The path leading to Oxford's cloisters is often the subject of criticism.
As the university deals with a record numbers of candidates, journalist Riazat Butt gets inside the applications system to find out who wants to go to Oxford, what the tutors are looking for and who gets in.
The daughter of a Pakistani factory worker, Riazat made it her mission as a teenager to get into Oxford - and won a place to study Spanish at New College.
She believes she was helped on her way by a bursary to a private sixth-form college that knew Oxford and understood its entry policy.
Twenty years on, Riazat meets students from her hometown of Southampton and follows them through this year's application process.
She tries to find out what kind of students are applying and why so many of Oxford's undergraduates are still from private schools.
She talks to some of the academics who decide who's in and who's not and asks why do three A grades at A Level still not guarantee you a place at Oxford? What exactly are they looking for?
Producer: Helen Grady.