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Frequently Asked Questions When Applying to Stanford

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Johnathan Patin-Sauls and Vinay Bhaskara in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.

 

What’s Covered:

 

 

In this article, we will cover some of the frequently asked questions about applying to Stanford. For more information and guidance on applying to Stanford, review The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Stanford.

 

Short Response Prompts & Essays

 

When responding to the short-answer question about one of your extracurricular activities, jobs, or responsibilities, should you introduce a brand new activity or elaborate on an activity that you have already listed in your common application? 

 

The short response question to alluded to above is: Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, a job you hold, or responsibilities you have for your family. (50 words)

 

If your resume has some gaps or is wanting for more formal accomplishments, then you should use this space to add depth and texture to an activity that you have already mentioned in your common application. 

 

On the other hand, if you are someone who has an outstanding resume that speaks for itself, this would be a good opportunity to discuss something more personal, unique, or unexpected. Broadly speaking, when applying to an institution like Stanford, it is always helpful to find opportunities in your application to subvert expectations and emphasize your unique qualities. 

 

Do you need to write about something that is important to you in order to craft a strong essay? 

 

You should select topics that are important to you in so much as you are willing to invest the deep research, reflection, and analysis that are required to craft strong essays. There may be essay or short-answer prompts about topics in which you have less or zero interest. In these situations, you may find it challenging to respond and you will need to invest more time and energy in order to craft an articulate response that is compelling for the reader.

 

For more information on writing the application essays for Stanford University, review the article: How to Write the Stanford University Essays

 

Standardized Testing

 

What SAT score range would you recommend?

 

Broadly speaking, your SAT score should not be below 1500 and you should aim for a score of 1550 or greater to be a competitive applicant. It’s also important to recognize that expectations for SAT scores are different for a student from Arthur, North Dakota compared to a student from a socioeconomically disadvantaged background in Phoenix, Arizona compared to a different student from a wealthy background in Scarsdale, New York. 

 

Extracurricular Activities

 

If you occupy many leadership positions or participate in many clubs and activities, should you exclude some from your application so that you seem more focused? 

 

In trying to determine which positions and activities to include or exclude, you need to consider your application holistically and reflect on how each position or activity answers the following:

 

  • What does this position/activity reveal about you, your values, skills, and interests? 
  • Does this position/activity overlap with other positions/activities that you have listed?
  • How does this position/activity portray you as a leader, community builder, or socially conscious person? 
  • How does this position/activity fit into your broader academic and professional trajectory?

 

If you are concerned that there is not enough alignment or cohesion across the various positions and activities that you have listed, then you could use a supplemental essay as an opportunity to contextualize everything in which you are involved. In this essay you can authentically explain how each position and activity supports your overarching goals and any transferable skills you are building and knowledge you are acquiring.

 

Stanford’s webpage explicitly states that a student will not be disadvantaged if he or she does not submit test scores. How should applicants interpret this messaging? 

 

Generally speaking, what a college says does not necessarily represent how they behave in practice, and schools such as Stanford, University of Chicago, MIT, and the Ivy League are test-optional in theory but test-mandatory in practice. Based on application and matriculation data, applicants who do not apply with a test score will be at a disadvantage in the application process. In fact, 91% of incoming Stanford undergraduates from the most recent application cycle had an SAT or ACT score and applied with that score. 

 

For students who struggle with standardized testing or have challenges obtaining the score they need, there are great schools that are truly test optional and it’s important that students research and apply to these schools too. 


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