Wondering how to get into Stanford?
Located near Silicon Valley in California, Stanford University is an elite school on par with any Ivy League – and it’s even more difficult to get into than schools like Yale, Brown, and Columbia.
The competition is tough, and preparation is key. In this guide, we’ll share information and advice that will help you strengthen your application and increase your chances of acceptance. Let’s dive in!
Stanford University was founded in 1885 by Jane and Leland Stanford. Approximately 1,700 freshmen and 30 transfer students enroll at Stanford each year. The student-to-faculty ratio at Stanford is five to one.
Stanford’s main campus occupies over eight thousand acres in the center of the San Francisco peninsula. There are tens of thousands of trees and over one thousand different species of plants. There are over 13,000 students living on campus in more than 200 student residences. Nearly all undergraduates and the majority of graduate students live on campus. Most students get around on bikes, and there are also dozens of electric buses. Stanford has well over six hundred active student groups.
Stanford is committed to meeting the full financial need of every admitted undergrad who qualifies for assistance. Undergrads with family incomes under $150,000 are eligible for a full academic scholarship, and undergrads with family incomes below $75,000 are also eligible for room and board.
Is it Hard to Get into Stanford?
As more and more students apply to colleges and universities each year, acceptance rates continue to drop. Like many schools, Stanford’s rate dropped to a record low for the Class of 2025, falling below four percent. This was a significant drop from the previous year, which saw an admit rate of 5.19 percent.
Its 3.95% acceptance rate means that Stanford is one of the most difficult schools to get into, right up there with Harvard, Princeton, and MIT.
A record-breaking 55,471 students applied to Stanford’s Class of 2025. Of those, 2,190 received offers of admission. So roughly one in twenty-five students were accepted, and we can expect similar numbers in the future. Still, one in twenty-five isn’t exactly one in a million. With the right preparation, you stand a chance at earning a Stanford education.
GPA and Test Scores
While Stanford prides itself on a holistic admissions process and has no set minimum for either GPAs or test scores, you’ll have to aim high if you want a chance of being that one in twenty-five. You’ll need to be in the top ten percent of your high school class – 96% of Stanford’s class of 2025 was in the top ten percent of their respective classes, and all of them were in the top quarter of their classes.
Stanford considers each student’s unweighted GPA. The Class of 2025 had an average high school GPA of 3.96 on a 4.0 scale. Over three quarters of students admitted to Stanford had a perfect 4.0 unweighted GPA.
If you don’t have a flawless GPA right now, remember that schools also value upward trends, and Stanford considers applications holistically – so you might still have a chance.
Stanford requires students to submit either the ACT or the SAT. The Writing/Essay section is not required. Stanford is test optional for the 2022–23 application cycle, but submitting tests is still recommended. They will likely be required again next year.
These were the middle 50% test scores for the most recent incoming class:
SAT Math Section 750 – 800
SAT Evidence-Based Reading & Writing 720 – 770
ACT Composite 34 – 35
Bear in mind that these numbers are significantly higher than usual. This was a test optional year, and only 48% of applicants submitted SAT scores. Only 31% of applicants submitted ACT scores. In previous years the averages were still high, but not quite this high.
These are the middle 50% test scores for the class of 2022:
SAT Math Section 720 – 800
SAT Evidence-Based Reading & Writing 700 – 770
ACT Composite 32 – 35
We recommend earning as close to straight A’s as possible and scoring above 1520 on the SAT test. This will show Stanford that you may just have what it takes to excel there. But high grades and test scores on their own won’t be enough. So, what else do you need to do? Read on.
What is Stanford Looking For?
“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.”
Academic achievement is the foundation of your application, but thousands of people with excellent GPAs and test scores apply to Stanford every year. It’s the other things about you that will determine whether or not you’re admitted. Letters of recommendations tell them about your character and how you contribute to your current community. Your essays will provide a glimpse of your personality and give you the opportunity to communicate your motivations and goals.
Although Stanford had no set minimum GPA or required test score, you won’t have a chance of admission if you don’t have an excellent academic record. You’ll need to take challenging courses and earn all or mostly A’s in order to be admitted to Stanford University. You should also pursue activities and classes outside of school (such as summer classes online or at a local college) to show them that your desire to learn surpasses what even your high school has to offer.
Good grades are a basic requirement, but Stanford requires more. They want to see “commitment, dedication and genuine interest in expanding your intellectual horizons, both in what you write about yourself and in what others write on your behalf.” Your application should show that you’re interested in the world around you and that you’re the kind of person who pursues new knowledge with enthusiasm.
