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Sending personalised letters from student role models to teenagers from poor backgrounds increases the likelihood of them applying to selective universities, a government trial has shown.
Letters from current students from similar backgrounds who are studying at Russell Group institutions had a “substantial effect” on encouraging sixth formers to consider higher ranking institutions. It lead to an estimated additional 222 students accepting places at Russell Group universities, compared to had the trial not taken place, according to the study.
The large-scale randomised-controlled trial undertaken by the government’s Behavioural Insights Team and the Department for Education was prompted by academic research from the UK and the United States.
The letters were sent to high achieving young people (students who scored more than 367 points on their best 8 GCSEs and went to schools which typically sent more than 20 per cent of their best students to their nearest university) during their first year in sixth form, encouraging them to “aim higher in life”.
Some 11,104 young people, across 300 schools were part of the study. Pupils either received a letter from a male former student, sent to their school in November, or a letter from a female former student, sent to their home in April, or both letters, or neither letter.
Outcomes are tracked through UCAS applications up to two years later, to allow students to apply during a gap year.
There were no statistically significant effects on students’ likelihood of applying to university overall but the study found that receiving both letters significantly increases the chance of applying to a Russell Group University, from 19.9 per cent to 23.2 per cent.
Receiving both letters also significantly increased the chance of receiving and accepting an offer from a Russell Group University, from 8.5 per cent to 11.4 per cent.
The study concluded that: “Overall, it seems reasonable to conclude that these letters are effective both at boosting aspiration, and getting students to act on this aspiration.
“Our results have shown that a simple intervention, targeted at high achieving students from low income families, can substantially increase the rate at which these students apply to selective universities, are made offers by those universities, and accept those offers once the receive them.”
The total cost of administering the letters at £10,000. In total, 11,489 letters were sent, at an average cost of 87p per letter. An estimated 222 additional young people attended a selective university as a result of the trial, putting the cost at £45.05 per additional student.
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