Stanford University has a different take on what currently consumes high schoolers’ lives: the college application. The prestigious, highly selective private Ivy League university in Palo Alto, California is known for its low acceptance rates–this year hit a record low 5.05% of applicants admitted (42,487 applicants applied, 1,402 seniors were accepted for the class of 2019). On a campus tour over spring break, an admissions officer gave us the low-down of the components the university is looking for and exactly how important each part is.
With red-capped mission-style buildings lining a quad-shaped courtyard and a gorgeous church decorated with stained glass windows, the bicycle-friendly campus is nothing short of beautiful. We sat inside a cabin-like building, where just a couple of steps outside was a wide expanse of lush grass next to a gorgeous neatly-trimmed field for students to run track. The slew of videos and presentations began, giving a well-rounded look at the school. The good news is that Stanford is need-blind, meaning that the university doesn’t look at economic background when accepting students. A new policy states that Stanford will cover academic costs for families with an annual income below $125,000 and additionally cover room and board fees for families with an annual income below $65,000. Much of the tour was spent talking about the hardest part of Stanford—getting in, which addressed students’ biggest barrier.
The admissions officer talked to us about the very first thing Stanford looks at on an application: transcript.
“Students have spent hours on their essays and years on their transcript,” he said. “Which do you think matters more to us?” Stanford takes a closer look at the grades and reads them in context with the school.
Then the next part: the essay. Students use the common application as they do with all the other UC’s, with additional essays and prompts for Stanford. The admissions officer shared some of the pitfalls he had seen in the past with essays.
“One of the essay prompts is write about someone who influenced your life,” he said. “So if you write an essay about grandma, about how beautiful and kind and lovely she is, I’ll read your essay and think, ‘Wow, we really need to accept this person—Grandma is perfect for Stanford!’ Essays like that paint a gorgeous picture of the person, but never give any information about the student. We want to see you in your entirety.”
He also mentioned that Stanford is not looking for well-rounded students—on the contrary, they look for “lopsided, angular students. If everyone were the captain of the marching band, president of NHS, community service worker, sports player, etc, then everyone would be exactly the same! We want our student body to be diverse,” he clarified.
The tour offered us an insight to what the university is looking for in students. So often students are frightened off from applying to prestigious schools because of the media’s scare tactics, but it was reassuring to hear the truth directly from an admissions officer.