Stanford University: Campus Visit Observations







By Rajkamal Rao  

Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC


On June 10, 2019, we visited Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif, for a campus visit. Our verdict? If you're lucky enough to be one of 1,600 freshmen selected, you should probably say "Yes!!!!!!!"

All You Need To Know About Stanford

The best way to visit Stanford is to register in advance. The visitor center is easy to find and parking is $2/hour. Inside the center, you can view multiple video clips that are constantly running. An information session is generally held at 10 AM and repeats at 2 PM. A campus tour starts at 11:30 AM and again at 3:30 PM. Each tour lasts 70 minutes.

Stanford is in small, scenic, Palo Alto. The neighborhood around Stanford feels like any other northern California suburb. The university is beautiful with over 40,000 trees on a 3,300+ acre campus.

Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC

Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC

Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC

Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC

Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC

Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC

Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC

Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC

Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC

Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC

Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC

Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC

Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC

Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC

Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC


Here are key observations and notes from our participation in the official information session.

  1. One of the most important things Stanford looks for in a high school student is if he/she has exploited all that the high school offers. If a school offers AP/IB courses, Stanford expects students to sign up for as many of them provided students are interested in those topics. If you're a humanities student, Stanford does not expect you to take AP Calculus.

  2. It's almost impossible to transfer AP credits. Stanford allows you to take an exam to exempt out of certain courses, generally limited to 2-3 courses.

  3. Like we often tell our clients, Stanford suggests that you take both the SAT and the ACT so that you can submit whichever is the better score.

  4. There are no score cutoffs but clearly, the higher the score, the better.

  5. SAT subject tests are optional. Yes, optional means optional.

  6. Stanford expects you to pursue any extracurricular activity which reflects your passion. This is identical to our advice on extracurricular activities. You don't have to be part of a school club. You don't have to have performed research. In fact, if you take care of a sibling at home, that counts as a meaningful activity.

  7. Stanford says that the admissions office reads every application and likes to understand the student's context. It's a good idea to therefore include high school demographic information.

  8. Stanford needs two recommendation letters from teachers, with at least one from your core teachers (Science, Social Studies, Math and English). An optional recommendation letter may be submitted from anyone who is not a family member (Athletics coach, volunteer service director, etc). 

  9. The counselor recommendation is required and does not count in the 2+1 recommendation letter package.

  10. Stanford supplemental essays are relatively short, 300 words or so, but are intended to represent who you are. Check out our post on essays and contact us to learn how we can help.

  11. Interviews are optional but recommended. Not everyone is selected for an interview, so just because a student doesn't receive an interview invitation does not mean that he/she will not likely get in.

  12. Stanford follows a non-binding Early Action calendar, for those students who already have their grades well set or for those who are applying for athletic admissions. Stanford is a big Pac-10 college with heavy emphasis on sports.

  13. Stanford follows the rigorous quarter system (8-weeks), so expect to take your first mid-term exams in the 3rd week of school!

  14. Stanford is a need-blind institution which means that admissions decisions are unrelated to a family's ability to pay. In general the $65,000/$125,000 rule applies. If your family makes $65,000 or less (with proportional assets), Stanford will pay for tuition, room and board. If your family makes $125,000 or less (with proportional assets), Stanford will pay for tuition.

  15. There's no core curriculum at Stanford. There's no impacted major. There are no minimum number of courses needed to declare a major. You generally meet with a PMA (pre-major advisor) at the end of your Sophomore year and decide on which classes to take for the remaining two years. Then you may be assigned a faculty advisor.

  16. Stanford offers numerous research and internship opportunities, many more so than there are students for. Many opt to work for startups.

  17. Stanford's study-abroad program is extremely popular. It offers tieups with numerous institutions around the world, including Oxford.

  18. Nearly all students live on campus given the expense of housing in the bay area. Bike paths are common. There's no air conditioning in campus housing.

  19. Dining options on campus are limited to the dining halls. There's not a lot of choice of restaurants and cafes on campus.

  20. Stanford is known for a supportive and collaborative community unlike some schools in the northeast.


The idea of residence colleges comes from Cambridge, Oxford, Yale, and Princeton. Students feel an identity first to their residence college, then to Stanford and then on to the world. Friendships are made in the residence colleges because this is where you eat, sleep and live. Intramural sports are often competitions between residence colleges. For overprotective parents worried about how their teenagers will adapt to an independent life, residence halls are a great way to transition the change.


Our takeaway

Stanford is America's most selective research institution, admitting fewer than 5% of applicants. If you're lucky enough to be admitted, you should strongly consider it.

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