Admissions Vague on Political Life

When it comes to recruiting prospective undergraduates for Stanford University, the Undergraduate Office of Admissions does something right. Last year, nearly 30,428 students applied for undergraduate admission to Stanford.

After perusing the recruiting materials, prospective students can find prominent pictures of Stanford Taiko and Director’s Cups on pages of the “Viewbook,” but students looking for some political groups must wander into the deep recesses of the admissions website to determine if they exist. One must wonder whether the lack of prominence of political and social awareness groups in recruiting is justified and if Stanford could be doing more to highlight this aspect of student life to prospective students.

Martha Smith ’10, who has been giving tours for the past three years, explained to the Review how tour guides portray the political atmosphere of Stanford’s campus to prospective students. “Typically the only times we talk about politics would be when we mention that we have over 600 student groups on campus,” stated Smith. Other than that, tour guides “don’t bring up things that are controversial unless we’re directly asked by a [prospective] student.”

But when students or parents do ask about politics on campus, Smith says tour guides “always give a balanced answer” and generalize the information. They say something to the extent of, “It’s true you can find anything on campus…you’ll have so many opportunities to get involved no matter what your interests are, no matter how you affiliate…everyone at Stanford is so passionate about what they do…”

A further look at admissions materials provides more information about the opportunities for students interested in politics to get involved. The “Viewbook”, the main piece of literature made available by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, elaborates on offerings for students interested in leadership in public service at Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service. It also mentions some social activism organizations, even if no political organizations. The Office of Undergraduate Admissions also lists political and social awareness as one of the main focuses of student organizations on their website and provides links to resources listing different organizations.

However, it is difficult to find out exactly which political/social awareness organizations exist on campus given the resources provided online. The first resource prospective students are directed to, a student organization list, states that it gives “a taste of the diversity of opportunity on our campus.” Yet the list only includes clubs under different community centers on campus (Asian American Community Center, Bechtel International Center, etc.) and thus skips over political/social awareness clubs completely.

In order to find a full list of student groups, prospective students must go to the second resource linked to on the page dedicated to student organizations, Stanford’s myGroups Database. After using advanced search options on this database to specifically search for political/social awareness organizations, prospective students can retrieve a full list.

While many freshmen interviewed by the Review recall the inaccessibility of information relating to political life, it didn’t seem to affect their decision to matriculate.

According to Sam Purtill ‘13, an ASSU Executive Fellow, “The other schools I applied to didn’t have much about the political activism on campus [in admissions office material] either.”  Smith attributes this lack of focus on political life in the admissions process to the fact that these opportunities are “not the deciding factor[s] of if this is going to be the right college for someone,” because “they’ll find whatever they’re interested in anywhere.”

Marcheta Marshall ‘13, a member of the Conservative Society, and Jacob Goodman-Kovacs ‘13, a member of Stanford in Government and Stanford Association for International Development, echoed Smith’s thoughts, stating respectively that, “campus and academics were the leading factors in my decision” and “political opportunities didn’t factor in my decision making process specifically.”

Yet because of the limited amount of information provided by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, many prospective freshmen recall having to search out information about political opportunities on their own.

Marshall says that she knew friends who were members of the Conservative Society, so she found out more information from them and actively sought the group out. Percia Safar ‘13, a member of Stanford in Government, “did a little searching online” for information about different opportunities on campus, while Goodman-Kovacs “went to the activities fair to discover organizations aligned with [his] interests” during Admit Weekend. But Marshall believed that information about these groups was “not easily available” and “students who are not ‘seeking’ this may never come across the information.”

Ultimately, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions could play a better role in providing information about political opportunities to prospective students through their materials. They could better centralize information about student groups on their website for those interested in learning more and for those who even might rely on this information for their decision. This could be achieved by posting a student activities list on the admissions website that includes all organizations, not just groups sponsored under the different community centers, or through working with the University to make myGroups more accessible to potential students.

Many students, like Marshall, even went so far as to state, “Stanford should feature more political/social organizations.”  Other students like Safar believe that since “it’s hard to compare the different political opportunities that different schools provide… Stanford could benefit from explaining what makes our opportunities unique versus merely exhibiting them.”

Regardless of how the admissions department elaborates on its discussion of political opportunities, Stanford would benefit from showing more fully how vibrant the political life is on Stanford’s campus. As Goodman-Kovacs concludes, “These kinds of organizations are extremely important and could always use another voice toward their causes.”

Subscribe to the Stanford Review