Case Studies

Stanford University Courses & admission process

Miguel Marfori

Do you know Stanford University courses and admission process. Have a look!

Stanford University. The name alone can already tell you many things. Apart from being a competitor to the ever-elite Harvard, Stanford sets itself apart because it's one of the many elite colleges that's got an enjoyable and colourful community that you don't often see. Since its founding in 1885, it's come a long way to show the world it's no pushover and it accepts students who excel in their exceptional experiences in life.

But before you think Stanford can just let you in like you're knocking on a door, you'll have to know it's going to be a battle even to get in. So how can you get admitted into this place? How can you be worthy of being part of this place as you begin your journey in college? Don't worry; we got an excellent guide for you laid out below to let you know that there's a way to get in. So ready? Go right ahead and read on!

1. Have a good idea on Stanford’s selection process

While they're not as exquisite as Harvard when it comes to letting everyone know what they're looking for, Stanford has their way with their selection process. The factors that influence their process are as ordinary they can be. You may even think they're like some average college who didn't spend so much time with determining the factors for the applicants who can apply. But it takes an excellent glance to know they have excellent reasons for this. Here are the elements:

  • Academic Excellence

This factor in their selection process is primary, which means they're looking for students who exhibit the vigilance and audacity to be celebrated in their academic studies and be able to challenge themselves. Another right way to put this is they want to see applicants who can do well in their studies and still do it with style. Thankfully they're not very strict on the minimum GPA or the courses needed to take. When they see this excellent factor in you, they'll have consideration.

  • Intellectual Vitality

This factor will show Stanford an applicant who's got the knack for expanding their horizons and improving their intellect. You can think of this as the kind of factor where they're hoping to see the next Isaac Newton or Ernest Hemingway build in the future students. Another way to put it: They want to see applicants like you pursue things beyond the ordinary. So if you're the kind who reads really-challenging books or participate in scientific stuff that most students your age don't do, then you've got this one.

  • Extracurricular Activities

For this one, Stanford will evaluate a student based on the many activities they actively pursue outside of their school time. From the athletic to the musical, it's where they want to see if a student isn't just dedicated to school but also their lives and enriching it with things that give them experience. They'll even consider those high school clubs you join as a nice boost.

By having a good idea of these factors, you’ll be able to see whether or not you have them. And from the looks of it, it can be easy to find out because they’re not that difficult to have. But it pays to be honest in assessing yourself thoroughly to the max. 

2. Be aware of the “context” Stanford has

Also listed in the factors of the selection process is the context. Stanford talked more about it when they said, "Just as no two Stanford students are the same, each applicant to Stanford is unique. This means that as we review each application, we pay careful attention to unique circumstances." You can think of it as Stanford's way of saying that they're also looking for some stuff that you can't put on paper. From a life story that just has this unspeakable charm to the personality that makes a student so impressive, the circumstances Stanford look out for is the kind you don't see with the naked eye.

3. Learn the things Stanford accept and don’t want to say behind the closed doors

But of course, you may be wondering if there are things Stanford gladly admits without really saying something in public right? You're right to think about that because behind closed doors there are some things you'll need to know before you can truly fight for the admission.

As said by Dr Fred Zhang on PrepScholar says here, he shared the myths and truths about Stanford admissions being that they were once accepted in it too. He has even said, "I actually spent a substantial amount of time thinking about what Stanford was looking for and crafting an application specifically for Stanford. To me, Stanford was one of the top two schools I was interested in, so I took the application very seriously." If you're curious about what he's talking, we can show you:

  • You need exceptional academics

While Stanford makes it sound like you just need satisfactory academics with their emphasis that there's no minimum GPA score required or something, it's a myth to think that way. The truth here is that they care more about excellent grades which means that the results on your SAT and ACT tests matter quite a lot (more on this below).

  • You need to be excellent in multiple areas 

Another thing to remember and consider are the factors of intellectual vitality and extracurricular activities. To those who will read these in the Stanford site, it just sounds like you should only be well-rounded which means you're just the kind of student who does activities for the sheer joy. But it's a myth to think this way because Stanford cares about the excellence you're able to exhibit in multiple areas because you need to be kind of student who's got the talent in a variety of hobbies. You can't just be ordinary: You need to extraordinary.

