How to get into Stanford University - an overview

Situated on 8,000 acres in balmy California, Stanford University is ranked  fourth in the world by QS in 2024. A private research institution, with a global reach and impact, Stanford was first established in 1885, and opened its doors in 1891. Stanford has an endowment of $36.3 billion and a student body of approximately 18,000 undergraduates and postgraduates. Stanford is well-known for its entrepreneurial focus, and was the initial creator of what is now known as Silicon Valley. Its alumni have founded a wide range of companies which provide employment for over five million people and generate annual revenue which exceeds $2.7 trillion – making Stanford the seventh largest economy on the planet. This spirit of excellence, innovation and achievement informs every part of the university, including its admissions process.

Stanford is used to producing the best, including 85 Nobel prize winners, eight  Fields medallists, many Fulbright and Rhodes Scholars  and Olympic gold medal winners. Google started its life as a Stanford research project, as did LinkedIn, Snapchat, Instagram and Yahoo. It is a hothouse of research and start-ups and has produced a huge number of political figures (including John F Kennedy, Rishi Sunak and Herbert Hoover), as well as groundbreaking scientists, actors and directors, musicians, astronauts, journalists, writers and business leaders. If you secure a place at Stanford University, you will be in good company – and in a position to build a network which will support you through your entire career.

How to get into Stanford University - Why apply to Stanford?

Stanford University is one of the best universities in the world, a position it has maintained for many years, and gaining a degree here will open doors. Its prestigious name comes from the world-class teaching, resources and opportunities it offers students, its high employer and academic reputation and employment outcomes. Stanford fosters independence within a supportive environment and the freedom to explore subjects across disciplines.

In addition the Stanford campus is beautiful, the weather is amazing and campus life – with 97 percent of students living on campus – offers 600 clubs and societies, comprehensive support services and brilliant sports facilities. You will be hard-pressed to organise your days and fit in everything you want to do and enjoy. You will also be able to apply to the 13 study abroad programmes the university runs across the world, from Japan to South Africa.

How to get into Stanford University? - Choosing a course at Stanford University

Stanford runs 200 programmes across seven schools:

  • Humanities and sciences
  • Business
  • Law
  • Medicine
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Sustainability

The most popular courses taught at Stanford University include:

  • Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services
  • Engineering
  • Mathematics and Statistics
  • Physical Sciences
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Medicine
  • Law
  • Sustainability
  • Social sciences
  • Psychology
  • Area, Ethnic, Cultural, Gender and Group Studies

The student-faculty ratio is 5:1 and over two-thirds of classes have fewer than 19 students. Undergraduates are able to pursue their personal research interests, and since Stanford spends more money than any other institution of higher education in the world per student, it offers state of the art resources, as well as Silicon Valley internships along with distinguished professors and challenging classes.

How to get into Stanford University? - The application process

Remember that the acceptance rate to Stanford University is somewhere between 4-5 per cent of applicants, of whom approximately 2 per cent are international students, so the competition is really tough. It is worth reviewing the Stanford criteria for acceptance before you start filling in your application on the Common App, so you have a good grasp of what the admissions board is looking for when they read your essays.

Stanford University Admission Criteria

Careful analysis of the Stanford University website makes it clear that admissions committees are looking for unique, passionate, talented individuals with potential, who have shown that they excel at what they do and commit to their interests and communities. Being a nerd and having a high GP will not get you a place at Stanford. After all,  virtually everyone who applies for a place will have identical high GPAs, grades and test results, so while academic achievements matter – and of course they do – they are only a part of the picture.

