Brilliant Club

Valentina: ‘People like me have done it’

19 Sep 2023

Valentina took part in The Scholars Programme from Year 7 to Year 12 at Eastbury Community School in Barking and Dagenham. Now studying Law at the University of Oxford, she shares her experience of the programme and the impact it has made on her higher education journey. 

I completed The Scholars Programme in East London in Barking and Dagenham. The area was mainly working-class people and had a strong community of immigrants, including my family. It wasn’t an area where I knew of a lot of people who went to university, and definitely not the top universities. Most of our parents hadn’t attended university but we were really encouraged to try and get out of the area that we were in and be the first to go to university. 

When I applied to university, I was the only one who applied to Oxford, so my teachers didn’t really know what to do because they hadn’t sent any students there before. My dad had heard of Oxford so he encouraged me to go there but, other than that, no-one in my immediate or extended family knew anything about university so I had to do my own research into it. 

“a small group made me feel so much more confident exploring my ideas”

I took part in The Scholars Programme multiple times from Year 7 to Year 12. I was quite a shy kid at school and would never put my hand up in class, even if I knew the answer. I’d always had big classes, so I was always too scared. The fact that The Scholars Programme tutorials were in such a small group made me feel so much more confident exploring my ideas and saying them out loud. You’d get used to people in your group and your PhD tutor and it was a safe space to build that confidence without having to be forced to put your hand up in a class of 30. 

I was surprised by the number of different things I could study. I think I thought you could only study things like biology or history, but The Scholars Programme showed me that you can study something very specific and also combine subjects such as Law and Photography. This motivated me when I applied to university, because I knew that I could focus something that I really, really did enjoy.  

The graduation trip was such a great opportunity to get out of my comfort zone. It was a chance get out of what I thought education was like and see the more independent side of things. It was really great seeing the student ambassadors and it just really inspired me. I really loved being able to celebrate what we’d done because it was such an accomplishment. They gave us actual graduation gowns and I remember feeling so professional. I remember my dad coming and he just looked so proud. 

The Scholars Programme allowed me to see myself at a really great university. I’ve just finished my second year studying Law at Oxford University and The Brilliant Club was really such a catalyst for doing that. I visited Oxford during The Scholars Programme, which meant I was a bit more familiar with the university and the course when I came to apply. 

“People like me have done it.”

When I came to university, it was really daunting and really hard and I remember thinking ‘I’m not supposed to be here, I can’t write an essay’ but, looking back at The Scholars Programme, I knew that I’d done it before, and I’d done it well. 

I think it’s so important that The Brilliant Club exists because a lot of capable people put up this barrier and think there’s no point even trying to apply to university because they aren’t good enough and will be rejected. I wanted to become an ambassador to show others from similar backgrounds to me that they can also do this, it’s not impossible, there’s not a barrier that’s impossible to penetrate through. People like me have done it. 

Have you completed a Brilliant Club programme and want to share your story like Valentina? Find out more about becoming a Friend of  The Brilliant Club here and about our ambassador scheme here.