  • You got to have a spike in one area

Stanford also doesn't say it, but they also go for the applicants who've got a spike in one area. What's a spike, you ask? It's where you have a speciality in one area and makes you unique. As PrepScholar says here: “A spike is what sets you apart from all other applicants. It goes against the spirit of simply being well rounded. By nature of being unique, you don't fit in with all of the other well-rounded applicants; you do something that truly stands out in a meaningful way.” It’s the factor that will show everybody you’re the spectacular one. It’s kind of like saying you’re like the Brad Pitt in your field. To put it simply: You have to the best of the best. You need to feel like you’re on top of the world. Yep, that high. Don’t worry; there's a way to make the spike spark like magic down below.

When you step back and look, you can see how challenging it can be. But even if you try to clarify some of these truths, particularly the part about being well-rounded or having some spike, you're just going to get a vague reply. Richard F. Shaw, Dean of Stanford Admissions, was asked about it before. In an interview in 2014, he clarified whether Stanford is looking for well-rounded applicants or those who pursue a particular passion when he said: "If you go to a bookstore you’ll find hundreds of books written on how to get in. We’re trying to find students. There are no absolutes. The bottom line is we try to identify students who we sense [have] a significant love of learning and passion for whatever they do." In a way, he was trying to let the interviewer know that Stanford isn't specific about what the applicant does, but they do try to find something with the context they have.

But knowing the truths and myths from Dr Zhang can tell you that he took on the challenge and came out with flying colours. Now that you know what he talks about, this is where you can truly see when you've got what it takes.

4. Develop the spike within yourself

While Stanford indeed adores the applicants with their factors on the selection process, what they never say is that you got to be a little more than just the great student. You need to have the edge that rivals the other applicants. Good thing Dr Zhang mentioned that already: The spike which you've learned earlier.

Developing the spike is a tricky thing to get into because it's the matter of genuinely entering the excellent status of the one area you're pursuing. If you need a little inspiration, think about Beyonce. She's quite the singer who's become a worldwide phenomenon. She can sing, dance, and act. But did she do it all quickly? Of course not. She had to go through lots of trials and errors to become who she is now.

When you're bringing about some greatness to other areas you're interested, you need to pick the one that will let you exert all your efforts with enthusiasm. You need to choose the area that will make Stanford see that there's a new sensation within you that will just make them see you're one-of-a-kind in the area you're mastering.

5. Pick your course and major at Stanford that suits you well

When you've already taken a good introspection of yourself and know if you got all that it takes to be part of Stanford, your next action is remembering your course and major to pursue. You can't just go there and think they'll hand you something to do as quickly as that. Stumped? You can check here to see what they've got laid out. They have over 65 majors ready to be added to your undergraduate studies so better have something in mind. It also pays to know what are the areas you excel in or the spike you have in one area to boost it all with your choices.  

6. Get a hold of the requirements that’s listed

Got the course and major that'll get you excited? Good! Now is the time for you to get it going and get all the requirements ready for submission. You can see what they need here but here’s a quick list to get you going: 

  • SAT or ACT scores
  • Common Application or Coalition Application
  • $90 application fee (non-refundable) or fee waiver request
  • Official transcript records
  • Letters of recommendation from 2 teachers
  • Midyear transcript
  • Counselor’s report and letter of recommendation

You'll need to also complete the supplemental essays alongside your application requirements. But if you happen to be someone with a thing for the arts, you can submit the Arts Portfolio too. This one isn't mandatory and is for the applicants who will do the studies dealing in the arts, but if you're the kind who is artsy and wants to show Stanford you're a Da Vinci in the making, you can do this one too. There's more info here. 

7. Take note of the scores Stanford loves to see

As you've seen earlier, SAT and ACT test scores are part of the requirements you'll need to submit for your admission to Stanford. And what you learned a while ago from Dr Zhang is they're quite crucial because if you don't even reach the scores Stanford wants to see, then it's bye-bye for you. So how important are they anyway? Here's some data to get you up to speed about it courtesy of Magoosh:

Stanford ACT and SAT scores
Credit: Magoosh

As shown above, your ACT score has to be above 33 while your SAT score has to be above 1465. Have these figures displayed nicely, and Stanford will have a good look at you and see you're quite the student to be accepted. But you know that scores like these aren't going to be given to you easily. You need to work hard for them. So it means: Don't take Stanford's word on their site as the truth. Dr Zhang already told you the facts and myths to it all, so keep them in mind.

