The Real Reason Royals Love This Hippie Hogwarts School

When Spain's Princess Leonor announced her intention to begin classes at United World Colleges (UWC) Atlantic College in 2021, a lot of people took note. Leonor is not the first European royal to attend the school, which was founded in 1962 and is housed inside a very real 12th century castle in the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales. The BBC reported on Leonor's admission at the time it was announced, and noted that the castle was once the home of American newspaper owner William Randolph Hearst.

The list of former royal students includes Princess Raiyah bint Al Hussein of Jordan, whose mother, Queen Noor, is the school's current president (per Tatler), and King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands (via the BBC). Prince Charles and his father Prince Philip have their own ties to the school, with their uncle Lord Mountbatten having served as the first president of the school after its inception (per Vanity Fair).

From the outside, it seems as if students at UWC Atlantic College adhere to an important mission as students of the school. As a mother who penned an anonymous essay about the school for The Telegraph wrote, "My husband is from the U.S., and we both work in international development, so we have an international outlook. My sons also bought into UWC's mission, which is to make education a force to unite people, nations, and cultures for peace and a sustainable future." Here is a look at why royals and commoners alike send their children to UWC Atlantic College.

UWC Atlantic College is located inside a 12th-century castle

When people refer to UWC Atlantic College as a "hippie Hogwarts," it's partly because the school is literally inside a castle. St. Donat's Castle is located in South Wales. The castle was built in the 12th century, is on top of over 120 acres of woodland and farmland, and even has both its own valley and its own oceanfront. 

As of 2022, a little over 350 students live at the school when classes are in session, though its official website notes that the school is actively building two new residences for students to dorm in. While some students might be intimidated about going from living at home to sharing a four-person dorm room with people they've never met before, the community at UWC Atlantic College is designed deliberately to help students discover how to "make it work for you and for the people around you" (via UWC Atlantic College).

In an anonymous essay for The Telegraph, one mother of two students at the school described the castle as "a wonderful setting with tennis courts, sailing boats and a cliff for climbing and rescue practice; a 12th-century tithe barn is used as a theatre, arts centre and cinema. The opportunity to study in a castle, live on the grounds just by the sea and eat in a huge Gothic dining hall is quite remarkable."

UWC Atlantic College's list of former presidents is impressive

The UWC movement, which includes the UWC Atlantic College as well as several other schools, boasts a seriously impressive list of former presidents that includes Prince Charles and the school's current president, Queen Noor of Jordan. (Nelson Mandela also served as an "honorary" president.) Prince Charles took the role over from his great-uncle, Lord Mountbatten, in 1978, and is credited with helping the school grow rapidly in a short period of time, per UWC

Charles exited the role in 1995, and Queen Noor stepped in. Her daughter had previously attended the school, and Noor told the UWC that an education at one of its schools offers students an experience that can be genuinely life changing. As she said, "It is designed to inspire and equip students with the skills they need to seek personal and communal fulfillment, to be mindful of the needs of others, and to become activists for a more peaceful and sustainable world" (via UWC).

Diversity is a founding principle of UWC Atlantic College

There's another big reason why so many royal families send their children to UWC Atlantic College and why the school appeals to so many of its students: Diversity is one of the school's founding principles, and is held in high esteem. The school's commitment to diversity extends to nearly every facet of the principle, and Tatler noted in August 2021 that while a princess or two might show up there, they find themselves attending classes alongside students who hail from backgrounds that are culturally, politically, socially, and economically diverse. In fact, many of the students are refugees who have fled war-torn countries and who have their tuition covered by the school in full.

Peter T. Howe, the college's principal, explained that the school sees education as a way to bring people together despite whatever differences they might have. He added, "We forge a deliberately diverse group of young people to become 'change makers' who make a positive and enduring difference through service to our global community" (via Tatler). 

UWC Atlantic College's mission is to make the world a better place

Perhaps one of the college's biggest founding principles is a sincere drive to genuinely improve the world, both for its current inhabitants as well as for those who will come in the future. Peter T. Howe, the principal of UWC Atlantic College, once explained that this mission is inspired by the larger United World Colleges mission in general, and that it is certainly true for Atlantic College. He said, "United World Colleges (UWC) is a pioneering meeting place for the world's young people and serves a clear mission — to change the world for the better" (via Tatler).

This passion for the world also extends to the literal planet we all live on. As the UWC Atlantic College website explains, "We are green by choice — from what we study and how we live, to our commercial choices, sustainability impacts every aspect of life here."

