Leland Stanford Jr. University, known as Stanford, is an elite private university in Palo Alto, California, south of San Francisco at the northern edge of Silicon Valley. Stanford is known for its academic excellence in a wide range of fields, as well as its law, business, and medical schools. As a result of its close proximity to the tech giants of Silicon Valley, a plurality of its students study computer science and go on to work in tech fields after graduating. It is also home to the longest linear particle accelerator in the world, the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, which has produced multiple Nobel prizes in physics.
The well-funded university provides on-campus housing to nearly every one of its undergrads, as well as most of its graduate students. Students have access to an impressive array of academic, social, and extracurricular opportunities and activities while enrolled, provided directly by university programming. Students can also commute to San Francisco or San Jose on the train for internships in any field. The campus is large and has a Mediterranean feel, with miles of running, walking and biking trails. It is also just east of the coastal range, and a short drive west of the San Francisco Bay.
The Stanford/Palo Alto area is a dining and shopping destination, with boutique hotels. The closest shopping center to campus–which is very nearly on campus–is anchored by Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s. The surrounding neighborhoods have leafy, tree-lined streets with charming homes, including Professorville, a historic district with homes built decades ago by Stanford professors.
The Cardinal athletic program at Stanford is high-achieving and beloved by its students, faculty and alumni, at both the varsity and club levels. Campus community members regularly turn out for Division I sporting events, including especially its football games. Stanford’s football rivalry with UC Berkeley, dating back over 120 years, is played out at the Big Game every autumn and alternates between the two campuses.
Students who thrive
All of Stanford’s academic programs are rigorous and offer world-class instruction. Students who do well in this learning environment are typically intellectually curious and motivated students who perform at or near the very top of their classes in high school, and in the most challenging courses their high school offers.
Stanford is a medium-sized university on a large, sprawling campus at the northern edge of Silicon Valley. It is a good fit for students who want the amenities and diversity of a large university, with the intimacy and connections of a smaller campus. Students who like warm weather, a highly walkable and bikeable environment, and plenty of space to run and spend time outdoors, will love it here. Stanford is known for its beautiful campus, including the expansive arboretum at the entrance to campus, and the rolling hills dotted with oak trees behind it. Stanford has mostly warm, sunny weather throughout the year, even when it’s foggy and cold in San Francisco.
Palo Alto and the communities around Stanford are suburban. Students who want to spend their time within the campus community, living in campus housing, and focusing on the activities and opportunities that the university has to offer will thrive here.
Stanford selects its incoming classes very carefully, and deliberately enrolls proportionately large numbers of students of color and first-generation students. In fact, other than Cal Poly Humboldt, Stanford enrolls the highest percentage of Indigenous students of any university in California, and far outpaces its peer universities in the proportion of Black students who matriculate there. First generation students, who come disproportionately from communities of color, account for over 20% of the most recent freshman class. As a result, students of color may find that Stanford hosts a more supportive community that is more reflective of ethnic and racial diversity than other elite universities. That being said, Black enrollment has been declining year-on-year since at least 2020.
The close proximity of Stanford Hospital & Clinics, as well as the availability of the School of Medicine’s undergraduate program (which does not award a degree), may make Stanford a particularly good choice for pre-med students. And its location in the Silicon Valley, and popularity among tech recruiters, means that computer science and electrical engineering students may have higher than average odds in the tech industry labor market after graduating, as well as access to internships and summer jobs during their time as undergrads.
Stanford supports and finances its numerous study abroad programs, and strongly encourages all students to participate. Financial aid travels with students to their study abroad programs, and students who otherwise would not be able to afford the additional costs of study abroad, such as air fare, have access to special financial aid opportunities to make it affordable.
Students who may have challenges
As a highly selective, elite university, it goes without saying that students who aren’t prepared for the rigors of a Stanford education are unlikely to thrive here. Students at Stanford are committed to their education, and prioritize academic success. Although there is a vibrant social life for undergrads at Stanford, much of it is experienced on campus in official university spaces, and bounded by most students’ determined efforts to do well in their studies. As a result, students who want the freedom to live off campus and prioritize non-academic social pursuits may not be as happy at Stanford.