8. Get excellent scores on the required tests

Now that you're aware of the scores you need to get on the SAT and ACT tests so Stanford will consider you with your application, you're going to ask yourself: How in blazes will I even arrive at them?  You can do this by making the and ace the tests as nobody else has done before. It's going to be a challenge, so here are some things to remember and do as you prep for them:

  • Practice the tests 

Give the tests a run without having to spend yet with practice runs where you can get a feel for them and see what you need to do to be magnificent. You practice them with excellence and do it until you know you're ready to take them on.

  • Prepare with the apps

In the good old days, prepping for the ACT and SAT tests were hard. You had to have lots of paper and books and get some space. You'd be doing so much back then you'd already forgot what you even were doing in the first place. Thankfully, you can prep easily these days with apps. There is a handful of them that will help you practice and even have a peek at the ways you can excel them.

  • Expand your intellectual vitality

Seeing as how Stanford sees intellectual vitality as a factor in their selection process, it pays to expand it. You can get a headstart by reading more challenging books, experimenting with things you've never done before in scientific studies and trying out other activities that let you improve upon your mind's capacity for learning and knowledge.

  • Attend a class

While technology has already gotten things easily adapted for convenience, it never beats the true essence of the class that'll gladly help you out in excelling the SAT and ACT tests. After all, you're learning from the very best who tackled them and will give you the fighting spirit for them. Plus, camaraderie has its sound effects so yeah, give them a shot when you can.

9. Know more about Stanford’s acceptance rate

While Stanford may look like it's less of a strict college than other universities, their acceptance rate is going to sink your expectations. According to TopTier Admissions, the data shown below can display the playing field from a different light:

Stanford Acceptance Rates
Credit: TopTier Admissions

Based on what you see here, acceptance rates from 2012 were at 9.49%, but the following year, it dropped quite to a low of 7.97%. As the coming years show, the rate is going down lower and lower until the estimated rate of 4.20% comes up by the year 2023.

Stanford may sound simplistic with their selection process, but thanks to the myths and truths from one accepted student, there's a lot they'll consider beyond the factors at face value. It's more or less of the context where they're looking out for that "it" factor.

10. Make your application the kind that'll give Stanford a reason to look

Now that you know the acceptance rates, you can excel in getting the other requirements because you're well aware of the other stuff that Stanford accepts without saying it exuberantly to the public. Now you're ready to get your application into becoming an exceptional one. With many who apply and a few get in, you have to truly show Stanford you're the one they need to pick. So what are the things to do when you want to make a big difference? Here are the things you'll need to get going with:

  • Ace it well with the supplemental essays

It's not explained in the official site, but Stanford supplies supplemental essay questions for applicants to answer when they're submitting their application forms. They're the kind that will have you think carefully. In these cases, it's a great idea to ace them well. So how can do you do this? First, you need to make sure your essays are excellent and greatly-written, which means you don't treat them as ordinary. Second, be aware of the words you're required to write because this will give you a way to be selective with what you'll say. Third, write answers that aren't like others. You can exhibit much of the strengths you want Stanford to see in you and let them know that you're not the typical student. If you're stumped here, don't worry, you can check for some of the questions they've had along with tips here. 

  • List down your achievements impressively

While you're getting your profile arranged with significant, don't forget to list down your achievements with impressiveness. As you've no doubt learned, Stanford is looking for applicants who've academic excellence with intellectual vitality and a knack for the extracurricular under the belt. So what you need to do is show Stanford your achievements are remarkable, which means you'll need to boast a bit with control. Do this well, and you'll have Stanford think twice before they even reject you.

  • Know your Stanford very well

It's a tip that you may find strange coming from CollegeVine, but it may not be that weird at all. When it comes to applying for Stanford, be knowledgeable about who they are. By doing your research, choosing your course and major, and having confidence, you can let them know they're the right fit for you. It's not exactly mandatory but knowing who you'll be studying with in the next few years is better than not knowing right?  

