What Does It Really Take to Get Into Stanford?

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Founded in 1885, Stanford University has since grown into a vibrant community and academic powerhouse. If you’re considering applying to Stanford, you are likely an exceptional student, both in terms of academics and extracurricular accomplishments. Congratulations—that is a great feat in itself!


Unfortunately, Stanford’s acceptance rate in 2020 was 5.2%, one of the lowest in the country. Building a strong transcript and extracurricular resumé is no longer enough to receive a coveted acceptance. So what can you do to stand out? If you want to beat the odds, read on for CollegeVine’s tips on optimizing your profile.


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.



Check out our video for a more in-depth look into applying and getting accepted into Stanford!


Applying to Stanford: A Quick Review


At Stanford, you’ll have the choice to apply using one of two portals: The Common Application and the Coalition Application. Most students apply via the Common Application, which you can learn more about in our Guide to the Common App.


Each applicant may apply Restrictive Early Action, with a deadline of November 1. However, students who apply early to Stanford may not apply early to any other private colleges or universities. The Regular Decision deadline is January 2. If you’re unsure about whether or not you should apply early, read our post Early Decision vs. Early Action vs. Restrictive Early Action.


To apply, be sure to send in all of the following:

  • A general university application via Common App or Coalition App
  • Stanford’s Supplemental Essays
  • SAT or ACT test scores (optional for the 2020-2021 cycle)
  • Two letters of recommendation from teachers
  • A school report and letter of recommendation from your counselor
  • High School Transcript
  • $90 application fee or fee waiver
  • A midyear report


In addition to these materials, students may submit an optional Arts Portfolio. Stanford accepts portfolios in Art Practice, Dance, Music, and Theater & Performance Studies. It is a great idea to submit an Arts Portfolio if your primary extracurricular endeavor falls into one of these four categories. However, the submission is optional in every sense. Those who do choose to submit an Arts Portfolio must apply by earlier deadlines—October 15 for Restrictive Early Action and December 1 for Regular Decision.


SAT Subject Tests are optional, but we highly recommend submitting scores if you performed well. We advise sharing strong IB and AP results as well. For 2020-2021, Stanford is test-optional, so don’t worry if you don’t have Subject Test scores.


International applicants may submit TOEFL or IELTS scores. If you are an international student, check out Stanford’s International Applicants for additional requirements based on your specific background. International students should also read our post on The U.S. Admissions Process.


How Difficult Is It To Get Into Stanford?


Stanford is the most selective school in the nation. The most recent application cycle produced a 5.2% admissions rate. That means that out of 45,227 applicants, only 2,349 gained acceptance. Among accepted students, 1,706 decided to attend Stanford, giving the school an 68.4% matriculation rate.


5.2% may sound intimidating, but remember that this rate is for the entire pool. Your personal application profile is vital to determining whether your chances of acceptance. To get a clearer picture of your own chances, try to find a knowledgeable mentor or college counselor who can evaluate whether your profile realistically would be competitive at Stanford.


So, How Does One Get Into Stanford?


Stanford has published the Selection Process for all prospective applicants to read. You will notice that Stanford takes a holistic approach. This means that they evaluate all different components of your application, and while numbers are important, they aren’t everything.


Students should demonstrate academic excellence in their grades and test scores. In the Class of 2024, the middle 50% of SAT scores for accepted students was 700-770 in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and 720-800 in Math. For ACT test-takers, the middle 50% of accepted students’ scores was 31-35. For the 2020-2021 cycle, scores are lower across the board, so if you have an ACT of 28 or above, and and SAT of 1360 or above, we recommend submitting your score. For more info, see our post on applying test-optional in 2020-2021.


Extracurricular activities are key. Stanford’s many supplemental essays are great places to showcase leadership, creativity, and a knack for doing the extraordinary.


Beyond all that, your personal context is something admissions officers will take into consideration. The Class of 2024 was comprised of 20.2% first generation college attendees, 12% international students, and represented students from all 50 states.

How to Make Your Application Stand Out


Showcase your excellence. Address all of your greatest academic, extracurricular, and personal accomplishments in the most favorable light possible. Initially, this will feel like bragging, but press on. It is vital for the admissions officer to quickly understand who you are and what you have accomplished. Ask parents, friends, and counselors to read over materials to ensure you’ve presented yourself in an honest and positive manner.


Demonstrate good character. All students should emphasize humility and growth in addition to their other positive traits. Humility amounts to giving credit where credit is due—to yourself but also to others. Likewise, growth is key. Stanford is making a bet not on who you are, but on who you’re becoming. So, give Stanford a glimpse of how you’ve changed already.


Show Stanford-specific knowledge. Stanford wants to know that it is a top choice for you, not simply one of many good options. For that reason, research is key. Here are a few facts that you should take care not to contradict:


  • Stanford is a 45 minute drive away from San Francisco (on a good day).
  • Contrary to popular opinion, Stanford is not in the Ivy League.
  • Stanford has several majors with unusual names, including Human Biology, Ethics in Society, and Symbolic Systems. Double check the name of your desired major before applying.


Focus on the Stanford supplemental essays. Stanford has set itself apart with a long supplemental application. Students who take time to fill this out carefully show that they care about Stanford in particular. CollegeVine has already posted an in-depth Guide to Writing the Stanford Application Essays. If you are currently a senior, this is where you really want to double down. Most of your application profile has already been decided, but you have a lot of control here, and these essays have a large impact on your chances.


What If You Get Rejected?


Don’t be too hard on yourself. Even top applicants are not guaranteed a slot at Stanford. There are thousands of successful people who did not graduate from Stanford. You still have many opportunities to thrive elsewhere.


Stanford does not accept admissions appeals, since it already has a long list of students who are eager to accept their offers. For students who really feel as though Stanford uniquely meets their needs, transferring into the school is still an option next year. The transfer admissions rate is extremely low, and the application process requires a lot of extra work. However, students who maintain a strong academic and extracurricular profile will always have a shot.


You can reapply after taking a gap year, but this path is riskier than simply committing to another school and requesting to take a gap year there. To see if a gap year is right for you, visit our posts, What Are the Pros of Taking a Gap Year? and What You Need To Know When Applying to Colleges After a Gap Year.


Truth be told, your best bet is to move on after a rejection. If you fell in love with Stanford due to its California locale, check out other California schools, such as UC Berkeley and Pomona College. If you aspire to attend a school of comparable prestige, the Ivy League may be a good fit for you. If you want to jump into a startup right after college, MIT and CalTech offer comparable pathways into the tech industry. For help adjusting to a different dream, read our post, Envisioning a New Future: Preparing for Life at Your Second-Choice (or Third, or Fourth) School.


Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? 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!


For more resources on admission to Stanford, visit these other CollegeVine posts:


The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Stanford

How to Write the Stanford University Application Essays 2018-2019

College Spotlight Series: Everything You Need to Know About Stanford

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Short Bio
Veronica is an alumna of Harvard College, where she earned her A.B. in History and Classics. After graduating, she joined CollegeVine serving as the Curriculum Development Manager. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA and is writing her debut novel.

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