so this was truly magical - going on a trip to a country I never thought I'd visit and not be the one who misses out.

“University isn’t easy but it ignited a passion in me for social mobility and equality of opportunity, which have been at the heart of the seven years of community work I’ve done since graduating.

I'll be forever grateful to everyone kind enough to give my 16-year-old self a helping hand in making my dream become a reality.


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“I came to Summer School in 2004 with a lot of questions and doubts about university life. Was I academic enough? Would I fit in? I didn’t really know anyone who had been, which was daunting in itself. But in that week, I made friends for life.

"I met people who were academic but not the “university crowd” I had expected, and could see how university brings people together from all backgrounds. It boosted my confidence and self-belief, and set me on a path which has led to a successful career in the City. 

"I was proud to be a student ambassador during my studies and help with the Summer School programme. It was important for me to complete the cycle and share my experience with other young people.

"As an alumnus, I’m still proud to do this and have featured as a case study for the Sutton Trust, helping raise aspirations about a career in the financial industry for young people from all backgrounds.”     

Tom Wood
Biochemistry, 2008
Senior Vice-President, Citigroup
Tom Wood

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Louise Treherne
Psychology, 2004
Senior Deputy Head TeacherLouise Treherne

“Summer School is more than the decision about whether to come to university or not – it’s about opening someone’s eyes to the huge opportunities that are there if you choose to strive for them.

"Summer School is perfectly placed during those important years when you need to discover your potential, connect with others and accept yourself. As an introverted 17 year old, the experience helped me to get to know myself better. I could transition to university familiar with the campus and confident that I was going to love every minute of my time at Nottingham, studying the course that was right for me.

“I met some great people during the week and I feel the experience really opened my eyes to the huge opportunity that lay ahead of me. Once I became a student myself, being an ambassador was equally as rewarding as being a participant. Seeing the young people change and develop throughout the week, and making connections with new people was just brilliant. 

"As a teacher, I feel I’ve come full circle – our school mission is to 'Develop Confidence, Provide Opportunity, Realise Potential' and this sums up what I believe the Summer School experience delivers.

Summer Schools are not a short-lived impact – they ignite the motivation, drive and self-belief we all need to succeed.


Thanks to you!

We offer our thanks and gratitude to all our alumni and friends who support our Summer School programme and Nottingham Potential Scholarships - by financially making a gift or by volunteering to attend one of our Summer School lunches.  

Your belief and backing really does change thousands of young lives every year - thank you for making this possible.