  • Consult with the experts

Before you even think about declaring your application complete, it's a good idea to consult the experts too. A great way to start is to ask the ones who've made applications before and ask them for their opinion. You can also enlighten them on Stanford's factors so they can see if you missed on something. It's good to have another view and see from other people's eyes.

11. Take note of how Stanford admission processes applications and interviews

When it comes to process applications, Stanford's got their way with it. It can even surprise you how they're doing it. According to a report made by Stanford Magazine back in 2013, the process has changed a lot over the years. There are so many applicants that it’s maniacal even to try and decide which of them are worthy. Dean Fred Hargadon, who was part of the admission team back then, laments about this. As he put it: "I was lucky to be in admissions the years I was in it. I mean, 10,000 or 15,000 applications is plenty. I think Stanford had almost 23,000 last year. I don't know how you get your arms around that." He's been unemployed with Stanford since 1984.  

So how does it go? In the same report, it's known that in an application review that can take as much as 15 minutes, the admissions readers collectively spend roughly 9,700 hours evaluating over 38,800 applicants. (By this time, it's likely doubled already). It doesn't even count yet the extra time they need to put in just to check for any of the contexts they need to see. Since then, it's been like this for Stanford admissions, and every year, more and more applications come in with a few getting selected. 

Then, of course, the interviews come in. Stanford gives a glance at the interview process here. Everything you need to know is explained here. But of course, there are a few things you need to be aware that they don't say in the official site. That's why when you ask a place like Ellin Lolis Consulting they'll be happy to help you out with some tips and tricks on how to ace the interviews

12. Get everything submitted, hope everything goes well and wait for the response

After you go through the process of getting everything ready and submitted, all you can do is hope everything goes well and you'll just have to wait for the response. Of course, you can't expect you'll get it all right away. You just got to have the faith that what you've exhibited and presented with your application will win Stanford over.

Not Accepted? 

You did all that you could and got your application submitted. But then after what you've put your efforts to, Stanford tells you weren't accepted. "Awww, man!". Yep, it can get you into a sad mood. But don't worry, it's not the end of the world as you know it because there are a few alternatives you can try. Now, they're not the kind of options rejected applicants will do right away since they all take time but if you don't mind the patience needed, then here they are:

Alternative Option A: Apply for a different college and transfer to Stanford later

You can always apply for a different college and then transfer to Stanford later. So the strategy here is when you're in the other college, get some experience in and then midway, you can go for it and apply again for Stanford as a transfer applicant. From there, you can do all the things we've discussed here and give your application the much-needed boost. It'll let Stanford have another look and see why you're actively going for their place. If it seems fishy, you can have a look at Stanford's requirements for transfer applicants.

But take note that with this one, it's going to be pure luck because the transfer admissions rate is shallow. How low can it go? According to Campus Reel, the rate back in 2019 was at 1.15%. Yes, lower than the acceptance rates for new applicants. So you’d better make sure that when you’re going for this, you’ll show Stanford that you deserve a second chance. 

Alternative Option B: Apply again after going through a gap year

Another way to get yourself into Stanford is applying again after you've gone through a gap year, a year-long break before or after college to pursue other activities for further development in education and other parts of life. It's also a marvelous way for you to take a nice long break from your time with school and pursue things that can expand your mind and body. Here are some benefits:

The benefits of a gap year

But be aware that this alternative is a risky option to execute because Stanford will see what you already did when you first applied and likely just reject you again. But as you already know, they do like intellectual vitality and extracurricular activities, right? So you can make the gap year a way for you to get your spike up in one area and develop the excellence in other areas to show Stanford that you being out of school for a year is a great way to grow and prosper. It will also give them the chance to see you can become the applicant they genuinely want.


Stanford may seem like a place you can apply for as easy as 1, 2 and 3, but as you've learned, they've got hidden agendas that are never said to the public. Sure, their selection process makes it look anyone can apply, but as you've already realized, they have other factors that the accepted had learned when they were able to enroll with them. It can even seem like it's not worth the effort to apply for a place that's going for the student with exceptional academic scores topped with superb intellect and experiences with great extra-curricular activities. But deep down within, you can give it a go and show Stanford you're the one they'll gladly accept. By knowing the truths and myths with their process to upping up your applications with the positives they look for, you'll know with certainty that you can find your way into the world of Stanford.



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