Leland Stanford, former governor of California and U.S. Senator, founded Stanford University in honor of his son, Leland Jr., who died of typhoid when he was just 15 years old. After losing their son, Leland and his wife, Jane, decided that all “the children of California shall be our children.” In addition to founding the university as a way to memorialize their son, they also established a museum. After six years of development (with the physical plan designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the famed architect who designed Central Park!), the university opened in 1891 and began as a co-educational, non-denominational, and “avowedly practical institution,” which was unusual for its time. Though many were skeptical of these ideas, with one New York journalist writing that Stanford professors would “lecture in marble halls to empty benches,” the first student body consisted of 555 men and women, with Herbert Hoover being among those in the pioneer class.
Stanford eventually grew to become one of the most prestigious universities in the United States, and its reputation for research and innovation also gave rise to the birth of Silicon Valley. Under professor of electrical engineering, Frederick Terman, Stanford began a “steeples of excellence” campaign, which sought to attract the best science and engineering researchers, who would in turn attract the best students. Terman encouraged collaboration between university students and emerging technology companies, and some believe him to be the “father of Silicon Valley.” This entrepreneurial spirit, which arguably began in 1939 when two Stanford alumni started a little electronics company under Terman’s leadership, has continued to thrive on Stanford’s campus across departments. Even Google got its start at Stanford, when Sergey Brin and Larry Page developed their page rank algorithm as graduate students.
With its passion for innovation in mind, Stanford redesigned its undergraduate curriculum in 2013 to better meet the requirements of students in this increasingly interconnected world. Among these changes was the new “Ways of Thinking, Ways of Doing” baccalaureat breadth requirement, which includes 11 courses in eight categories. The categories include aesthetic and interpretive inquiry, social inquiry, scientific analysis, formal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, engaging difference, moral and ethical reasoning, and creative expression. Freshman are also required to take two courses in writing and rhetoric, as well as a Thinking Matters requirement, through which students explore “what constitutes a genuine question or problem and how to address it in a creative and disciplined manner.” There are many types of courses that can be taken to fulfill this requirement, from Chinese Traditions of the Self to 100,000 Years of War, and How Does Your Brain Work? to What Is Love?
In a continuous effort to offer an inclusive higher education program, Stanford also revamped its financial aid policies and strengthened its efforts to enhance diversity on campus. Stanford continues to remain one of the few schools that is “need blind.” In other words, it does not consider a student’s financial situation in the admissions process. Moreover, a new policy states that students of parents with a combined income of $125,000 or less will no longer pay tuition and those with a combined income of $65,000 or less will not pay tuition or room and board. Stanford also increased its effort to diversify its faculty and undergraduate and graduate student bodies. Currently, almost half of Stanford undergraduates are part of a minority group and eight percent are from other countries. Among the 2016 admits, 15.2% are first generation college students. As you can imagine, these initiative have made Stanford an even more popular choice for high school seniors. For the class of 2020, Stanford received almost 44,000 applications, and it’s acceptance rate dropped to 4.69%, the lowest ever in Stanford history.