What Does It Really Take to Get Into Stanford?
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- How Hard is it to Get Into Stanford?
- Academic Profile of Accepted Students
- What is Stanford Looking for?
- How to Improve Your Chances
- How to Apply to Stanford
Stanford has a reputation as being one of the top schools in the nation and one of the hardest colleges in the country to get into. Many factors draw college-bound high schoolers to Stanford, including its world-class education, gorgeous campus, and athletic excellence—not to mention numerous illustrious alumni, including tech entrepreneurs, Supreme Court Justices, famous actors, notable authors, astronauts, inventors, and even a U.S. President.
If you’re hoping to gain acceptance to Stanford, here’s everything you need to know to improve your chances.
Check out our video for a more in-depth look into applying and getting accepted into Stanford!
How Hard Is It to Get Into Stanford University?
A total of 45,227 students applied to become part of Stanford’s class of 2025 and the university accepted just 2,349 applicants. Stanford doesn’t publicly announce its acceptance rate, but a quick calculation using the Common Data Set places it at 5.18%, almost identical to the previous year’s 5.19% acceptance rate.
It’s no wonder Stanford is sometimes called the “Ivy of the West.” CollegeVine ranked Stanford as one of the top 10 schools that aren’t in the Ivy League and it’s quite common to see Stanford placed above many of the elite East Coast institutions in national polls and publications. Like its peers in the Ivy League, Stanford is extremely selective and attracts some of the most highly qualified applicants in the country.
To understand your chances at Stanford University, we recommend using our free admissions calculator. Using factors such as your grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities, our free chancing engine estimates your odds of acceptance, and gives you tips to improve your college profile!
Average Academic Profile of Accepted Stanford University Students
The average high school GPA of Stanford’s class of 2025 is a 3.96. More than two-thirds (68.7%) of the class of 2025 graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA, and 27.5% had a GPA between 3.75 and 3.99. Less than 4% of students admitted to the class of 2025 had a GPA below 3.74.
The middle 50% SAT score of students admitted to Stanford’s class of 2025 is between 1420 and 1550 and the middle 50% composite ACT score was between 31 and 35. Of Stanford’s class of 2025 that submitted an SAT score, 79.4% scored between 1400 and 1600. Of the students that submitted an ACT score, 86.5% scored between 30 and 36.
Stanford considers class rank “very important” to admissions decisions. A remarkable 96% of the university’s class of 2025 graduated in the top 10% of their high school class.
What is Stanford University Looking for?
At a super-selective school with a low acceptance rate like Stanford, exceptional academics are not enough to gain admission—nearly every applicant has superb grades and outstanding test scores. Knowing what Stanford is looking for in an applicant is one way to gain an advantage over others seeking admission.
Stanford strikes a balance between colleges like MIT and Harvard; it values applicants with technical experience and those who have demonstrated leadership in a variety of areas. One way that Stanford differentiates itself from the schools of the Ivy League—except, perhaps, Princeton—is the priority it places on STEM over fields like business and the humanities.
Stanford considers essays “very important” criteria when making admissions decisions and places a relatively high weight compared to its peers on them. Stanford applicants are required to write three short supplemental essays—between 100 and 250 words each—as part of their application. These essays provide an excellent opportunity for applicants to show why they belong at Stanford. But, if not written well, they hinder your chances of acceptance.
How Stanford University Evaluates Applications
According to their 2020-2021 Common Data Set, Stanford University considers the following factors “very important”:
- Course rigor
- Class rank
- Test scores
- Recommendation letters
These other factors are “considered”:
- First-generation student
- Alumni/ae relation
- Geographic residence
- Racial/ethnic status
- Volunteer work
- Work experience
And these are “not considered”:
- State residence
- Religious affiliation
- Level of interest
How to Improve Your Chances of Getting into Stanford University
1. Achieve at least a 3.96 GPA while taking the most challenging classes available
Stanford considers GPA, class rank, and the rigor of coursework “very important” when making admissions decisions. Consequently, it’s extremely important for Stanford applicants to not only possess outstanding grades but for those grades to come in challenging courses. How many AP classes should you take? Students accepted to a top 10 school like Stanford typically complete between 8 to 12, but it’s not uncommon for a student to have taken even more.
Another reason why Stanford applicants need great grades is that selective schools use a tool called the Academic Index to filter out their enormous number of applicants. At its most basic, the Academic Index is a distillation of a student’s academic performance (grades and test scores) into a single number. Colleges use that number to filter out students deemed unqualified.
If your GPA is lower, and you’re earlier on in your high school career, check out our tips for increasing your GPA. If you’re a junior or senior, it will be harder to increase your GPA, so the easiest way to increase your Academic Index is to get a higher test score.
2. Aim for a 1550 SAT or a 35 ACT
The middle 50% SAT score of Stanford’s class of 2025 is 1420-1550 and their middle 50% ACT is 31-35. Any score in the middle 50% is good, but the closer applicants score to the 75th percentile, the better their odds of admission.
