The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Stanford

Stanford University, one of the world’s renowned research universities, is located in Palo Alto, California, roughly 45 minutes southeast of San Francisco, and the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley carries over to Stanford’s campus, as computer science is the most popular undergraduate major.

 

During the 2019-2020 applications cycle, Stanford’s acceptance rate was slightly higher than it has been in recent years, but still just 5.2% of applicants were accepted. If you’re hoping to snag a spot at this prestigious school, here’s everything you need to know about applying.

 

Average Stats of Accepted Stanford University Students

 

While Stanford does not report an average GPA or class rank for its accepted applicants, it does list middle 50% scores for the SAT and ACT. For the SAT, Stanford breaks its score report into the math and reading and writing sections: the middle 50% of accepted Stanford applicants scored between 720-800 on the math section, and 700-770 on the reading and writing section, for a composite score of between 1420-1570. For the ACT, the middle 50% of Stanford students scored between 31-35.

 

Unfortunately, at a school as competitive as Stanford, even perfect test scores do not guarantee you will be accepted. But if your scores fall in the above ranges, your application should at least get through the initial review, which means your essays and activities list will be read.

 

If your scores are lower than those listed above, there is a good chance you will be automatically disqualified unless you are a legacy student, a recruited athlete, or an underrepresented minority. While this may seem unfair, Stanford receives over 40,000 applications per year, so like many selective schools, they use the Academic Index to filter out applicants that are not academically comparable to the average Stanford student.

 

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Stanford, like many schools, has adopted a temporary test-optional policy. If you are wondering whether you should still try to take the SAT or ACT and would like more advice, you can read our article on test-optional policies. While a strong test score can only help your application, your and your family’s health is most important.

 

Finally, although Stanford does not report the average GPAs of its accepted classes, if you would still like to know your GPA but do not know how to calculate it, you can find it using our free GPA calculator.

 

Stanford University Application Process

 

Application Overview

 

Stanford accepts both the Common and Coalition Application, and students can apply either Restrictive Early Action or Regular Decision. REA is an unusual policy adopted by some of the most selective schools in the country, under which you cannot apply to any other private college or university during the early cycle. You can apply to public universities, however, and unlike Early Decision, if you are accepted REA to Stanford you are not required to attend.

 

The REA and RD deadlines are as follows:

 

  REA RD
Application deadline November 1 January 2
Decision by December 15 April 1
Confirm attendance by May 1 May 1

 

The fee to submit your application, regardless of which cycle you apply in and which platform you use, is $90. If you are worried that this cost may prevent you from submitting your application, you can request a fee waiver in either the Common or Coalition Application.

 

Stanford Application Components

 

  •     The Common Application or Coalition Application
  •     $90 application fee, or approval of your fee waiver request
  •     School report and counselor recommendation
  •     Official transcript
  •     Two teacher letters of recommendation
  •     Midyear transcript
  •     Stanford supplemental essays
  •     Stanford supplemental essay prompts
  •     Optional alumni interview

 

School Report

 

Your school report, which will likely be submitted by your school counselor along with their recommendation, contains factual information about your high school such as the academic programs offered, average GPAs, and so on. This report gives Stanford context as they evaluate your academic performance in high school.

 

Midyear Transcript

 

Even if you are accepted REA to Stanford, you must still submit this to update Stanford on your senior year academic performance.

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Stanford Supplemental Prompts

 

Short answer questions:

 

  • What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (3-50 words)
  • How did you spend your last two summers? (3-50 words)
  • What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (3-50 words)
  • Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, a job you hold, or responsibilities you have for your family. (3-50 words)
  • Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (3-50 words)

 

Essays:

 

  • The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning. (100-250 words)
  • Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate – and us – get to know you better. (100-250 words)
  • Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why. (100-250 words)

 

If you are wondering how to approach these prompts, we encourage you to check out our Guide to the Stanford Supplemental Essays. Once you have written your essay, you can also receive free feedback from other students with our Peer Essay Review tool!

