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.)
As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.
Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.
“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”
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The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.
“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”
But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.
“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?
“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”
Critique your own arguments
Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.
“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”
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Fine, use Wikipedia then
The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.
“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”
Focus your reading
Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.
Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.
You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.
“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”
There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.
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Look beyond the reading list
“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”
And finally, the introduction
The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.
“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”
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