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Is Stanford right for you?

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

A private research university in California’s Bay Area, Stanford University is home to 6,994 undergraduate students. It is ranked by US News as one of the 6th best national universities in 2020, tying with the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania.

An interesting fact: Stanford does not have an official mascot, which was the Indian’ until its removal in 1972. Even though the university still has yet to name a new mascot, students have unofficially dubbed themselves the Cardinals, which represent the vivid red color of the school, as well as the Stanford Trees, which have originally been the mascot of the Stanford Band.

Courtesy of Stanford University


One feature that makes Stanford stand out is its quarter system. Instead of having two 15-week semesters, the academic year is broken up to Fall, Winter and Spring quarter. Each quarter consists of a different set of classes. Therefore, courses may feel more condensed, and the academic year feels more like a series of sprints rather than a marathon. The benefits of this faster learning environment are that you would be able to sample many more classes throughout your college career, and a quarter system allows students to more easily study abroad or take time off academically, without having to commit an entire semester away from campus.

Stanford has three undergraduate schools: Humanities and Sciences; Engineering; Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences.

The student-faculty ratio is 5:1, and 68.8% of its classes have fewer than 20 students. In certain engineering or science classes, there may be hundreds if not thousands of students, and the lectures would be recorded for those who could not fit into the classroom.

The faculty gender distribution is overwhelmingly male, with 72.3% of full-time faculty being men and 80% of part-time being men as well.

Students looking to attend the school should beware of the Stanford Duck Syndrome. While one is overwhelmed by schoolwork, extracurriculars and summer applications, everyone around you seems calm and happy as a duck, gliding above water. The truth is all the ducks are frantically paddling their legs below the water, trying to stay afloat, but all they allow each other to see is how well they are doing. A misconception states that Harvard and MIT are pressure cookers while Stanford is in a palm tree paradise, but in fact, a tremendous stress culture exists in Stanford as well.

The only solution is conscious self-care, open communication with a positive group of friends nearby and time management skills developed as soon as possible.

Courtesy of Stanford Review

Social life

While some schools have a dominant social structure such as Greek life, social life in Stanford is relatively fragmented and students can thrive in the micro-communities that they see fit.

Stanford, whose 93% of students live on campus, has a system of themed housing that facilitates community building. Some houses surround a particular culture (i.e. La Maison Française, La Casa Italiana, Haus Mitteleuropa, Slavianskii Dom), which do not require students to have a personal relationship with the culture to apply, or have a unique theme, such as Narnia and Enchanted Broccoli Forest.

Houses are divided between co-ops and self-ops. In the former, students manage their own house. When students first move in, they may create a cooking schedule, in which every student will be responsible for cooking and cleaning the house on certain days. In the latter, the house hires a chef, and pays for student residents as well as non-resident associates to manage the house’s meal services.

Greek life is also available to those interested, but does not make up a prominent aspect of student life, compared to schools like Vanderbilt and the University of Michigan.

Courtesy of the Stanford Daily

Palo Alto

Palo Alto is a quiet, suburban city that makes up part of Silicon Valley. On Friday nights, students may enjoy visiting the restaurants and bars downtown, but there is not much else to do in Palo Alto.

About once a quarter, however, some students visit San Francisco, which is known for its thrift shopping, historical sights and delightful coffee shops. Depending on traffic and your mode of transportation, it can take an hour to an hour and a half to reach the city from campus.

The San Francisco Bay Area is unique in that you can have it all—city, suburbia, and the great outdoors. With Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park mere hours away from campus, students are able to escape the hustle of university life to enjoy the mountains and water from time to time.

Courtesy of Nerd Travel Guides

Stanford University is commonly regarded as the most prestigious university on the west coast, for good reason. As a big research institution with substantial funding, interested students have many opportunities to participate in paid research. The school’s alumni network also spans far and wide, connecting students with internship and career opportunities.

Courtesy of The Verge

Want to find the perfect college to achieve your goals? Maybe it's Stanford, or maybe something that's an even better fit for you. Download my completely free College Research Guide to get a leg up in the college search process:

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