When it comes to extracurricular activities, Stanford emphasizes quality over quantity. They’re not looking for a laundry list of activities, but rather a deep and active participation in a few different things. On their site they remind students that “exceptional depth of experience in one or two activities may demonstrate your passion more than minimal participation in five or six clubs.”
What Should You Do in High School?
Here are some things that you can do now to show Stanford that you have what they’re looking for.
Excel in Challenging Classes
“The primary criterion for admission to Stanford is academic excellence. We look for your preparation and potential to succeed. We expect you to challenge yourself throughout high school and to do very well.”
If you want to go to Stanford, you’ll need to take the most challenging possible course load that you can manage while still maintaining an unweighted GPA of 4.0 (or as close to 4.0 as possible). Stanford wants to see that you’ve excelled across the board, not just in one set of subjects.
Here is the recommended high school curriculum for prospective students:
- English: four years, with significant emphasis on writing and literature.
- Mathematics: four years of rigorous mathematics incorporating a solid grounding in fundamental skills (algebra, geometry, trigonometry). We also welcome additional mathematical preparation, including calculus and statistics.
- History/Social Studies: three or more years, with courses that include the writing of essays.
- Science: three or more years of laboratory science (e.g., biology, chemistry, physics).
- Foreign Language: three or more years of the same foreign language.
Earn High Test Scores
It would be wise to take both the SAT and ACT exams as early as possible so that you can find out which one suits you best and how much additional preparation you’ll need to score above the 90th percentile on one or the other.
You’ll want to begin your preparation well in advance of any submissions deadlines. Make sure you have time to test and then study and test again if need be to achieve your desired score. Giving yourself plenty of time to familiarize yourself with these exams and try out different testing strategies will help you to score as high as possible.
We have lots of tips on how to study for standardized tests right here.
Pursue Your Passions
Colleges like Stanford want people who are truly passionate about a variety of things. So seek out new opportunities. Get out of your comfort zone and find new things that light you up. And then dive deep. Stanford wants students who pursue their passions wholeheartedly.
Extracurriculars are also an excellent opportunity to improve and demonstrate your teamwork and leadership skills. The specific activities are less important than community involvement, intellectual vitality, and an overall zest for life.
Check out this article for more ideas on great extracurriculars to explore. If you’re not sure where to start, ask yourself what you can do to better the lives of those around you.
Serve Your Community
Stanford wants to know what you have to contribute to their community, and it’s not enough to tell them what you’ll do once you get there. You have to establish a history of community service now – not necessarily through established organizations (though that can be good too), but in real and meaningful ways that you can write about when it comes time to write those college essays.
Remember that community service can look different for everyone. Steady jobs or familial responsibilities are just as valid as community service projects. The important thing is that you’re involved in the world around you in a positive way.
Build Relationships with Your Teachers
Stanford requires letters of recommendation from two teachers. They recommend requesting letters from teachers you had in junior or senior year for English, math, science, foreign language or history/social studies. Teachers from sophomore year are acceptable if the coursework was advanced – AP Bio, for example.
In order to receive truly valuable letters of recommendation, your teachers need to know you as a person. Maybe your AP European History teacher was also your swim coach for three years, or your Spanish teacher runs volunteer trips that you went on multiple times. Ideally, both of your letters should come from teachers who can speak to both your intellectual vitality and your community spirit.
Applicants are also permitted to submit one additional letter “if there is another person who knows you well and can provide new insights about you.” You’ll need to assign them as your “Other Recommender” in the Common Application.
Stanford Application Process and Checklist
Your application will include:
- Common Application
- $90 nonrefundable application fee or fee waiver request
- ACT or SAT test scores (test optional for 2022–23)
- School Report form and counselor letter of recommendation
- Official transcript(s) or academic results
- Letters of recommendation from two teachers
- Midyear transcript (by February 15)
Stanford also gives applicants the opportunity to interview with alumni. According to Stanford, “Declining an interview will not negatively impact your admission decision, and you may decline for any reason.” The interview is meant to be an informal conversation that gives you the opportunity to learn more about Stanford and let the Admission Office learn more about you as a person.
Before your interview, consider what you might want to share. You might want to talk about academic interests, unique extracurricular pursuits, and your life goals. If you’re not sure Stanford is your first choice, this is also an opportunity to ask detailed questions about the university cultures and overall experience. Interviews typically last approximately 45 minutes.
If you want to highlight an extraordinary talent in the arts, Stanford allows an Optional Arts Portfolio in one of the following areas: Art Practice, Dance, Music, or Theater and Performance Studies. You can find the requirements for each option here. Here are the deadlines:
|Decision Plan||Application||Materials for Arts Portfolio|
|Restrictive Early Action||October 15, 2022||October 20, 2022|
|Regular Decision||December 5, 2022||December 10, 2022|
Short Essay Questions
Stanford’s application includes three short essay questions. There is a 100-word minimum and a 250-word maximum for each essay. Here are the three they used this past year:
- The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning.
- Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—get to know you better.
- Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why.
When answering these questions, be sure that they are both genuine and tailored to Stanford. Refer to the What is Stanford Looking For? section above and remember that these three essay questions are your opportunity to show Stanford that you embody the qualities they’re looking for, particularly intellectual vitality and a commitment to community.
Write about things that you truly care about, and let that passion shine through.
On the Stanford admissions site, they write, “We want to see the kind of curiosity and enthusiasm that will allow you to spark a lively discussion in a first-year seminar and continue the conversation at the dinner table. We want to see the energy and depth of commitment you will bring to your endeavors, whether that means in a research lab, as part of a community organization, during a performance or on an athletic field. We want to see the initiative with which you seek out opportunities and expand your perspective.”
So, give them what they want. Show them through vivid, unique examples how you would be a marvelous addition to their next incoming class.
General Essay Tips
Essays are your chance to distinguish yourself from a stack of similar candidates.
Writing outstanding college essays starts long before you put pen to paper or pull out your laptop. It starts with rich life experiences, with struggle and perseverance that give you something worth writing about. This is one reason that extracurriculars are so vital.
Depending on how many colleges you plan to apply to, you may need to write ten to twenty supplemental essays by the time you’re through. If you leave this to the last minute, it can be an overwhelming prospect. These essays are far too important to be rushed, so start early. Many colleges release their essay prompts each summer.
Here are some more tips to write the best possible essays for your college applications:
- Stick to the topic.
Permitted word counts are low, so there’s no time to waste. Get to the point!
- Include specific details.
You’ll have to cut extraneous words, but that doesn’t mean your answer should be boring. Instead of telling them what you’re interested in or what matters to you, illustrate those things with vivid examples to make sure your application stands out.
- Write in your genuine voice.
Your essays shouldn’t be riddled with errors, but they shouldn’t be stiff and formal either. These short responses are your best chance to make an impression and showcase what makes you unique. Let your personality and voice shine through.
- Show your values.
Focus on values that you genuinely believe in and share with Stanford. Don’t just tell them what matters to you; provide examples of how you live and embody those values.
- Be reflective.
Go deep on these essays to demonstrate a high level of critical thinking and self-awareness. Your response should go beyond a basic answer and also serve to explain why each topic is important to you and how you’ve grown as a person.
- Edit carefully and double check for errors.
First you’ll want to edit for content, ideally getting outside perspectives from people you trust to make sure that your answers are conveying what you want them to. Once you’re satisfied with the content, you need to proofread multiple times to make sure each response has zero errors. Have other people proofread your essays as well to make sure you haven’t missed any mistakes.
Should You Apply Early to Stanford?
Stanford offers two decision plans for first-year applicants: Regular Decision or Restrictive Early Action. Most students, including most admitted students, apply Regular Decision. Stanford recommends that students apply Regular Decision if any of the following apply to them:
- Your grades are on an upward trend;
- You are taking classes in your senior year that are significantly more rigorous than in grades 10 and 11;
- You are taking (or retaking) standardized exams;
- You are working on a significant project or activity in the fall of your final year in high school.
Restrictive Early Action is a non-binding early application option that Stanford recommends if:
- You have identified Stanford as your first choice;
- You have taken a challenging academic schedule through grade 11 and have done well. When we review your early application, it is important to have a strong transcript through grade 11 because we will not have your grades from the first semester of your senior year;
- You have enough time before the November 1 deadline to write a thoughtful application.
It is Stanford policy that students who apply Restrictive Early Action may not apply to any other schools under their Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, Early Decision, or Early Notification plans. If Stanford is your first choice and you have an excellent academic record, you might want to reply through their Restrictive Early Action application option.
The deadlines for Stanford are shown below.
Early Action Regular Decision
|Application with Arts Portfolio||October 15||December 5|
|Materials for Arts Portfolio||October 20||December 10|
|Standard Application Deadline||November 1||January 5|
|Notification of Missing Documents||Mid-November||Mid-February|
|Decision Released By||Mid-December||Early April|
|Student Reply Date||May 1||May 1|
**Keep in mind that the Early Action deadlines above are restrictive.
Final Thoughts: How to Get into Stanford
Stanford University is one of the most selective schools in the country. Nearly everyone who applies has great grades and high test scores, so you’ll have to go above and beyond if you want a chance to study there. If you pursue your passions, serve your community, and make excellent use of your time in and out of school, you might just have what it takes to get in.