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How hard is it to get into Stanford? Some could call it a miracle. In 2022, the university reported a 3.68% acceptance rate — lower than all the Ivies except for Harvard.

The Stanford admissions office reads over 55,000 applications every year. Even valedictorians can get lost in the shuffle. However, at Stanford, admitted students can read their application files. That offers a rare glimpse behind the scenes.

Want to know how to get into Stanford? Our tips from admitted students and admissions experts can help you stand out.

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5 Tips for Getting Into Stanford University

What's more important, your GPA or your essays? Is it better to dabble in a dozen extracurriculars or drill down in one or two? It's hard to know what matters when it comes to your Stanford University application.

I have actually read the Stanford admissions' record, including commentary about a student's interview, academic profile, and essays, says Rachel Coleman, a Stanford alum and independent education consultant at College Essay Editor.

Coleman's advice comes from experience, as does the tips from former Stanford admissions officer Kelly Britt, who now helps prospective students build strong applications at IvyWise. Their insight, along with advice from admitted students, can help you build a strong Stanford application.

1. Polish Your Academic Record

A weak academic record can doom your Stanford application. On the flip side, showing purely academic achievements and no demonstration of interests outside of the classroom is also a killer, says Britt.

How strong does your academic record need to be? For the 2022 admission cycle, Stanford reported median scores of 1540 on the SAT and 35 on the ACT for enrolled students. And over 70% of enrolled students had a perfect GPA, with an average 3.95 GPA out of a 4.0 scale.

2. Develop Your Passions

Stanford ranks extracurricular activities, talents and abilities, and character or personal qualities as very important for admissions. When applying to Stanford, showcase your passion.

Develop a passion project (or two!), recommends Britt. Students should connect their passions outside of school in very intentional ways that consider their personal context. Having intentional activities or initiatives outside of school will go a long way to show Stanford who you are.

Coleman agrees, Students should embrace what they're truly interested in and take action to pursue those interests — no matter how wild or wacky.

Ideally, your passions should align with your academic interests. After reading her admissions file, a Stanford student discovered, They truly do value having a spike in your area of interest/intended major. Both readers commented several times on having lots of [extracurriculars] related to my major.

How can you stand out? Coleman has this advice: Stanford is looking for students who don't just say I'm interested in x but who wholeheartedly devote themselves to pursuing it.

3. Master the Stanford Essay

Selective colleges all require admission essays, but Stanford stands out with its Stanford Questions — a series of 50-word questions and 100-250-word short essays.

Admissions officers use these to sort admitted and rejected applicants. It's the essays that truly set a student apart, says Coleman. The essays give you a chance to demonstrate intellectual awareness and curiosity.

I did not just write evocative, stand-alone essays, but I also used the essays strategically to build an interconnected narrative about myself, says Coleman. Rather than mentioning each activity I was involved in in isolation, I used the essays to draw connections between the activities, to reveal a more purposeful character.

Avoid playing it safe or writing what you think the admissions officers want to hear. Embrace your quirkiness! recommends Coleman. For some questions, you'll have as little as 50 words, so make every word count.

4. Show a Start-Up Mentality

Stanford is in the heart of Silicon Valley. And the university wants applicants to show a start-up mentality. That doesn't mean you need tech chops — instead, you'll need to position yourself as an outside-the-box thinker with unique expertise.

Showing a start-up mentality is the make-or-break factor for Stanford admissions, says Britt. Stanford wants students who carve their own paths in a unique way — it's about going above and beyond. No other peer in their high school can show the same roadmap, Britt explains.

From transcripts to extracurriculars to essays, your application should tell a coherent story.

It's not just a list of impressive or prestigious activities or memberships to organizations that count, says Coleman. Instead of checking off boxes, invest in your passions so you can show an in-depth track record of consistent engagement in a few areas.

5. Prep for the Interview

Stanford conducts optional interviews for early decision and regular decision applicants. According to Stanford, The interview is meant to be an informal conversion, so no formal preparation is needed.

But standing out in the interview can make or break your application, so it pays off to prepare.

Stand out during the interview by telling a story about the experiences that led you to Stanford. Weave in your academic interests and your extracurricular achievements. And make sure to ask questions.

Your interview matters! one Stanford student admitted in 2022 says. I was able to see what my interviewer wrote (she wrote an entire page of notes), and I honestly think that her amazing recommendation was the cherry on top to push me from simply being considered to getting admitted.

Here's the bad news — you can't request an interview as a Stanford applicant. But if the admission office offers you an interview, make sure you're ready.