Stanford University has a holistic approach to vetting applicants and the system sets out to produce an image of who you are as a student but, more importantly, as a person. What is special about you? What have you shown in your life so far which mirrors your personality ? Will you cope with the workload? What can you offer the broader community – are you a great athlete, a musician, someone who has shown initiative across projects? Are you entrepreneurial or something of a follower? Will you make a major contribution to Stanford life? Do you get on with others and yet hold on to your views and defend them? You must show that you are clever, motivated and passionate and have an uncommon talent or have received major recognition for your activities in a specific field, whether this be art, journalism, music, athletics etc. Stanford University is seeking the best of the best, students who are creative and can contribute to the work of the university and its global fame and achievements. Admissions boards are not looking for well-rounded candidates as much as lop-sided candidates with unique experiences and skills. Former students have shared their memories of applying to Stanford and the unique traits which got them an offer. One was the international left-handed Rubik’s cube champion, another a national bow and arrow champion, while a third had built a career as an international pianist. These achievements were their stand-out “hooks “, the reason why the assessor remembered them and paid attention to their application. I am not arguing that you should immediately start cultivating bizarre skills or entering competitions, but do consider how you will demonstrate your own creativity, personality and experiences when you come to apply.

Stanford University is interested in you, your values and ideas, and it is up to you to make sure that the image they glean from your documents is a true and honest one, not a pretentious picture you have put together to impress others.

When do I apply to Stanford University?

Applications can be made under Restrictive Early Action – deadline 1 November or Regular decision – deadline 5 January.

Does Stanford demand SAT or ACT scores?

In the 2024-5 admission period, Stanford is test-optional, which means that you can, but do not have to, send in scores from these standardised tests. Contact Elab for up to date information.

Documents required by Stanford University

You will need to upload a range of documents, including but not limited to:

  • Transcripts, translated into English if necessary, of your high school record
  • Letters of recommendation.
  • You can, but do not have to, submit IELTS or TOEFL results to show language proficiency. Stanford believes that this can be gleaned from what you write in the Common App
  • The completed Common App, which will include a Stanford Supplement

Pointers to bear in mind when applying to Stanford University

Extracurriculars are important in all applications to the USA, and this is also true of Stanford. Remember that the university will be focusing on the quality of your engagement and not the number of activities you have undertaken. By showing the impact you have already had on your peers, family or community, the commitment, energy, vitality and enthusiasm you have outside academic studies, you are giving assessors an insight into your personality and potential.

When writing about why you are applying to Stanford, be specific. Do not simply say “I love mathematics”, for example, but spell out what Stanford’s department offers, the professor you particularly want to work with, the projects that you know they are doing and want to be part of, and why. Show that you have kept up to date with advances in your field, and relate these to your own interests.

The essays you write in the Common App allow you to highlight the human sides of your personality and you should start preparing them well in advance. Make sure they are grammatically correct, well-punctuated and engaging. Be original and state your positions clearly and unapologetically. When asked to describe happiness, one Stanford student merely replied : “I planted a twig and watched it grow for a year – and my happiness grew with it”. Nevertheless, although this particular student secured a place, do not assume that humour or cleverness will necessarily succeed – it all depends on who is reading your essays.

Is Stanford need-blind?

No, the university is need-aware and this will have an effect on your application, given Stanford University’s extremely low admission rate. If you are offered a place, however, all your costs will be covered if your parental income is below a certain threshold. For more information on contributions and income, contact Elab.

The Stanford Supplement

As part of the Common App, applicants to Stanford will have to complete the university’s supplement – the Stanford Questions. These consist of:

  • Five short questions , which you have to answer in 50 words or less
  • Three essays of 100-250 words, per essay

Although Stanford occasionally changes some of its questions, the core things it is looking for remain the same – insights into your interests and your character and personality.

And finally

If you wish to apply to Stanford University you must start getting ready in good time, particularly if you intend to apply for financial support. Elab has a specialised and highly experienced US consultancy team who have supported successful applicants to Stanford as well as other Ivy League universities. We are here to help, to work with you, and to make sure that you maximise your chances of being offered a place at this prestigious, leading university.

Get in touch by email or phone and let us set the ball rolling – together.

  • Introduction
  • Diagnostics
  • Personal Profile Map
  • Research
  • University Report
  • Final application choices
  • Application process plan
  • Mentor Program
  • Exam and Interview prep
  • Document completion
  • Application portal setup
  • Submission
  • Acceptance
  • Pre-departure procedures
  • Finances
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