Stanford University welcomes its prospective freshmen with open arms, so much so that once you enter the university’s embrace, you won’t want to let go. Entering the Arrillaga Alumni Center, we were presented with towering banners reading “Just Say Yes,” a suggestion that most would come to find as an imperative. This year’s Admit Weekend at Stanford was beyond impressive—it captured the friendly and opportunistic environment that is the intellectual and cultural hub perfectly, making the decision to attend significantly easier (though I have been committed since I was accepted during early admission in December 2011).
The quantity of available events and activities for ProFros and parents represents a microcosm of the Stanford experience, as described by the student panel at the beginning of the weekend: there just isn’t enough time to do everything, a fact that I have no doubt I’ll come to realize when I start selecting classes for next year.
The planned activities were diverse and largely very interesting, including discussions with current students, academic expos, and social events. I audited one of my room hosts’ computer science classes (I intend to study CS next year myself) and attended numerous discussions with professors. While both experiences where new and involved impressive students and awe-inspiring professors, I felt they were isolated and to some extent out of context (dropping by CS107 in the middle of the quarter doesn’t provide a solid foundation for understanding data types) and thus my increased understanding of the Stanford experience was limited.
Most useful to me in terms of gaining a heightened sense of the academic climate and course structure were discussions with my room hosts, both of whom were conveniently computer science majors. They introduced me to other CS students, explained the more nuanced aspects of developing a course selection strategy, and gave me insight into what it means to be a student at Stanford.
The more I talked with them, the more I came to love Stanford and the more excited I got about my new life this fall. They even showed me the best places to eat, including a sandwich place in the new engineering building called Ike’s (the Yale University is ironically delicious).
The evening social events proved to be an awkward test of social skills—those who were willing to introduce themselves to other admits and sustain a conversation likely enjoyed the experience, while the rest were subjected to mingling or dancing solo on the outskirts of the incoherently pulsing mass of people on the dance floor. Engaging in activities with the other freshmen and profros in my dorm was fun and exciting, and the musical entertainment (courtesy of the band and numerous a cappella groups) was sufficiently amazing.
All the Stanford students and staff that I encountered were consistently congenial, sincere and humble. While it was clear that it was at times irritating to have profros invading their classes and crowding their lunch halls (and understandably so), undergraduates were always willing to answer my questions. I developed a suspicion during my stay that the lanyards that we all wore were just a strategic tool designed by undergraduates to easily identify us, and early on I discovered that I could take mine off and easily blend in with other students.
Some of the aspects of Admit Weekend were ostensibly too good to be true. The prospect of living in an environment with all-you-can-eat buffets serving a cornucopia of gourmet pizzas, omelets, fruit salads every day seems to me to be again a manifestation of the condition of living in an environment in which there is insufficient time (or in this case appetite) to do (or eat) everything available. I’m suspicious that the quality of food was inflated for our benefit, but I certainly won’t be one to complain.
The weather only contributed to the irresistible attraction of the beautiful university campus, and ironically the fact that the first few days were slightly windy and damp only more so. If the weather were perfect during the whole of Admit Weekend and I hadn’t known any better, I’d be suspicious that the conditions didn’t accurately reflect a consistent Stanford lifestyle (much like the food).
In Harry Elam Jr.’s welcome address to the prospective freshmen, he actually apologized for the sub-optimal weather during the first day, which I found to be a strategic move indeed. If parents and students think that what they saw (weather which where I’m from would be worthy of some level of celebration) was what Stanford considers bad weather, then expectations for the sublimity of the Stanford environment are only elevated.
If my life at Stanford in the coming years reflects my experience at Admit Weekend, I’ll be thrilled. I can’t wait to join you all in the fall.
Ryan Atallah will be studying Computer Science at Stanford University as a freshman in the class of 2016. He currently studies at Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado. His technological exploits focus on web application development, and he is working on launching a Virtual Learning Environment application called Opus in the next year.