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College Spotlight Series: Everything You Need to Know About Stanford

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The East Coast of the United States is famous for its highly regarded colleges and universities, some of which have been around since long before the U.S. existed as a country. However, educational excellence and world-renown intellectual advancement are by no means limited to the east. Stanford University, located in Northern California, may be younger than its Ivy League cousins, but it’s more than proven itself as one of the top universities in the U.S.


Situated in the tech haven of Silicon Valley, Stanford offers its students exceptional opportunities to work and learn in a cutting-edge environment that helps shape the world’s future. Its commitment to excellence in academic study and teaching, paired with its notable success in fundraising toward its educational budget, ensure that a motivated student will find plenty of both resources and challenges on campus.


Are you excited at the prospect of attending such a dynamic and well-regarded college? If so, Stanford might be a good fit for you. Read on for everything you need to know to get started on considering Stanford for your college list.


Want to learn what Stanford University will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering Stanford University needs to know.


Stanford: The Quick Facts

Type: Private University

Location: Stanford, CA

Founded: 1885

Enrollment: 7,034 undergraduates, 16,419 students in total

Tuition: $49,617 (2017-18)

Average Financial Aid Award: $51,614 (class of 2020)

Acceptance rate: 5%

Average SAT Score: 1520 (new)/2220 (old)



An Introduction to Stanford

Students and Culture

With a total enrollment of 16,419 students, Stanford is a fairly large university. Its student body contains slightly more graduate students than undergraduates, but you don’t need to worry that this will compromise the undergraduate experience; the university remains committed to high-quality undergraduate teaching, in which US News and World Report ranks Stanford 8th in the country.


Stanford tends to draw students who are interested in building the future in cutting-edge fields like computer science, biotechnology, and engineering. Not everyone at Stanford studies or majors in these fields, of course, but they’re especially popular at the college, and the campus culture is one in which innovation and technology are prized, no matter which field of study they’re applied to.


Stanford students tend to be young people who are excited about learning and also thoughtful about how to turn their interests into projects that create a real impact in the world. Formally and informally, university resources, student groups, and the general campus culture encourage students to see the entrepreneurial possibilities that might arise from their academic work.


Tuition and Financial Aid

As with most colleges of its caliber, an education at Stanford comes with a high price tag. The most recent data available estimates the average student’s total cost of attendance at over $71,000 per year, though this may vary slightly based on individual factors.


Since this cost is out of reach for many students and their families, Stanford offers a significant amount of need-based financial aid to make attending the college more manageable. 47% of students receive need-based financial aid directly from Stanford, with the average award for members of the class of 2020 coming in at $51,614. Around 70% of students in total receive some kind of financial aid, whether from the school itself or from outside sources.



Stanford is located in the Silicon Valley region of Northern California, near the city of San Jose, and about 30 miles from San Francisco. Its campus is one of the largest college campuses in the country; in addition to university facilities, it includes shopping centers, student and faculty housing, a lake, and generous quantities of open space.


While “Silicon Valley” originally referred to a smaller geographical area, over time, the moniker has expanded beyond its original parameters to also refer to the tech industry in the entire San Francisco Bay area. This connection to the city of San Francisco, with all the opportunities and amenities a major city provides, is a great resource for Stanford students.


Stanford also operates satellite campuses in various locations outside the United States. These facilities give Stanford students the opportunity to study abroad with the university’s full support and involvement, and without having to enroll at another school.


Academics and Popular Majors

As we’ve mentioned, Stanford is a school where technological subjects are particularly prized; its most popular majors by far are those in the field of computer and information science. Other popular majors include those in the fields of biology and biomedicine, engineering, and social sciences.


Stanford offers a few unique options to its undergraduates as they plan out their college careers. Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary majors are very popular, and encourage students to think outside of arbitrary subject boundaries. “Coterminal” degree programs, in which students earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree simultaneously, are also quite popular. (These usually take more than four years to complete.)


Student Life and Activities

While intellectual life at Stanford is strong and vibrant, that doesn’t mean that Stanford students aren’t up for a different kind of fun. They’re particularly enthusiastic about athletics, both as fans and as participants. In fact, Stanford boasts a remarkable number of Olympians; as of 2016, at least one Stanford athlete had taken home a medal at every Olympics for over a century.