Stanford is located in a suburban community, as noted above. Although there is plenty of open space on and around campus, wilderness areas and urban centers are not especially close to campus. In order to get to San Francisco, students face a one-hour train ride each way, while venturing into the wilderness of the Santa Cruz Mountains requires access to a car. Students who want to have the freedom to explore all that the Bay Area has to offer may not be comfortable with the extent to which Stanford undergrads live their lives almost entirely on campus.
Stanford draws its student body disproportionately from wealthy families. According to the New York Times Upshot, it is among the lowest-ranked schools in the United States for the economic mobility of its student body. Only about 4% of its undergraduates come from families in the bottom 20% by income, while nearly two-thirds come from the top 20%. Lower-income students are likely to rise economically as a result of their Stanford education, but they may also find the social culture challenging to navigate at times.
As Stanford rejects more than 95% of all applicants every year, only those applicants who can demonstrate academic mastery and commitment to interesting, meaningful and impactful extracurricular activities, as well as articulate fluency in describing themselves and their interests, are most likely to have a chance of being admitted.
In general, admitted students tend to graduate at the top of their high school classes, having excelled in the most challenging courses offered at their school, and have usually done something “extraordinary” while in high school. Extraordinary accomplishments may broadly include college- or graduate-level mentored research resulting in publications or presentations; high placement in national or international academic competitions; national or international accolades as an athlete; demonstration of extraordinary talent in the arts; building and running an innovative and successful business; or another remarkable achievement. That being said, a rejection from Stanford is not a sign that a particular student is not capable of thriving there; the admissions officers consider a large number of factors while putting together each new first-year class, and not all of these are factors you can control.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Stanford waived its testing requirement. However, it appears that the university may bring back the requirement for students applying to start in 2024. This has not yet been confirmed; when and if it is, this page will be updated to reflect it. For more information on test-optional applications, see our article about it.
For students who submitted scores in recent years, 90% scored over a 1400 on the SAT or over 30 on the ACT. Around 95% of Stanford applicants have over a 3.75 unweighted GPA, with an average of 3.96. Stanford says that self-reported AP scores are welcome, and IB predicted marks are accepted for students who attend IB-exclusive high schools.
Interviews are offered on the basis of local availability in the applicant’s admission area; it is not possible for students to sign up for interviews. However, if one is offered, Capstone recommends that you accept, because it demonstrates your interest in the university and can help you make a more informed decision about whether or not you want to attend.
See the following links for more specific application information:
It is very difficult to transfer to Stanford. In recent years, the transfer admission rate was only around 2%. The qualities that Stanford looks for in freshman applicants are the same qualities that Stanford looks for in transfer applicants. However, Stanford can only admit transfer applicants if there is room in that graduating class and in that major. Transfer slots depend on the attrition of current students, so the number of admitted transfer students will vary from year-to-year. Stanford only accepts fall transfers.
How the application process handles majors
Stanford admits students to the university as a whole, not to any particular department or major, and desired major is not considered as an admission factor. Students do, however, have the option of noting which major or majors they are interested in on the Common App.
Stanford is an elite university with a broad range of academic offerings. Virtually anything a student would want to study can be found here. Graduating with a Stanford degree is a demonstration of high academic talent and skill, a world-class education, and preparedness for a future career.
Stanford does not offer pre-med, pre-law, or pre-business majors, but students can fulfill the requirements for graduate work in those fields with Stanford undergraduate courses. In addition, there are opportunities for students to take courses or participate in undergraduate-specific programs at Stanford’s business, law, and medical schools.
The most popular degree fields at Stanford are Computer Science (17% of degrees awarded), Engineering (16%), Interdisciplinary Studies (16%), Social Sciences (14%), and Mathematics & Statistics (6%).
Stanford has seven constituent colleges, of which three offer undergraduate majors and a fourth offers only minors. Uniquely, Stanford has an entire college, the Doerr School, dedicated to research and teaching programs in fields related to environmental sustainability. See the links below for more on the undergraduate programs offered at each of these colleges:
- School of Humanities & Sciences: programs
- Doerr School of Sustainability: departments and programs
- School of Engineering: Undergraduate Handbook
- Graduate School of Education: undergraduate minor & honors programs
- School of Medicine: undergraduate programs (non-degree)
Stanford strongly encourages students to study abroad during their undergraduate program, and offers special financial aid opportunities to make it possible for everyone, through the Bing Overseas Studies Program.
