Its daunting reputation for academic robes and dusty traditions has made applying to Oxford a terrifying prospect for generations of students.
But now the university is enjoying a resurgence in popularity among state school pupils – thanks to Harry Potter.
University chiefs say that teenagers steeped in Harry’s adventures at Hogwarts are no longer deterred by Oxford’s traditions – because they echo scenes in J. K. Rowling’s bestselling books.
Instead, Oxford’s head of admissions Samina Khan says the ‘Hogwarts generation’ is excited by the prospect of grand dining halls, flowing robes and ancient ceremonies.
Flowing robes, ancient ceremonies – and the sorting hat – Maggie Smith stars in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
‘This is a generation that’s grown up with Harry Potter,’ says Ms Khan.
‘They recognise the benefits of that small college community, the grand tables and talking about current affairs.’
In fact, Oxford’s Christ Church College inspired the set design for Hogwarts school hall in the Potter films, and Oxford remains one of the few universities where formal academic dress is still worn.
Last year, more than 75 per cent of students at the university voted to keep formal academic dress a part of student life.
Emma Hine, who is reading geography at St John’s College, said: ‘As a student ambassador, the school pupils I’ve spoken to are always interested in the ceremonies and quirks and see it as a positive.’
More than half of Oxford students now come from state schools, but with 17,000 applicants for just 3,200 places each year, winning a place remains far from easy.
The Hogwarts generation: Oxford remains one of the few universities where formal academic dress is still worn