5 Famous Edinburgh Students

Edinburgh is the birthplace of the world's most famous wizard.

There are lots of advantages to studying at the University of Edinburgh.

The Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings place it among the country’s top institutions, putting it sixth behind Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London, University College London and the London School of Economics.

You also have wonderful accommodation such as Arran House and Brae House within easy reach of the campus and the city centre, allowing you to really make the most of your time in the beautiful Scottish capital.

But you are far from the first to embark on a new and exciting educational journey in Edinburgh. In fact, as these 8 famous former students prove, there are some pretty big shoes to fill:

  • J.K. Rowling

You may not be aware that J.K. Rowling’s journey to stardom actually began in Edinburgh. In 1995, the author had just undertaken a teacher training in course at the university, but continued to work on her novel in her spare time. The subject of that book was a wizard by the name of Harry Potter.

Rowling actually wrote parts of the first Potter book in cafes around Edinburgh, as she took her baby daughter out for walks. She was offered a publishing deal in the middle of her course, and 20 years, seven books and a record-breaking film franchise later she is one of the world’s richest and best known writers.

She returned to the university in 2004 to receive an honorary degree for her literary work.

It should be noted that the University of Edinburgh does have a fantastic track record of nurturing novelists, with world famous authors such as J.M. Barrie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and Ian Rankin all passing through its doors.

  • Charles Darwin

His theory of evolution continues to be debated to this day, but Charles Darwin could so easily have ended up as a doctor if his studies at Edinburgh had gone according to plan.

Sent by his father in 1825, Darwin quickly found that the practicalities of a surgical career were not for him. Instead, he began nurturing a passion for natural history that could not be stopped even when he was sent away to Cambridge University to train to be a priest.

This career change never transpired, and Darwin went on to write iconic texts such as On the Origin of Species (where he outlined his famous evolutionary theory) and The Descent of Man. His image can currently be found on the British £10 note, but is set to be replaced by author Jane Austen some time in 2017.

  • Sir Chris Hoy

Britain’s most successful Olympian achieved a degree in Applied Sports Science from Edinburgh in 1999.

Just three years later, Sir Chris picked up two gold medals at the World Track Cycling Championships in Copenhagen, before adding a first Olympic gold to his collection in 2004. A year later, the university acknowledged his sporting achievements with an Honorary Doctorate of Science, but he was far from finished.

At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Sir Chris became the first British athlete since 1908 to win three gold medals in one Games, taking first place in the Sprint, Keirin and Team Sprint events. The feat saw him voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year by the public.

Four years later, he won two more gold medals at the London Olympics, achieving a new world record in the Team Sprint event. He retired from competitive cycling in 2013 and remains the most decorated Olympic male cyclist of all time.

  • Gordon Brown

The former British Prime Minister has both an MA and a PhD in History from Edinburgh. In fact, Brown achieved his first political success there, when he was elected as Rector of the university while still a student in 1972.

The title had previously been mostly ceremonial in nature, but Brown instead used the opportunity to scrutinise the institution’s finances, much to the displeasure of university officials.

He went on to become Chancellor of the Exchequer for a decade under Tony Blair’s government, before a three-year stay in Number 10 that ended in 2010. He is now the UN Special Envoy for Global Education.

  • Alexander Graham Bell

The man best known for his role in the invention of the telephone was actually born in Edinburgh, and attended the university in 1866 with his older brother.

Despite various accounts suggesting he may not have been the first to conceive the idea of the telephone, Bell’s subsequent pioneering work with speech, hearing and other areas such as aeronautics established him as one of the most brilliant scientists this country has ever produced.

His status is acknowledged by the university, with the Alexander Graham Bell Building housing part of Edinburgh’s engineering faculty.

Tempted by Edinburgh?

If you think you’ve got what it takes to follow in these footsteps, you’d better make sure your accommodation matches your ambition.

The Student Housing Company offers a range of options across Edinburgh, where you will enjoy a comfortable, relaxed environment that will allow you to nurture your academic potential. For more information, you can contact our halls directly with any queries you may have.

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