Stanford is home to a national accelerator laboratory, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), the longest linear accelerator in the world. Physics students will have the opportunity to learn with professors who work at the Nobel-prize-winning accelerator, and may even have the opportunity to do some research there.
Stanford students have access to a range of academic support options and resources. Student Learning Programs offer tutoring in several subjects and courses, as well as the Language Partners program for foreign language students who want more conversational practice in their languages. The Hume Center for Speaking & Writing offers in-person and online tutoring for students who need additional support for writing skills or public speaking. Through the Stanford’s Center for Teaching and Learning, students can receive free drop-in tutoring from trained peers in any of 60 core STEM and math-based courses in ten different subject areas.
The Learning Lab offers personalized training, workshops, resources, and access to student groups for development of metacognitive skills. Metacognition is concerned with the habits and skills that students develop and practice in order to succeed in their fields. Special support for students with disabilities and learning differences is also offered here.
Support for disabilities & learning differences
Although the K&W Guide ranks Stanford at the lowest support tier, “Services”, Stanford appears to offer services, accommodations, and coaching more in line with a mid-tier university in the K&W rankings. As such, the K&W Guide may not offer the most accurate portrayal of what Stanford has to offer students with disabilities and learning differences.
Accommodations are offered through the Office of Accessible Education (OAE). In general, Stanford students have access to the same kinds of accommodations found at other large, selective universities. Notably, however, Stanford offers a few rare and highly desirable accommodations to some students, including assignment extensions, participation accommodations, and access to lab and exam assistants. Students can also apply for housing, transportation, and study abroad accommodations through OAE.
Academic coaching is available through the Center for Teaching & Learning (CTL). CTL offers one-on-one coaching sessions, workshops, resources, and more for students who experience executive functioning deficits or who need additional support in learning how to manage their academic time effectively.
Student Learning Programs offer tutoring and academic coaching, as well as the opportunity to work with peer consultants on academic skills development. As noted above, the Learning Lab also offers targeted, personalized metacognitive skills training for students with disabilities and learning differences.
Although Stanford doesn’t offer every program, accommodation, or support service possible, the range of support options available is robust. Students with disabilities or learning differences who are up to the rigor of a Stanford education should expect to find the academic and skills-based support they need to thrive here. For more information, reach out to the OAE directly at the link below.
Navigating the application and admissions process for students with disabilities or learning differences can be especially challenging. If you need guidance and support, Carolyn Weirick and the other admissions consultants at Capstone offer personalized, expert admissions services for students with a wide range of differences, disabilities, needs, and challenges. Contact us today for a free consultation.
Stanford has a large endowment, allowing it to meet 100% of every student’s demonstrated financial need, though as a result, less than 1% of undergraduates without financial need receive merit aid. This means that Stanford will provide the aid they deem necessary to make a Stanford education affordable for the students it admits, but families falling in the upper-middle ranges of income may find a Stanford education difficult to afford, especially those living in high cost of living locations. Some students may be able to receive additional merit aid through private scholarship programs that are not affiliated with the university.
Stanford will ensure that its students can afford to study abroad if they choose to, regardless of their financial means, through a special financial aid process for students seeking overseas studies opportunities through the Bing Overseas Studies Program.
Housing & transportation
Stanford guarantees 12 on-campus quarters of housing for all first-year admitted students and 9 quarters for transfers. Virtually all undergraduates live in on-campus housing, in a mix of different residences, from traditional dorms to theme houses—of which there are many—and apartments.
Stanford organizes its on-campus residences into a unique neighborhood system, in which each student is assigned to one of eight residential “neighborhoods” for the duration of their time at Stanford. Although students can change neighborhoods, the intention is for students to remain in their original neighborhood in order to promote community continuity. Through this system, it is intended that students will be able to advance through their Stanford education alongside their friends.
Each neighborhood has a mix of residences, so students can move from dorms to apartments or theme housing of various kinds without leaving their neighborhood. However, if a student wants to live in a housing environment that isn’t offered in their neighborhood, such as University Theme Housing (which includes Greek houses, co-ops, and ethnic theme dorms), the process is easy and the student will always have the opportunity to return to their original neighborhood at a future time if they so choose.
