The Problem

/The Problem

Less likely to apply

High-achieving students from non-traditional backgrounds are far less likely to attend top universities than their more affluent peers – even when they receive the same results in their exams.

In the U.K., half of students with AAB in their A-levels do not attend a Russell Group university. The likelihood that a student who qualifies for free school meals makes it to Oxford or Cambridge is 1 in 1,500. For the privately educated, it is 1 in 20.

In the U.S. there are between 25,000 and 35,000 high-achieving, low-income students who score in the 90th percentile or above on their SAT but never apply to selective colleges.


Less likely to receive an offer

In the U.K., a government report found that there is a state school ‘penalty’ in the admissions process equivalent to one A-level grade. A state school student who applies to a Russell Group university would therefore need to achieve one grade higher in their A-levels to have the same chances of being admitted to a Russell Group university as an otherwise identical privately educated student.

Students with a family income in the bottom quintile of the income distribution only make up 3.8% of the student body at the top 38 colleges in the U.S. At a College Board session for high school counsellors, several of these stated that they had told students who were qualified to apply to highly selective universities to guide themselves.

  • Top 1%
  • Bottom 60%

The top 38 colleges in the U.S. admit more students from the top 1% of the income bracket than from the bottom 60%

Less likely to graduate

At America’s most selective colleges and universities, students from the richest quarter of the population outnumber those from the poorest quarter by almost 25 to 1.

At Russell Group Universities in the U.K., students from low-income communities were 50% more likely to drop out than their peers from high-income backgrounds.

In the U.S. the national summer attrition rate can be as high as 40% amongst disadvantaged students. Low-income and first-generation students also tend to struggle more academically. On average, only 11 % of low-income, first-generation students graduate college. The figure is better (25%) for first-generation students who are not low-income, but this graduation rate is still less than half of the level for students who are not low-income and not first-generation (54%).


That's what Project Access is here to change!

Read more about our work to fight inequality in higher education here.

Ani, UC Berkeley

The top 38 colleges in the U.S.

admit more students from the top 1% of the income bracket than from the entire bottom 60%

Low-income students at top universities

in the U.K. are 50 % more likely to drop out than their high-income peers

Between 25,000 and 35,000 low-income students

score in the 90th percentile or above on the SAT every year – but never apply to selective universities