The dreams of a former McDonald’s worker have come true after achieving five A-level grades and a place at an Ivy League university.
Raphaelle Soffe scored three A*s in maths, politics, and Welsh Bacc, and two As in history and law, after studying for her A-levels at Hawarden High School.
And to top it all off, the 18-year-old from Ewloe was offered a scholarship at Havard University.
She first thought about Harvard when she was 14, but discounted it as an option after realising that no one from her school had ever been awarded an academic scholarship at a US university before.
After achieving 10 A*s in her GCSEs, she was invited to join the Seren Network, designed to support Welsh sixth formers achieve their academic potential and gain access to leading universities, and soon realised that her dreams of attending an American university could be possible.
Raphaelle said: “My dad always said that the US would be a good fit for me, and even mentioned Harvard when I was growing up, but I always thought it was out of reach. Once I joined the Seren Network I was told about the Sutton Trust’s US programme, and I was able to go on a free trip to America to visit Yale, Princeton, Amherst and Harvard.
“I remember stepping onto Harvard’s campus for the first time, my face just lit up. I quickly realised Harvard cared just as much about the person as the grades.
“My extracurricular activities were a crucial element to my application. In fact, it was the experience I had gained from my numerous internships, debating competitions, being part of the Seren Network, and part time job roles, that ensured my university interview was the best that it could be.
“I am incredibly lucky to be receiving the university’s full scholarship package. It includes healthcare, food, accommodation, start-up grants, and travel. I feel this shows Harvard’s commitment to ensuring that students from a low income background can enter university without any concerns about finances.
“I flew out to Harvard a few days ago and am throwing myself into campus life straight away, taking part in a programme to clean dorms and taking trips to Boston in between.
“I’m also taking part in another programme for international students, setting up a bank, a new phone contract, and meeting students from all around the world. I’m also going to be meeting my new room mates soon – one is from New York and the other is from California.”
One requirement of Raphaelle’s scholarship was to do a part-time job on the Harvard campus, which she believes is a “big contrast” to her job at McDonald’s in Broughton, where she worked for two years.
Her new part-time job will also enable her to take part in research and learning financing techniques.
And her exciting new place at Harvard will mean studying a range of subject’s for her first year, before moving on to reading one specific subject.
Raphaelle is also among the first generation of her family to go to university, with her eldest sister having recently graduated from Oxford University.
She added: “I think I realised through my sister’s experiences at Oxford that I was better suited to learning in the US. I think the focus on pure academics is greater at Oxford, while Harvard also looks to encourage its students to be equally focused on extracurricular activities.
“Seren played such a big part in my journey and pointed me in the right direction towards Harvard. I think it’s a vital programme for Welsh students, and its existence provides much needed support for state school students and inspiration for those that need the confidence to apply to the top universities.
“What really distinguishes Harvard from any other world-leading university is its friendliness and support.
“Once I graduate, I would like to enter British politics, initially in international relations, and possibly then move into domestic politics.
“My dream job doesn’t yet have a title, but I want to find a role that will help improve the economic and social situation of this country, and to really use my skills for the benefit of others.”
n Raphaelle is going to be writing for The Times Higher Education for the next four years, blogging online about Havard.