Stanford University Admission Factors

After you submit your completed application, what happens next? Stanford uses holistic admissions. As the university explains, In a holistic review, we seek to understand how you, as a whole person, would grow, contribute and thrive at Stanford, and how Stanford would, in turn, be changed by you.

At least two admissions officers read every application at Stanford. But what do they look for? Stanford lists several factors as very important for admissions:

  • Rigor of courses
  • Class rank and academic GPA
  • Standardized test scores
  • Essays
  • Recommendations
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Talent and ability
  • Character and personal qualities

The admissions office also considers your interview, first-generation college status, volunteer record, and work experience.

For the 2023/2024 admissions cycle, test scores are optional. In 2022, 49% of admitted students provided SAT scores, while 23% provided ACT scores.

Applicants can also submit an optional arts portfolio to showcase talent in art practice, dance, music, or theater.

But ultimately, what do admissions officers want to see? Applications should demonstrate three primary qualities: academic excellence, intellectual vitality, and potential contributions to the Stanford community. Every part of the application should address those factors.

Stanford University Acceptance Rate

It's no secret that Stanford is one of the most selective universities in the world. The university set a new record with the Class of 2026 with a 3.68% acceptance rate. That means that fewer than four in 100 applicants received an admission offer.

For the 2022 cycle, over 56,000 students applied to Stanford. The university accepted 2,075 applicants.

The acceptance rate at Stanford has decreased in recent years. In 2021, Stanford admitted 3.95% of applicants out of more than 55,000 applications. In fact, 2020 was the only year since 2004 when Stanford's undergraduate acceptance rate increased — to a still-low 5.19%. Fewer applicants help explain the change, since around 45,000 students applied in 2022.

Back in 2008, Stanford received fewer applications. Around 25,000 students applied that year, and 2,400 received acceptance letters. But the days of a 9.49% acceptance rate are in the past. In the future, Stanford's acceptance rate will likely continue to drop.

The Class of 2026 profile shows that the majority of first-year students attended public high schools. International students make up 16% of the class, while 21% are first-generation college students.

Stanford prioritizes ethnic diversity. White students make up 22% of the student body, while 29% are Asian, 17% are Hispanic or Latino, and 7% identify as Black or African American. These students represent all 50 states and 64 countries around the world.

Applying to Stanford: Restrictive Early Action vs. Regular Decision

Is it better to apply to Stanford with an early application or during the regular decision cycle? Stanford uses restrictive early action (REA), which is a non-binding early action decision. However, you cannot submit early action applications at other selective universities if you choose REA at Stanford.

Choose regular decision if:

  • Your academic record will improve with a semester of senior grades, especially if your classes are more rigorous.
  • You're planning to take or retake standardized exams.
  • You can strengthen your application with a major project or activity in the fall of your senior year.

Choose restrictive early action if:

  • Stanford is your top choice.
  • You have a strong transcript through 11th grade.
  • You can present a strong, persuasive application by the Nov. 1st deadline.

If you apply REA, Stanford may either accept or decline your application. A small number of applications may be deferred to the regular decision cycle.

Frequently Asked Questions About Stanford University

Can an average student get into Stanford?

You'll need an impressive academic record to get into Stanford. The selective university reported a median GPA of 3.95 for admitted students in 2022.

If you're an average student, you can stand out by selecting rigorous courses, demonstrating unique talents, and shining on the Stanford essay questions.

Is it easier to get into Stanford or Harvard?

In 2022, Stanford reported a 3.68% acceptance rate, while Harvard accepted 3.19% of applicants. Both universities are among the most selective in the world, only admitting a fraction of applicants. Translation — it's not easy to get into either school.

Is Stanford considered an Ivy League school?

No, Stanford is not considered an Ivy League school. The Ivy League dates back to an athletics conference in New England. Stanford is a prestigious private university in California. But Stanford is still one of the top universities in the world, and it reports a lower admission rate than every Ivy except for Harvard. Academically, Stanford is on par with the best colleges in the country.

Where is Stanford University located?

Stanford University is located in Palo Alto, California. The private institution dates back to 1885 when railroad magnate and California Governor Leland Stanford founded the institution.

Stanford is known for its start-up mentality and its connections to Silicon Valley. It's also one of the most selective colleges in the country.

What major is Stanford known for?

Stanford is known for its tech majors, such as computer science. The private university excels in STEM fields, the social sciences, and business. Stanford has a long track record of excellence in research and an emphasis on innovation.

How to Get Into Stanford: 5 Tips From Real Admitted Students | BestColleges (2024)
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