There is a special uniqueness to Stanford University’s campus. From the entrepreneurial spirit of the student body and its focus on excellence in science and engineering to the signature shine of the golden sandstone that makes up its iconic campus in Palo Alto, California, it is no wonder Stanford has been referred to as the “Harvard of the 21st century.”
Founded in 1885, Stanford is one of the world’s elite higher education institutions. Its proximity to the startup hub of San Francisco and year-round amenable weather make it a very attractive place to study. As a result, it has one of the lowest acceptance rates among American colleges and, in fact, has a lower acceptance rate than any of the Ivy League schools, including Harvard.
Here at CollegeVine, we understand that navigating the admissions process of a prestigious institution like Stanford can be intimidating, but if you manage to get in, the rewards will be more than worth it. Below, we will walk you through the process of applying to Stanford.
Introducing Stanford University
Stanford is located in sunny, laid back Palo Alto, California, and is just an hour away from San Francisco by public transit. It is currently tied for the #4 national ranking on the U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges List and provides students a liberal arts education.
The school offers almost 70 different programs of study and three undergraduate degrees, including a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences (BAS). Those degree programs are housed in three different schools on Stanford’s campus, including the School of Humanities and Sciences; the School of Engineering; and the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences. 63% of Stanford’s 7,000 undergraduates, who make up nearly half of the 16,770 students on campus, graduate with degrees in either the humanities or sciences.
Additionally, students at Stanford can pursue pre-professional tracks in law, medicine, and business. Stanford operates under the quarter-system and has a virtually unrivaled 4:1 student-to-faculty ratio, with 70% of classes enrolling fewer than 20 students.
The university’s core curriculum, the General Education Breadth Requirements, unites the undergraduate schools into a cohesive intellectual community. Students are invited to pick from a diversity of “Thinking Matters” courses looking to answer questions ranging from questions like, “What is evil?” to “Why are humans drawn to making and breaking codes?” The “Writing and Rhetoric Requirement” tries to build students’ skills in writing and research-based argument. Students are also asked to fulfill a more typical “Language Requirement.”
The bulk of the WAYS curriculum is made up of the “Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing” coursework. Students must take eleven WAYS courses, which range in subject area from applied quantitative reasoning and scientific method and analysis, to creative expression and engaging diversity. Overall, Stanford’s general education requirements offer a broader focus than the heavy focus on the reading and writing of classical literature found at comparable institutions.
Outside of the traditional classroom setting, students are afforded the opportunity to study abroad through the Bing Overseas Study Program, conduct research at the Hoover Institution or SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, and serve as a Public Service Scholar with the Haas Center. The Stanford Diversity Exchange allows students to study at historically black institutions of higher education, including Howard University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College.
Stanford is one of the more diverse American universities, with 50% of students identifying as people of color and 15% of freshmen identifying as first-generation college students. The school also has more than 650 student organizations and 35 varsity sports with which students can get involved. The school’s sunny atmosphere and its spirit of entrepreneurship and experiential learning make it an ideal place to study for students interested in exploring all that higher education has to offer, without the dreary winter months.
Stanford Admissions Statistics
As you might have guessed, the Stanford admissions process is extremely competitive. The acceptance rate for the Class of 2020 is the lowest in the school’s history and among the lowest of any school nationally at 4.69%. Out of 43,997 applicants, only 2,063 were admitted into the undergraduate division. These students come from all 50 states and 76 different countries.
75% of Stanford’s recently admitted class had at least a 4.0 GPA, and 95% graduated in the top 10% of their high school class. 90% of admits scored at least a 30 on the ACT and at least 70% of them scored a 700 or more on the SAT’s Math, Critical Reading, and Writing sections.
This year, Stanford admitted only 42 transfer students out of 1,959 applicants, making the transfer student acceptance rate just 2.1%. There are no minimum GPA or test score requirements for students to be considered for transfer to the university. However, the admissions committee recommends submitting at least two SAT Subject Tests, although they are not required.
Despite the competitiveness of Stanford’s selection process, it is important to remember not to get discouraged if your numbers aren’t quite in the upper range. the school’s admissions process is holistic, which means they consider more than just a student’s GPA and test scores.
