How STEP helped me get into my university of choice

Eva Opoku

In the summer of 2021, I attended (virtually, of course) Durham’s STEP programme. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, STEP stands for Space to Explore Potential. It’s a programme which aims to give students of Black heritage the opportunity to experience what university is really like, meet other like-minded students who share the same interests as you and ask for advice and guidance about the UCAS process and their A Level subjects. I will admit that before I joined STEP, I had no idea what it was, or that it even existed. That was until my Head-of-Year at the time pulled me aside to tell me about the opportunity. She believed it could help me a lot and was absolutely right. My experience with STEP was unique, unforgettable, and beneficial, and I would love to share it with you all.

The format

Traditionally, the selected students would spend a few days in Durham and stay in one of the colleges. However, due to the multiple lockdowns caused by the virus, STEP 2021 was carried out online, over Microsoft Teams. We had to pick subjects that we wanted to do an academic taster for. I wanted to do an academic taster in languages however, it wasn’t available, so I picked Sociology and Criminology because it was the course I found the most interesting and luckily there were no specific requirements. The academic tasters were made up of lectures, where we were taught in big groups, and seminars, where we shared our thoughts and ideas in smaller groups. Because I hadn’t done sociology or criminology at A Levels, I did find some of the lesson content a bit difficult, and a lot of what was talked about was very new to me. However, I learnt as we went along, and I picked up the content quite quickly. The professors were very encouraging and helped to support any thoughts and ideas we were discussing.

One amazing thing about the STEP programme is that if you attend each session, do the work that is required of you and contribute your own thoughts and ideas, you could be in with the chance of receiving a guaranteed, alternative offer from the university. This means that your entry requirements could be lowered by two grades. In my case, I wanted to study Modern Languages and Cultures, not Sociology and Criminology, but luckily the offer was transferred over, and my entry requirements were lowered.


Despite the fact that we couldn’t do the programme in person, the STEP team still made the experience enjoyable with the various games, webinars, and lots more. At the end of each day, there were scheduled games that we, the students, participated in with our colleges (I was assigned to Josephine Butler). There were points designated according to where you came, at the end of the programme all the points were added up to determine which college won. My favourite game was the murder mystery because it was the most challenging. During the lunch breaks, we also had the opportunity to talk to different societies and get to know a bit about them. For example, one lunchtime, the Afro- Caribbean Society (ACS) had a virtual meeting to talk about favourite TV shows and movies.

Throughout the programme, there were also webinars from different influential professors or leaders in business. The one thing that stuck with me from the webinars was the importance of encouraging other black students to attend universities that have traditionally been less diverse.

My takeaways

Participating in a programme such as STEP helped me to experience what university is really like. As a black student, I admired seeing the members of the Durham ACS talk so highly about the university and about their own personal experiences. To anyone who is thinking about joining the STEP programme, here is what I would advise you:

  • Do it! It’s an amazing opportunity that if you take it you will not regret.
  • Even if you do join the STEP programme but don’t end up going to Durham, you will still be left with amazing support and advice for your UCAS applications and further knowledge about the subject you would like to study.

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Eva Opoku

Hi! My name is Eva, and I am a second year at John Snow College studying Modern Languages and Cultures, specifically French and Spanish. I love doing quizzes, cooking, and playing music. Since moving to Durham from my home in Hertfordshire, I have loved going on walks and seeing the lovely nature that Durham has to offer

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