 

Interview

 

If you live in one of Stanford’s interview areas, you may be offered an interview. Even if you live in one of these areas, you may not receive an offer, however, as Stanford only has so many interviewers—if you are not contacted, do not interpret it as negative commentary on your application.

 

If you are offered an interview, however, we strongly recommend that you accept, as interviews are a valuable opportunity to elaborate on and add to the content of your application. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all Stanford interviews will be conducted virtually during this applications cycle, over platforms such as Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime.

 

If you have further questions about Stanford interviews, an overview of the process can be found on the admissions website.

 

When Will You Hear Back?

 

As noted in the table above, the REA decision day is December 15th, and the RD decision day is April 1st—but don’t worry, if you get in, it’s not an April Fool’s joke.

 

Note that if you apply REA, three things can happen: you can be accepted or denied outright, or deferred, which means your application is still under consideration, and will be reevaluated during the RD cycle. While it is difficult to get in after being deferred, it does happen.

 

If you apply RD, there are also three possible outcomes: outright acceptance or denial, or being waitlisted. Stanford can accept you off the waitlist at any point up to the start of the fall term, but you should not count on this happening, as it is quite uncommon, so do make sure to put down a deposit at another college by May 1st.

 

Stanford University Financial Aid

 

Financial Aid Generosity

 

For the 2020-2021 academic year, the annual cost of attending Stanford is $78,218. Almost half of all Stanford undergraduates receive financial aid, however, with an average package of $58,494. Stanford commits to meeting 100% of a family’s demonstrated need, as well as providing loan-free aid. For applicants who are US citizens or undocumented but residing in the US, Stanford has a need-blind admissions policy, but this policy does not apply to international students.

 

Below is a table which shows the average amount of financial aid received by families in certain income brackets, and the percent of applicants in those brackets who qualify for aid.

 

 

Annual Family Income Average Aid Package Percentage of Applicants who Qualify for Aid
Under $65,000 $78,309 99%
$65,000-$95,000 $68,323 98%
$95,000-$125,000 $58,998 97%
$125,000-$155,000 $49,903 97%
$155,000-$185,000 $43,382 95%
$185,000-$215,000 $32,800 95%
$215,000-$245,000 $30,201 89%
Over $245,000 $23,036 48%

 

Stanford does note that most families in the two highest income brackets who qualify for aid have two or more children in college.

 

If you would like to estimate the aid package you would receive from Stanford, you can use the Quick Cost Estimator or Net Price Calculator. If you would like to know more about the cost of Stanford, you can check out our post: What Does It Really Cost to Attend Stanford?

 

How to Apply for Financial Aid

 

The below table shows which documents must be submitted, and the important financial aid deadlines to be aware of, for different types of applicants.

 

Type of Applicant Necessary Documents Deadline to Apply for Aid Notification of Aid Package
REA US citizen or undocumented resident CSS Profile, FAFSA, IDOC (Institutional Documentation Service) November 15th December 15th
REA international student CSS Profile, International Student Supplement, IDOC (Canadian applicants only) November 15th December 15th
RD US citizen or undocumented resident CSS Profile, FAFSA, IDOC (Institutional Documentation Service) February 15th April 1st
RD international student CSS Profile, International Student Supplement, IDOC (Canadian applicants only) February 15th April 1st

 

If you have questions about the materials you have to submit, you can find out more at on the Stanford financial aid site by clicking on the category of applicant you fall into.

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?

 

While Stanford’s overall acceptance rate is incredibly low, some applicants have much better chances based on their profile. If you would like to know your personal chance of acceptance at Stanford, based on your own academic and extracurricular accomplishments, we encourage you to check out our chancing engine.

 

If you have further questions about Stanford, our school overview page has more information about Stanford’s demographics, most popular majors, and more. We hope the resources we provide are helpful as you begin working on your application to Stanford, and best of luck!

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Short Bio
Adrian is a current senior at Dartmouth College, originally from Seattle, WA. At Dartmouth, she studies philosophy and neuroscience, and has been involved with research in the philosophy department, sexual assault prevention on campus, and mentorship programs for first year students. She spent her junior fall studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

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