Students from more deprived postcode areas who enter university in Scotland under a Top-Up access scheme perform as well as those from more affluent areas with better grades, research shows.
Glasgow University has been participating in the programme to help more disadvantaged pupils enter study since 1999.
Fifth and sixth-year pupils identified as potential candidates take a course to assess their ability and prepare them for university study. If they pass they are granted admission onto courses even if they drop a grade in their final exams.
The programme has had the effect of levelling the playing field for pupils going into higher education, said Neil Croll who heads the widening participation unit at Glasgow University's recruitment office.
"What the research over 10 years of students coming to Glasgow University has shown is that those students who have completed the programme successfully have performed better and are less likely to withdraw in their first year of university," he said.
Participants' grades are also matching those of pupils from schools which traditionally send off a higher number of students to university.
"You would expect those students to be doing better but that's not happening," said Mr Croll.
Top-Up participants are less likely to drop out despite often experiencing more barriers to continuing their studies, such as a lack of parental support, figures also suggest. About 12.4% of Top-Up pupils withdrew from university in 2010 compared with 13.5% of those from more affluent backgrounds, Mr Croll said.
"We work very closely with teachers in secondary schools to identify pupils who would be appropriate to take part in the programme. Those taking part have to work to a high standard to pass. They have to show that they have the potential to perform as students," he said.
"It's now in its 14th year, and you get feedback to from pupils and teachers who say it's helped. It suggests we've been doing a decent job."