5 Things to Know Before Applying to Stanford University

Stanford University | Admissionado

Stanford shares its prestigious 5th place U.S. News ranking with Columbia and M.I.T. this year.

The fact that the U.S. News + World Report can’t say that one of these schools is better or worse than the others goes to show the extent to which Stanford is on par with the Ivy league in pretty much every way – except that in Stanford’s best programs, it EXCELS. (In fact, did you know Stanford wasn’t an Ivy? I certainly didn’t!)

Stanford is best known for its top graduate programs in law, business, education, engineering and medicine. While these programs are the crème-de-la-crème for graduate students, four of Stanford’s seven schools also offer courses at the undergraduate level, letting students access the very best that Stanford has to offer on the ground floor. It’s the culture that allows its outstanding undergraduates the chance to work right alongside its world-class graduate students that gives Stanford its massive appeal.

So: how do you get into this school? Have clear goals. The essay question for Stanford Business School’s application is, “What Matters Most to You and Why?” This is an indicator not only of the incisive self-reflection that Stanford Business School likes to see in its applicants, but of the Stanford culture across the board. With an admission rate of just 5%, Stanford takes only the applicants with the most crystal-clear idea of their trajectory and how Stanford is going to take them there.

If you’re applying to Stanford you must show that you’re an applicant who’s definitely going somewhere. You’ll have to be able to draw a through-line through the decisions that you’ve made throughout your academic career (thus far) and show that you’re on your way. Only then will you be able to edge out the competition.

To help crystalize your vision of what exactly life on the Stanford campus is like, here are 5 things to help you be as specific as possible when applying to Stanford. Because as we’ve seen, specificity is key with a school as selective as this one.

1. DON’T Talk Too Much About Silicon Valley

Stanford’s location is ideal for young people trying to get into the world of tech. Not only is it easy to pursue internships and job opportunities at some of the most prestigious tech companies in the world just outside of the Stanford campus, but the culture itself is teeming with ideas for the next great app. But here’s the thing: everybody who applies to Stanford knows that. It’s a cliché at this point, and it’s bound to make the adcom’s eyes glaze over when they start to read it. Not to mention the fact that there are several other schools in the area, including the prestigious UC (Cal) Berkeley, with just as much access to the Valley. Why should Stanford accept you when you can just go there? The biggest mistake you could make in this app is to spend so much time extolling the values of Silicon Valley that you forget to talk about Stanford.

2. The Stanford vs. Cal Rivalry Is Serious

Beyond the “Big Game” every year between Stanford and Cal Berkeley, the rivalry seeps into just about every aspect of campus life. Inter-university pranking, taunting, and put-downs abound. Stanford students even look down upon UC Berkeley’s Sather Tower, preferring instead their own shorter, though allegedly more majestic Hoover Tower. (The Official Pettiness Rubric considers tower-measuring competitions to be at a life-threatening level of pettiness.) While not everyone at Stanford feels deeply invested in the rivalry, it has enough influence across campus to have a significant effect on the Stanford culture.

3. Stanford Is a Sports Mecca

Stanford graduates have won medals in every Olympic Games since 1908, and more gold medals than any other university in the United States. Mic drop.

4. The “Stanford Duck Syndrome” Is Real

You know how a duck looks calm and peaceful on the surface of a lake, until it paddles closer to you and you see its legs kicking frantically under the water to keep it afloat? Well, this image has been increasingly used to describe the culture at Stanford in recent years. It seems that Stanford students like to project a chill, easy-going “West Coast” vibe to each other, even when freaking out on the inside. The phenomenon has been well-duckumented here (sorry…) and speaks to the culture of stress and premium placed on apparent effortlessness on the Stanford campus right now.

stanford duck syndrom

5. There’s a Perception That the Stanford Administration Only Cares About Money

The New Yorker has published a number of articles in recent years arguing that the people in the driver’s seat at Stanford are only concerned with profit, and that the focus on campus on developing start-ups and grooming future business leaders comes at the expense of developing well-rounded students. Whether you agree with this allegation or not, it’s important to understand the perception of the school (among some segments of the population) as more of a gateway to the 1% than an institution of higher learning before you apply.

Stanford is a complex place: the only way to make up your own mind about its campus culture is to visit for yourself: consider scheduling an on-campus visit before applying to Stanford, or take the virtual tour here!


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