In light of the challenges presented by COVID-19, Stanford will accept applications without standardized test scores in 2021-2022. That said, if you can safely take the SAT or ACT, it is recommended—students who submit test scores are accepted at higher rates than students who don’t submit scores. CollegeVine generally recommends submitting scores if they’re above the 25th percentile for accepted students (i.e., 1420 SAT score and 31 ACT score at Stanford).
Stanford believes students should have the best test representation possible. For the ACT, it will review all subscores and focus on the highest Composite from all tests. For the SAT, Stanford will focus on the highest individual Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math scores from all sittings. For students who have sat for the SAT with the essay and also without the essay, Stanford will super score your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math scores across these two versions of the exam.
To improve your SAT/ACT score, check out these free CollegeVine resources:
- How to Get a Perfect 1600 Score on the SAT
- How to Get a Perfect 36 Score on the ACT
- More SAT Info and Tips
- More ACT Info and Tips
3. Cultivate at least one or two Tier 1-2 extracurriculars (find your “spike”)
Extracurricular activities are a common way for applicants to separate themselves from the field, but not all extracurriculars are created equal. Stanford considers talent/ability “very important” when making admissions decisions and extracurricular activities are an excellent way to demonstrate them. An easy way to understand their impact is the 4 Tiers of Extracurriculars:
- Tier 1 activities are the most eye-catching; they demonstrate exceptional achievement and are extremely rare. Tier 1 extracurriculars include impressive accomplishments like winning the Regeneron Science Talent Search or the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award.
- Tier 2 extracurriculars demonstrate high levels of achievement or leadership but are more common than Tier 1 activities. Tier 2 activities include everything from making an all-state selection in athletics or band to holding a top leadership position in a well-known club, like Model UN or Science Olympiad.
- Tier 3 extracurricular activities are great for showing an applicant’s interest outside of the classroom but don’t have the cachet of higher-tiered extracurriculars. Tier 3 activities include holding a lesser leadership position in a club, like treasurer. Similarly, athletes who didn’t make an all-state team but earned recognition like a player of the week award fall into Tier 3.
- Tier 4 extracurriculars are the least impressive and most common of the four tiers. These activities include everything from participation in a club (but not holding a leadership position) to playing a sport or instrument without distinction to volunteering.
Competitive applicants at a top school like Stanford generally have one or two Tier 1 or Tier 2 activities on their resumes. The belief that colleges are looking for well-rounded students is a myth—applicants are more appealing if they have a highly developed interest known as a “spike,” rather than a bunch of unrelated interests.
4. Write engaging essays
Stanford’s application requires four essays—the personal essay found in either the Coalition Application or the Common Application and three short-answer questions in the Stanford Supplement:
- 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.
- 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.
- Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why.
Stanford values essays and considers character/personal qualities “very important” when considering applicants. The result is that essays are often a make-or-break area for applicants, providing them the chance to set themselves apart from the competition and show why they belong on Stanford’s campus. For great advice on how to write a compelling Stanford essay, check out our article How to Write the Stanford University Essays 2021-2022.
5. Apply Early Action
Stanford offers a restrictive early action application—a non-binding option that prevents applicants from applying to any other private college/university under their early action, restrictive early action, early decision, or early notification plans.
While Stanford doesn’t release its early admissions data, the acceptance rates for early applications tend to be higher than those for regular decision, even while controlling for profile strength.
6. Recommendation Letters
Stanford considers letters of recommendation a “very important” factor in making admissions decisions and requires three of them: one from a high school counselor and two from teachers. Stanford suggests the teachers who write recommendations taught you in 11th or 12th grade in a core academic field like English, math, science, foreign language, or history/social studies, but applicants may submit a letter recommendation from a 10th-grade teacher if the coursework was advanced, such as AP or IB.
Stanford also allows applicants to submit one optional letter of recommendation. This option is best used if there is a person who knows the applicant well and can offer valuable insights that their high school counselor or teachers might not shine a light on.
Requesting a letter of recommendation from a teacher is a big ask—they’re busy and don’t get paid to write recommendations. Make it easy for them by giving them plenty of time, providing them with as much relevant information as possible, and by following the other nine rules of requesting letters of recommendations from teachers.
How to Apply to Stanford University
Stanford applicants can apply using either the common application or the Coalition Application. The other Stanford application requirements are:
- School Report and counselor letter of recommendation
- Official transcript
- Teacher letters of recommendation (2)
- Midyear transcript
Other optional materials include:
- Optional arts portfolio
Learn more about Stanford University
Interested in learning more about Stanford? Check out these other informative articles:
- What Does It Really Take to Get Into Stanford?
- What is Stanford University Known For?
- Stanford University Diversity Statistics: An In-Depth Look
- Stanford Interview: What It’s Like + My Experience