First years all live in mixed-gender housing, of which some residences have single-gender floors for interested students. In the housing application, students declare their gender identity and preferred room gender environment. Non-binary and genderfluid students have the opportunity to live in a room with only other non-binary or genderfluid students if they prefer. Other housing accommodations are also available. For more on first-year housing and dining, see the link below.
Stanford is a large, flat campus, so it’s very common for students to bring bikes or skateboards to campus to get around. It’s also easy to find rentable electric scooters for a quick ride. Stanford operates a fleet of free campus shuttles on several lines called the Marguerite Shuttles to ferry students around campus and into the community beyond. Students can also access VTA buses in Palo Alto.
For longer trips to San Francisco or San Jose, students can take Caltrain, which has a station right next to campus. A trip to San Francisco takes about an hour, so students who make the trip usually go for a full day. The nearest airports are Mineta San Jose (SJC) and San Francisco International (SFO). SFO is more accessible by public transportation, though both airports are about equidistant by car.
Students who like to explore wilderness areas will want to have a car, as the warm beaches and redwood forests of the Peninsula and Monterey Bay are relatively difficult to access by public transportation.
Stanford students have access to a wide range of extracurricular opportunities and activities. With over 625 organized student groups, any student is likely to find some that match their interests and social style. The university also offers a robust network of fraternities and sororities as old as the university itself; interestingly, the chapters’ houses are university-owned and located on campus. Tight integration with the university administration may help to ensure a safer experience for fraternity and sorority members than at universities where Greek life is less well regulated.
Students interested in community service opportunities should look into the Haas Center for Public Service and its long list of student programs. Those interested in the arts can visit campus museums for free, including Cantor Arts Center, and the Anderson Collection, a modern art museum that offers arts programming for visitors. Stanford ARTS is home to several student groups and programs as well.
Religious or spiritual students can make use of the Office for Religious & Spiritual Life. As well as providing opportunities for students to speak with chaplains and observing holy days across different faiths, the office supervises several faith-based student groups, hosts talks and other events, and provides opportunities for groups to do interfaith service work. Memorial Church, the gilt and illuminated heart of Stanford’s campus, offers Christian services throughout the week and several times on Sundays. Students can receive Catholic Mass, ecumenical or nondenominational services, or Episcopal Lutheran eucharist at the church.
Stanford has agreements with other Bay Area universities for ROTC programs: Army ROTC is provided by Santa Clara University; Navy ROTC is provided by UC Berkeley; and Air Force ROTC is provided by San Jose State University.
Students have numerous athletic and recreational opportunities at Stanford as well. See the next section for more.
Athletics & campus spirit
The NCAA Division I varsity program at Stanford is large and successful, with 36 men’s and women’s teams that have earned nearly 160 national championships and more than 130 NCAA team championships. Stanford students and alumni have earned the second highest number of Olympic medals of all colleges in the US.
Stanford’s marquee football program rivals UC Berkeley’s Golden Bears; the Big Game between the two sides each year draws lots of student activity in the week leading up to it and draws thousands of alumni from both sides to watch. Each campus is trying to keep or regain the Stanford Axe, the trophy awarded to the winner of the Big Game. The handing over of the Axe to the winner at the end of each game is immediately preceded by a stare-down between the Big Game committees for Cal and Stanford. It is impressive to watch, if you are a Cal or Stanford fan. The students and faculty are very supportive of the sports program, and often turn out to watch games across its varsity program.
The university also offers 33 competitive club sports, an intramural program with rotating seasonal sports, and an open rec sports program for pickup games in several sports, including badminton, futsal, pickleball, and many more. Racquetball and squash courts are open and available for students to use. Stanford has multiple facilities for recreational weight training, swimming, group fitness, personal training, and more. For adventurous students, Stanford offers equipment rentals, climbing walls and facilities, and adventure trips off-campus.
Runners and bikers have access to numerous trails throughout the oak-dotted hills to the university’s south, as well as many paths through and around campus.
Stanford requires all students to carry health insurance. Students who do not have their own private health insurance plan will be required to enroll in Cardinal Care, Stanford’s student health plan. At $6,800 per year with the possibility of a 10% premium increase each year, Cardinal Care is very expensive relative to other universities’ offerings, so for families with private health insurance, it is usually more cost effective to waive Stanford’s plan in favor of the private plan with comparable coverage.