Stanford students participate in 36 varsity and 32 club sports. Their best-known rivalry is against the California Golden Bears at UC Berkeley, which comes to a head each year in a much-celebrated football game and related celebrations. The winner takes home a trophy known as the “Stanford Axe.”


There’s no shortage of non-athletic events to take part in on Stanford’s campus as well. Stanford is currently home to an amazing 625 student groups, which cover every topic from the performing arts to cultural appreciation to community engagement and volunteering. With over 11,000 students living on campus, there’s something for everyone within the Stanford community.



Stanford is primarily a residential school. 92% of undergraduates live on campus, as well as many graduate students and some faculty members. Freshmen are required to live on campus, and on-campus housing is guaranteed throughout all four years for those who want to take advantage of it (as most do).


Stanford’s sprawling campus offers a range of different residential options, including single-sex dorm floors and buildings that are restricted to one particular class year. Some students choose to seek out specialized housing in the form of fraternities and sororities, co-ops, and group houses with special themes or interests.

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Walking Through the Stanford Admissions Process

Admissions Statistics

If you’re considering applying to Stanford, you should know that it’s among the most competitive colleges in the nation. Only around 5% of applicants are admitted each year. In 2016, Stanford was the most selective university in the United States; in 2017, it fell short only to Harvard.


Even if you’re an excellent applicant, you should consider Stanford a reach school—getting admitted is never a sure thing, and plenty of highly qualified applicants are rejected due to space constraints. For more insight into this phenomenon, read our post Why Are College Acceptance Rates So Low?


Who Gets Admitted to Stanford?

When evaluating applicants, Stanford uses a holistic approach that takes into account many different aspects of each applicant’s high school performance. Most successful applicants will have a record of high test scores and excellent grades in challenging academic courses, but these facts and figures aren’t enough to ensure that an applicant will be admitted.


The most important factor for Stanford is whether an applicant combines exceptional intellectual abilities with a genuine sense of enthusiasm and excitement about learning in the subjects they’re passionate about. Admissions officers also want to see that an applicant has the dedication and commitment necessary to turn their ideas into realities, as well as the initiative to create opportunities and approach topics in new ways.


Application Timeline

When applying to Stanford, you can choose to use either the Early Action (EA) timeline or the Regular Decision (RD) timeline. EA applicants submit their applications by November 1st and receive admissions decisions in mid-December. RD applicants submit their applications by early January (January 3rd in 2018) and can expect to hear back around April 1st. All applicants must confirm they’re attending Stanford by May 1st.


Since Stanford’s early application program is a nonbinding Early Action program instead of a binding Early Decision program, you aren’t contractually obligated to attend if you’re accepted. However, Stanford’s EA program is restrictive or single-choice, meaning that if you apply early to Stanford, you can’t apply early to any other college simultaneously.


How to Apply

The main component of Stanford’s application is the Common Application or Coalition Application. Neither form is preferred, so you can choose whichever works best for you. Whichever you choose, you’ll need to complete all of Stanford’s supplemental questions as well as the questions in the main section of the application, including three short essays in addition to the basic essay included in the Common or Coalition App.


In addition to this application, Stanford will require you to submit your scores from the SAT with Essay or ACT with Writing, your transcripts, two teacher recommendations, and a $90 application fee or waiver. Your guidance counselor or similar school official will also need to send in a School Report as well as an additional recommendation. There’s an additional option to submit an arts portfolio if you have an exceptional talent in the visual or performing arts.


We at CollegeVine know that this is a lot of information to digest, but thoroughly researching your college options is an absolute must when you’re contemplating applying to top-tier, extremely competitive schools like Stanford. The more you know, the more you can make informed decisions and present yourself to best advantage during the admissions process, and the better chance you have of finding a college that’s a great fit for you.


If you’re considering Stanford, be sure to check out the university’s undergraduate admissions office website for more information and the most up-to-date application instructions. For more expert advice on Stanford from the CollegeVine blog team, check out the following posts:



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Curious about your chances of acceptance to Stanford? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Monikah Schuschu
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.