MORE than 60 bright British state school students from low and moderate income backgrounds have won places at US universities via the Sutton Trust US Programme - and Tom Orchard from Lyme Regis is one of them.

Across the four years of study, the students will receive more than $16.4m of financial support – an average of $264,500 per student – from US universities and scholarships graduating with little or no debt.

Tom won a trip to America last summer to visit colleges and decided to wanted to try for a university place.

Dad Pete said: "For the last 12 months Tom has been working very hard on studying for his US college entrance exams and on his US college applications. All this at the same time as studying for his A levels - which is why when he suggested entering the National Schools Employability Challenge our reaction was - are you sure? Don't you have enough going on already but he won that.

"When Tom first indicated he was interested in a US college education, our reaction was that of course we would support him, but that we could not afford to pay for it. Hence the attraction of the Sutton Trust program which is aimed at students from middle and low income families, helps them get into a US college, but equally importantly helps them to get into colleges that have finance available for students."

In the end Tom received four offers, three of which came with merit based scholarships.

After being invited to visit all three colleges at their expense, Tom chose to accept the Stamps President's Scholarship at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta which gets more than 31,000 applications and makes offers to around 7,000 students, only 40 of whom get scholarships and this year only one to an overseas student - Tom.

Dad added: "Georgia Tech see this very much an investment in Tom, not a gift.

"This is a 'fullride' scholarship covering all of his tuition, accommodation, food, books, academic supplies, personal expenses, one-on-one mentoring, a laptop, and $15,000 enrichment funding for international experiences, unpaid internships, unpaid research, conferences, etc over the next four years.

"So for the two weeks prior to starting classes in August, Tom will be in Alaska, ice-climbing, whitewater rafting, visiting a glacier and hiking with some of the other scholars.

"We are all very excited - if a little nervous. We are also very pleased that he has been rewarded for the incredible amount of hard work that he has put in over the last twelve months juggling 'A' levels alongside US college entrance exams. We are also very grateful to the support from both the Sutton Trust and from his teachers at Colyton Grammar."

Tom is currently Interrailing around Europe.

Dad added: " I know that he very keen to show others that there are alternative ways to get a top-class university degree without incurring any debt. All it needs is some hard work, good support and a sense of adventure."