Getting into Stanford

Applicants and the Application

2,427 students were accepted to Stanford this spring, bringing the admit rate down to a record low 7.1%. The number of applicants to Stanford increased by another 7% this year, from 32,022 applications last year to 34,348 this admissions cycle.

While Stanford accepted over 100 more students this year than last year, that increase only partially offset the dropping admissions rate. By sheer metrics, such as cumulative GPAs and test scores, the entering class of 2015 outperforms its predecessor, much like the class of 2014 did last April, and the class of 2013 the year before that.

Despite such statistics, Stanford’s admission process remains holistic and thorough: “Every application absolutely is read,” says Adrienne Keene ’07, a former Admission Counselor at the Montag Hall.

It may be surprising, however, that a small admissions team can possibly wade through tens of thousands of applications in a few short months.

Keene explains that despite the daunting task, “the process [is] extremely equitable and personal. Even with thousands of files and tight deadlines, each applicant is treated as a real student, with their own strengths and own story, not as an anonymous number.”

Stanford has always given its students special attention, believing that each person brings with them unique perspectives, experiences, and wisdom. Accordingly, each application is treated with the utmost respect, read with conviction, and discussed.

Although the process may not be empirical, perfectly transparent or flawless, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions maintains that it works tirelessly to consider all facets, qualities, and nuances of the aspiring Stanford student.

The Stanford supplement to the Common Application asks atypical questions to applicants, with queries ranging from asking what historical event the applicant wishes they had witnessed to prompting the applicant to discuss any issue, ranging from personal to global, they find important.

Stanford uses this methodology to catalyze creativity and thoughtfulness in each application, pushing potential Stanford students away from cookie cutter answers. “[The application] asked quirkier questions than a lot of other schools,” says Steven Burnett ’13.  “It’s an effective way to get a better picture of each applicant’s personality.”

As a result of this push by Montag Hall to get more creative answers out of applicants, Stanford’s application is “one of the longest” to complete among top schools, comments incoming freshman Max Kohrman ’15.  “I guess that’s good because they really get a good sense of who you are”.

In learning more about each applicant, the admissions office can more effectively differentiate among the wide variety of students who apply, and can therefore engineer a diverse and multifaceted class culture and community.

Diversifying Diversity or Looking Good on Paper

Diversity, now defined as much more than one’s racial background, has become a major selling point for the university. The University cites statistics boasting that 60% of students coming from public schools and 87 countries, and that 17% of undergraduates are in an interdisciplinary major. This is meant to illustrate that Stanford is committed to a heterogeneous academic and social environment.

However, this hyper-meticulous application process, meant to give every applicant the opportunity to make a thorough introduction, has the added effect of pressuring high school students into overworking themselves.

What was once spontaneous and sincere interest in extracurricular activities is now often merely part of a coldly calculated algorithm to determine what colleges one will eventually apply to.

While it is unfair to assume that nothing is pursued in earnest, it would also be foolish to overlook the phenomena of joining clubs and teams because it “looks good.” It is for this reason that evaluating an application through an interpretive process, in which each submission is read and evaluated beyond just the clubs and organizations listed, may allow admissions officers to better gauge applicants’ personalities and their passions.

What Sets Stanford Students Apart

Unbeknownst to the hoards of high school seniors feverishly writing their essays hoping to look as smart as possible, a simple and honest application is very often most effective.

“The application was stressful, but after figuring out that you really do have to write your essays about things you care about and not try just to impress admissions officers, not only does the writing come easier, but the quality is unbelievably better,” remarked Kohrman. Kohrman has decided to attend Stanford in the fall. “The way I see it is that unlike other top schools, the kids seem to have a ton of other things going for them [besides] just being smart. I met a good amount of kids and none of them were your classic nerd.”

Indeed, there is no typical Stanford student. Popular majors tend to err on the side of engineering and computer science, but the university boasts top-ranked humanities departments, a slew of world-class athletic teams, and hundreds of student organizations, ranging from the Greek system to socially, politically, and artistically motivated groups.

Some things, however, appear to prevail over others: flip flops are widely regarded as appropriate footwear in all seasons and students regularly discuss details regarding their start-up or NGO over a meal with friends.  But even these stereotypes are up for debate.

There is no one student profile Stanford seeks, comments Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising Julie Lythcott-Haims: “Dean Shaw seems to focus on admitting not only the intellectually curious students who have potential to be impactful leaders in whatever field they pursue, but those who also bring a genuine spirit of kindness and concern for others which informs how they go about their lives and work.” Kohrman puts it best when he notes that the application is merely a snapshot of each student.  The Office of Undergraduate Admission relinquishes power after students are accepted and they are free to change and grow as they please: “You get to reinvent yourself if you want, and you get to live your life the way you want to,” he said

What makes a student diverse in April may no longer be true the next September – yet it is not the categories that matter, but rather their coexistence and evolution.

Dean Lythcott-Haims shares Kohrman’s sentiment, noting that “seniors may not feel quite like full-fledged adults, and in fact they often lament that they have not yet figured their lives out – as if that is a problem…. The point is, the process of figuring oneself out takes time, and, I would add, is well worth the effort.”

The effort is what students make when they apply. They make the effort to write honestly about themselves and to embark upon a rigorous four-year education. And it is the effort made by The Office of Undergraduate Admission to carefully read applications that brings students together to form one class.

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