Is “Harry Potter” to Blame for Boarding School Applications?

If you wanted to go to boarding school because of Hogwarts, you’re not alone. The “Hogwarts effect,” as it has been called in an article posted by Tes, led to an increased interest in boarding schools because prospective students wanted to be like Harry Potter.

While going to school in a castle and casting spells might not be the reality outside of the magical world, it appears that the interest in boarding schools hasn’t waned – for students outside of Britain, that is. Robin Fletcher, the chief executive of the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA), has stated that British families are taking more factors into consideration.

I think UK families will have all sorts of sources of information about boarding schools. They might live near one. They might know people who’ve been to one. Harry Potter is only one of the influences they’re considering.

Fletcher noted that the same was not necessarily true outside of the United Kingdom, where boarding schools may not be as common.

Overseas, Harry Potter might have a slightly disproportionate effect. If you live in China, you might just see Hogwarts and think, I want to go to a boarding school like that.

For British students, the emphasis is now on the skills that boarding schools can provide. Nick Wergan, chairman of the Boarding Schools’ Association, echoed Fletcher’s statements on the “Hogwarts effect.”

It’s more: ‘I want to bridge the gap of independence from school to university.’ It’s the community, the friends, the enrichment.

Even without the Quidditch and Potions classes, perhaps, Fletcher additionally explained that Hogwarts has shown some of the benefits of attending boarding school.

While [Hogwarts] is a completely mythical place, it does show young people living together in community, trying new things, bonding with each other. Becoming independent characters in a historic environment. That is representative of boarding.

Other articles have also suggested that boarding schools no longer need to rely on the interest sparked by the Harry Potter series. A 2004 piece in the Independent already proclaimed the dismal news.

The Harry Potter effect – widely credited for boosting boarding school places in Britain’s independent schools for the past two years – is over.

While David Woodhead, national director of the Independent Schools Council, explained in the 2004 article that part of the reason for the drop was the rising costs of a boarding school education, he felt that the “peak” of the Harry Potter-driven interest was over.

In the Telegraph in 2017, another article claimed that the popularity of boarding schools was no longer what it had been about a decade before.

Leo Winkley, headmaster of St Peter’s School in York, one of the oldest boarding schools in the country, said that the ‘Harry Potter effect created something of a boarding school revival but it cast a false spell’, adding that schools need not seek to ‘bamboozle’ children or their parents into boarding.

According to the Independent Schools Council’s latest annual census for 2019, however, there are still thousands of students at British boarding schools.

There were 69,155 boarding pupils on Census day – 17th January 2019. If we consider pupils that boarded at any point during the spring term 2019, there were 72,912 boarders.

Many students also come from abroad. Although specific numbers for international boarders were not available in the census, other statistics were provided.

In ISC schools, there are currently 28,910 non-British pupils whose parents live overseas, which represents 5.4% of the total ISC pupil population in 2019. In 2018, there were 28,513, also 5.4% of total pupils. If we exclude ‘international schools’ (where more than 90% of the pupils are from overseas), the 5.4% drops to 4.8%. By far the largest numbers of pupils come from China.

The census also noted that “92% of non-British pupils whose parents live overseas choose to board.”

Arguably, families shouldn’t choose schools solely because they provide a real-world substitute for a fictional place. Instead, all aspects of a school should come into consideration. If a school happens to have Quidditch (of the Muggle variety, maybe), then that’s just a bonus.

Did you want to attend boarding school because of the Harry Potter series? Did you attend a boarding school? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Mary W.

I am a Slytherin, a lifelong fan of Harry Potter, and a member of MuggleNet staff since 2014. In my Muggle life, I am passionate about human rights, and I love to travel around the world and meet new people.