While academic record is a factor, the admissions committee also considers things like extracurricular involvement and personal background, such as socioeconomic, racial, and religious diversity. Thus, even if you don’t have the test scores listed here or an exceptionally high GPA but feel you did the best with the circumstances you were given, it could still be worthwhile to apply.
Paying for Stanford
For the 2016-2017 school year, tuition will cost $47,331. When fees, room and board, books, travel, and other expenses are added in, the total cost of attendance could reach upwards of $66,696.
The admissions process at Stanford University is need-blind for domestic and transfer applicants (need-blind admissions are not guaranteed for international students). 47% of students receive need-based financial aid, with the average financial aid package amounting to $49,220 per year. Because Stanford uses a need-based system, you will be required to submit information on your family’s income and assets through the FAFSA and CSS Profile. Stanford does not offer merit scholarships.
The school promises to meet 100% of domestic applicants’ demonstrated financial need. Thus, students are not required to take out any loans as part of their financial aid packages, though they will likely be required to work. International students are exempt from this promise; Stanford’s financial aid budget is limited for these applicants.
For those who do meet the requirements for need-based aid, families with total incomes of less than $65,000 per year are not expected to contribute to the cost of attendance. Families making less than $125,000 per year qualify for a reduced parent contribution, however even families making up to $225,000 per year may qualify for assistance.
Stanford offers a Net Price Calculator for students to determine how much it might cost them to attend. However, this tool only provides an estimate, and there is no guarantee you will receive that aid amount.
For Restrictive Early Action applicants, students must submit an initial financial aid application through the CSS Profile and the current year’s Federal Tax Returns for both parents and students; these are due November 15th, roughly two weeks after the main application is due on November 1st. Those who are accepted early will receive an estimate of their financial aid award with their acceptance letter. When the tax information for the following year becomes available, students are required to submit that along with the FAFSA.
For Regular Decision applicants, students must submit the CSS Profile, Federal Tax Returns for the following year, and the FAFSA by March 1st. Upon acceptance, applicants will also receive their financial aid award.
The Stanford Application
Stanford accepts applications through either the Common Application, known as the Common App, or the Coalition Application. The admissions committee gives no preference to either application, however the Common App is the more popular of the two among students.
The questions are the same on both applications. You can choose to apply either Regular Decision or Restrictive Early Action, which is non-binding but prohibits students from applying to other private colleges or universities’ Early Action or Early Decision programs, with some exceptions. (For more on what distinguishes Regular Decision from Restrictive Early Action, check out the CollegeVine blog post EA vs ED vs REA.)
For Restrictive Early Action candidates, all application materials must be submitted to the admissions committee by November 1st, the SAT must be taken by the October test date, and the ACT must be taken by the September test date (be sure to alert the testing company to send your scores directly to Stanford).
For Regular Decision candidates, all application materials must be submitted by January 3rd, and all standardized testing must be completed by the December test date. (Again, if you are taking the test late, make sure to list Stanford as one of the schools you want the results sent to.)
A study conducted by AdmitSee, an undergraduate and graduate application-sharing platform created by University of Pennsylvania students, found students who used certain words, wrote about certain topics or even just wrote with a certain tone in their application essays were more likely to get accepted to one Ivy League school over another.
Upon analyzing its application archives, AdmitSee found students who referred to their parents as “mom and dad” in their application essays were more likely to get accepted to Stanford, while students who called them “mother and father” were more likely to receive a Harvard admission offer.
These findings, which were published by Fast Company, are based on essays — 539 of which were from students who were accepted to Stanford and 393 of which were from students who were accepted to Harvard — uploaded to the site at the time the study was conducted.
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So how does AdmitSee gain access to these application essays? The site invites college students, who are identified and verified by their official school IDs, to upload their application materials. Once uploaded, their application materials can then be accessed by high school students who are preparing for the college application process. Every time a high school student views a college student’s application materials, that college student is paid a stipend by AdmitSee.
AdmitSee found students whose application essays had a sad tone were more likely to be accepted to Harvard than Stanford. Specifically, essays written by students who were later admitted to Harvard focused on overcoming challenging moments in life. These essays frequently included words such as “cancer,” “difficult,” “hard” and “tough.”