The student health clinic at Stanford is Vaden Health Services, where care is largely free as a result of the Campus Health Service Fee included in the annual cost of enrollment. Vaden covers most basic healthcare needs, including general medical appointments, lab tests, x-ray services, allergy injections and immunizations, and physical exams. Students who need specialist care are referred to clinics at the globally recognized Stanford Hospital & Clinics, located on the north part of campus. Mental health services are provided through Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS).
Students have access to the Confidential Support Team (CST), a service for students impacted by sexual, relationship, or gender-based violence. The Weiland Health Initiative is a mental health and wellness initiative for queer, trans and non-binary Stanford students. The university also operates the Office of Substance Use Programs Education & Resources (SUPER) for students struggling with substances.
In order to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree, Stanford students must complete the following requirements:
- General Education
- Writing Requirement
- Language Requirement
- Major Requirements
- Minimum Unit Requirement
- 180 units for a single degree, 135 of which are completed at Stanford
- 225 units for a dual degree, 180 of which are completed at Stanford
- transfer students: 90 units at Stanford for a single degree
- transfer students: 135 units at Stanford for a dual degree
- Activity Units
- maximum 8 units in activity courses
In order to graduate with Distinction, a student must graduate in the top 15% of their graduating class university-wide. Departmental or Interdisciplinary Honors may be awarded if a student declares for the honors prior to graduating, and the declaration is approved.
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Palo Alto, California
Motto: Die Luft der Freiheit weht
(The wind of freedom blows)
Mascot: Stanford tree (unofficial)
NCAA Division I MPSF (Pac-12)
Private research university
3.7% admission rate
10,000 graduate students
1,700 full-time faculty
5:1 student-faculty ratio
80% of classes under 30 students
8,180 acre campus size
Stanford campus tours
Mediterranean climate with hot summers, mild winters, and mostly sunny days
First-Year Admissions Evaluation
High school course rigor
High school GPA
* Test scores (SAT/ACT)
Letters of recommendation
Talent or ability
Character or personal qualities
Work or volunteer experience
Race or ethnicity
First-generation student status
* Temporarily suspended; see Successful Applicants, below
Does not evaluate
Transfer Admissions Evaluation
High school transcript
Essay or personal statement
Statement of good standing from prior college
Does not require
Test scores (SAT/ACT)
Restrictive Early Action:
Oct 15: Application with Arts Portfolio
Oct 20: Arts Portfolio Materials
Nov 1: Standard Application
Dec 5: Application with Arts Portfolio
Dec 10: Arts Portfolio Materials
Jan 5: Standard Application
Mar 15: Application Deadline
Mar 20: Materials for Arts Portfolio, if applicable
$80,000 / year
$55,000 / year
Housing & meal plan:
$18,000 / year
~ $5,600 / year
Cardinal Care Health Insurance Plan:
Addt'l $6,800 / year (2022-23) if not waived
Percent of financial need met (average)
$18,650 / year
Amount of merit aid awarded to students without financial need (average)
Percent of undergraduates without financial need receiving merit aid
Notable Majors & Programs
Aeronautics & Astronautics
Community Health & Prevention Research
Democracy, Development & the Rule of Law
Energy Resources Engineering
Ethics in Society
Management Science & Engineering
Native American Studies
Equity & Inclusion
- 9 quarters guaranteed housing
- Transfer admission rate: 2%
- Does not accept ACE, CLEP, DSST
- Office of Accessible Education (OAE)
- Offers academic coaching
- Offers personalized support to students with disabilities or learning differences
- Offers unique accommodations not found elsewhere
- High racial/ethnic diversity
- High Indigenous, Black student enrollment
- Ujamaa African-American theme program
- Casa Zapata celebrating Chicanx/Latinx experience
- Muwekma-Tah-Ruk house celebrating Indigenous diversity
- Black enrollment declining
- Gender-inclusive housing options
- LGBTQIA+ Health through Vaden Health Services
- Weiland Health Initiative
- Gender-affirming care
Top: Old Union at Stanford University.
Bottom: Bing Wing of Green Library and Hoover Tower, seen from the east entrance to the Main Quad.
All images by Matthew Enger, except where otherwise noted.