A taxi driver’s son has become the first in his family to go to university winning an unconditional offer and 100% funding to one of the world’s top institutions – Harvard in the USA.
Yousuf Bakshi is also the first student from Cardiff’s Fitzalan High to get into Harvard , the university Barack Obama graduated from and part of the Ivy League – the US equivalent of Oxbridge.
Fitzalan, which covers some of the most deprived areas of Wales, is rated excellent by Estyn and got its first pupil into Oxbridge five years ago.
Yousuf, 17, who will study computer science and politics at the elite institution said he was “over the moon” to hear he’d been accepted after dreaming of going to university in the US since early on in high school.
“It feels like a dream come true. I had the US flag stuck to my bedroom wall for years and when I was in year nine I told my teachers I wanted to study there.”
The year 13 puipil , who got 13 A* GCSES at Fitzalan, asked his family not to watch when he logged on to his computer at midnight when the result of his application first came through, in case he hadn’t got in. Luckily his mother Runa, a former Fitzalan pupil, ignored him and captured her son’s joy on her phone.
The video below shows Yousuf yelling “I got in. I got in” as he jumps around the room congratulated by tax consultant Runa, 40, and his dad Nahed, a taxi driver.
“I am the first person in my family to go to university. My mum went to Fitzalan and my dad went to Cardiff High. My mum is so happy to see how much the school has changed,” the A level student, who starts at Harvard in August, said.
“My parents are overwhelmed and bursting with joy because they know this is what I wanted, but every day my mum says, “you will skype me every day won’t you?”.
“I told my mum I wanted to log into the portal to see if I’d got in by myself but she secretly recorded me. I just saw the word “congratulations” on the screen and couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
Generous funding at Harvard means Yousuf has 100% funding for tuition and living costs as well as two return flights home to Cardiff every year of his four year course.
But the Fitzalan head boy, who wants a career in politics or technology, says it wasn’t money, so much as the way university works in the USA, which made him want to study there. At Harvard he can change what areas he studies and majors in if different topics fire his interest during the course.
Yousuf says the application process was gruelling, took a lot of work from his teachers and only happened thanks to the Sutton Trust and Wales’ Seren Network programme which encourages top performing students to apply to the best universities.
Through the Sutton Trust and Seren Yousuf attended two summer schools in the USA, one at Yale and one at a number of universities, including Harvard.
Fitzalan assistant headteacher Jo Kemp also went to London for training to help the school’s students apply to university in the USA. Applications there depend far more on extra curricular activities as well as academic achievement, she said.
“Going to an American university has been a massive dream and now it’s come true and actually happened. Doors are open,” said Yousuf.
“After my GCSEs, through the Seren Network I met a Yale alumni so applied to the Yale summer school through Seren and went out there last June.
“Then I went on a Sutton Trust programme for a week to the US last July going to Harvard Brown, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Amherst. On the Sutton Trust programme they suggest you apply to these universities because you get 100% needs based financial help.”
Although Yousuf has an unconditional offer, meaning it doesn’t matter what grades he gets in A levels maths, chemistry and computer science this summer, he is still working hard and hopes he will inspire other pupils at the school including his own younger brother Isaac, 13, who also wants to study in the USA.
Fitzalan assistant headteacher Jo Kemp said: “For the last few years we have really looked at our high achievers. We are proud Yousuf has got into Harvard. The application process was quite extensive and we were desperate to get it right.
“In the USA universities want to know how you would help your community and look at your personality and extra curricular activities. The interview itself was a chat but the application included writing a story about your life. They want to know how you think and who you are and want teacher recommendations.”
Famous former students of Harvard, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, include former US presidents Barack Obama, George W Bush, John F Kennedy, FD Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt, as well as Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Yousuf’s success comes five years after Fitzalan got its first ever pupil into Oxbridge when Mohamed Eghielieb won a place to read medicine at Oxford in 2014.
Yousuf is among just 47 students from Britain accepted at US universities after taking part in the Sutton Trust US Programme, which is run in partnership with the US-UK Fulbright Commission.
Of the 47 students accepted 53% are from households earning less than £25,000 a year.
The Sutton Trust US programme aims to encourage British state school pupils from low and moderate income homes to consider studying in the USA.