This finding proved to be almost the exact opposite of what admissions officers from Stanford were looking for. Essays featuring a creative personal story or an issue the student was passionate about were among those accepted to the California-based school as opposed to Harvard, according to AdmitSee. These acceptance-winning essays often featured words like “happy,” “passion,” “better,” and “improve.”
AdmitSee also found surprising differences in the way Harvard and Stanford handle legacy applicants.
AdmitSee cofounder Lydia Fayal said that these differences play out primarily in the SAT scores and grade point averages of legacy versus non-legacy candidates.
“Harvard gives more preferential treatment to legacy candidates than Stanford,” Fayal said in an email interview. “Based on our preliminary data, the average SAT score at Harvard is 2150 for legacy students and 2240 for non-legacy; meanwhile at Stanford it’s 2260 for both legacy and non-legacy.”
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Fayal also said based on AdmitSee’s data, she found that the average GPA is three-tenths of a point lower for Harvard’s legacy students than it is for non-legacies. At Stanford, the average GPA of legacy students versus non-legacy students is just one-tenth of a point lower.
“If you take out diversity candidates and student athletes, the difference between legacy and non-legacy students gets really scary,” Fayal said.
Fayal was unable to provide exact numbers on this data – she said AdmitSee needs to wait to receive more applications containing this type of information.
Upon further quantitative analysis, AdmitSee found the most common words used in Harvard and Stanford essays have similar themes but are nonetheless different. For the Massachusetts-based Ivy, these words were “experience,” “society,” “world,” success” and opportunity.” For Stanford, they were “research,” “community,” “knowledge,” “future” and “skill.”
College admissions counselor Katherine Cohen didn’t find the differences between the application essays written by students admitted to Harvard and those admitted to Stanford surprising.
“Stanford and Harvard, while both extremely prestigious universities, actually don’t have that much in common when it comes to the feel on campus, their under-lying values, etc,” Cohen, who is also the founder and CEO of college admissions counseling company IvyWise, said in an email interview. “So it makes sense that they would be looking for different types of students, and therefore different kinds of essays.”
While the data collected from students admitted to Harvard and Stanford is the most specific, AdmitSee also collected interesting information on other Ivy League schools.
“There are 745 colleges with at least 1 application file on AdmitSee.com, and 286 colleges with 10+ application files on the site,” Fayal said.
For example, AdmitSee’s data indicates the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell favor essays about a student’s career goals. Like Harvard, Princeton tends to admit students who write about overcoming adversity. Essays that discuss a student’s experience with race, ethnicity or sexual orientation are well-received by Stanford, Yale and Brown.
Further, when looking specifically between Yale and Brown, AdmitSee found that Brown admitted more students who wrote about their volunteer experience, whereas there was no conclusive data that confirmed Yale favored essays of this type.
While AdmitSee’s findings focused specifically on applications submitted by students who were accepted to Ivy League institutions, the site has application materials for a wide variety of schools on its site.
AdmitSee co-founder Stephanie Shyu said, according to Fast Company, students who are gearing up to apply to college can learn two major lessons from the company’s data. One of these lessons: it is a good idea to craft unique essays for each school.
Fayal said that she wasn’t surprised that AdmitSee’s data reflected this tactic. It was a lesson she also learned during her time as a college consultant.
“I’ve worked with enough students to know that students should customize their application essay by university,” Fayal said. “I hope that, by releasing AdmitSee data, we’re leveling the playing field for students who can’t afford private college consultants.”
And Cohen agreed.
“Each school has slightly different values and focuses on different attributes, so the words, attitudes and themes expressed in a student’s application and college essays do matter when it comes to their chances of admission at one college vs. another,” Cohen said. “That’s why it is usually rare for a student to get accepted to every single Ivy League even if they have straight A’s, perfect SAT/ACT scores and 5’s across all their AP exams.”
The second lesson: students should aim to make their essays reflect the culture of the school they are applying to.
“The essays of admitted students are also a reflection of the community at these institutions,” Shyu told Fast Company. “It can provide insight into whether or not the school is a good fit for that student.”
Lea Giotto is a student at the University of Michigan and a summer 2015 USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent.
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