It was the sale of a surplus building for pound;22 million that set City and Islington college on the path to success.
That helped to finance a pound;60m rebuilding programme, the highlight of which is a sixth-form centre which opened in September 2003.
"Buildings are really, really important. They set in concrete our aspirations and expectations," said principal Frank McLoughlin.
Director of the sixth-form college, Keren Abse, added: "We used to be sited in three separate, crummy buildings.
"Now we are in an excellent building and we have grown by 250 students since moving here. We are definitely the first choice for lots of students.
"The sixth-form college has been an entity since 1983 and has been fantastically successful in sending tens of thousands of students to university.
"In 1983 there were 120 students. Now we have 1,300, most doing A-levels, and around 85 per cent go on to higher education.
"We have a good mix here. As well as students from the inner-city, we have students from the private sector who come to us post-16."
Ms Abse said in the past three years there had been a drive to "raise the level of our vocational students to be on a par with the academic side".
She added: "In the past it was good enough just to have student participation, but now we are absolutely committed to having high expectations."