Students at UWC Atlantic College study an eclectic mix of subjects

Another thing that families and students alike love about UWC Atlantic College is that the teens who attend classes there have the opportunity to choose from a truly varied curriculum and set of course offerings. On top of that, the students can also engage in a variety of extracurricular activities that will leave you wondering whether this is really a school or some kind of fancy summer camp.

According to a document on the UWC Atlantic College website, these core subjects include Chinese Literature, Social and Cultural Anthropology, and more, including the standard offerings of History, foreign languages, and mathematics. A mother of a pair of students at the school explained to The Telegraph that these options are part of what attracted her family to the facility in the first place. She said, "Much of that is achieved through the IB as pupils have to study maths, a science, English or your mother tongue, a humanities subject, a language and Theory of Knowledge," before adding that she would "love" to see the last class added to U.K. schools as a whole.

After classes conclude for the day (which Vanity Fair noted is typically around one in the afternoon), students can spend the rest of their day "kayaking, doing archery, caving, tending to plants in the greenhouse, and teaching sports to local schoolchildren with the undulating hills of the Vale of Glamorgan as a backdrop." 

Students at UWC College live in a 'no-frills' environment

UWC Atlantic College might attract the offspring of royalty from all over Europe, but the living conditions are anything but regal. While the dorm rooms that students share with three of their peers are nice, they are hardly what many of the wealthier students at the school are likely used to. In an anonymous essay for The Telegraph, one mother of two students explained what the rooms are like — and why the lack of ultra-plush accommodations is a good thing.

She wrote, "But in spite of its elite clientele and hippy reputation, it's really quite no-frills: the living conditions — seven modern boarding houses named after ancient Welsh kingdoms and college benefactors — are comfortable, but not over the top."

The school also makes sure that each group of four is comprised of students hailing from different backgrounds. The mother pointed out that two students who are both from the United Kingdom wouldn't be paired together, for example, and that this is by design. She added, "Your house forms part of your identity. It's not cliquey — students go in with an open mindset and the sense that, having worked hard for their place there, it's exactly where they want to be."

UWC Atlantic College has a royal history of its own

Another reason European royal families have flocked to UWC Atlantic College is, well, because so many other European royal families have flocked to the college! In fact, as Vanity Fair uncovered in its September 2021 piece on the school, Britain's Windsor family has strong ties to the school that date back to 1962, when Kurt Hahn came up with the idea for the school. 

Hahn, a German Jew who was also the man in charge of the first boarding school attended by Prince Philip, was forced to leave Germany when he spoke out against Adolf Hilter and the Nazis. He made his way to Scotland, where he founded a school eventually attended by Philip, the Gordonstoun School. (Prince Charles was also sent to Gordonstoun, but reportedly didn't enjoy it as much.)

Eventually, Hahn attended a NATO meeting for educators in 1957 and hatched the idea for UWC Atlantic College. Philip's uncle Lord Mountbatten was tasked with fundraising for the school's construction, and he eventually was the first president of the college itself.

Graduates of UWC Atlantic College can attend university anywhere in the world

Something that makes UWC Atlantic College really stand out is that the school follows an International Baccalaureate curriculum that ensures its graduates can go to university anywhere in the world. Unlike students who attend more traditional high schools, these graduates leave high school at a standard that matches any they will find out in the world, no matter where it is that they want to move to next.

As Vanity Fair wrote in 2021, the idea of establishing an international curriculum that would allow students at UWC Atlantic College to attend university in their home countries (or somewhere else) was credited to Prince Charles' great-uncle Lord Mountbatten, who made it his mission to travel around the world so he could both build up the curriculum and explain it to others. 

The International Baccalaureate is an enormous advantage for students who attend the school. As the official website for the curriculum notes, there are four age groups that it caters to: The Primary Years Programme (ages 3 to 12), The Middle Years Programme (11 to 16), The Diploma Programme (16 to 19), and The International Baccalaureate Career Related Program (also ages 16 to 19).

Students can be admitted to UWC Atlantic College anonymously

One aspect of the admission process for UWC Atlantic College that appeals to the children of royal families and famous people is that they can apply for admission to the school completely anonymously, thus ensuring that their acceptance is based on their own merit and hard work — and not on the family they were born into. In fact, Spain's Princess Leonor took advantage of this system when she applied to the school for acceptance in 2021; as the BBC noted at the time, Leonor went through as much of the process as she could anonymously.

The UWC Atlantic College explains its two-fold admissions process in further detail on its site, noting that 65% of the school's attendees request some form of financial assistance so they can pay for the cost of attending. If a student has no plans to request financial assistance, they can opt to apply through the school's Global Selection Programme, which is presumably the route Leonor took.