Stanford University is the most selective school in the country, accepting just under 5% of applicants. If you’re hoping to attend Stanford, understanding the admissions process is key.
In this guide, we’ll share important information about Stanford and about the university’s application process, from can’t-miss deadlines to potential essay topics. Here’s everything you need to know about applying to Stanford!
Before we begin, keep in mind that applying to Stanford is a challenging process for all students, so don’t despair!
Founded in 1885, Stanford is a private Ivy League university. It’s described on the school’s website as “a place for learning, discovery, innovation, expression, and discourse.” Stanford is one of the top-ranked universities in the world, and it uses a quarter-based academic calendar.
This prestigious school boasts influential alumni in politics, law, science, literature, and even entertainment. Some of Stanford’s most notable alumni include United States president Herbert Hoover (and his first lady), Supreme Court justices Sandra Day O’Connor and William Rehnquist, entrepreneur Charles Schwab, author John Steinbeck, and athletes such as John Elway.
Enrollment, Tuition, and Financial Aid
Stanford University’s enrollment totals 16,437. This number includes graduate students; undergraduate enrollment is 7,034 students. The faculty numbers 2,180, with a student-faculty ratio of 4:1. 70% of classes at Stanford contain fewer than 20 students.
Tuition and fees amount to $49,617. However, 47% of full-time undergraduate students at Stanford receive some form of need-based financial aid. Last year, Stanford paid an average of $13,600 in tuition for recipients of need-based scholarships.
Stanford’s admission program is need-blind, meaning financial status does not impact the admissions decision. The school is “committed to providing a comprehensive need-based financial aid program that makes it financially possible for admitted students to attend.”
The 8,180-acre Stanford campus is located in California’s Bay Area, about 35 miles south of San Francisco. That places the school in the heart of Silicon Valley, home to dynamic companies like Google, Yahoo!, and Hewlett-Packard. Many of these companies were founded and are still run by Stanford faculty and alumni.
The university is also a brief walk from downtown Palo Alto, which features many shops, restaurants, and other attractions. For nature-loving students, the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains, Pacific Ocean, and San Francisco Bay make this location desirable.
Campus is conveniently located near bus and train stations, and Stanford offers a free shuttle bus that provides transport from the station to a variety of campus locations.
Stanford University is comprised of seven schools, four of which offer both undergraduate and graduate courses. The remaining three are graduate schools only. Stanford’s graduate schools include the top-ranked Graduate School of Business, as well as the highly ranked School of Medicine, Law School, School of Engineering, and School of Education.
The most popular majors at Stanford include Engineering, Social Sciences, Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services, and Biological and Biomedical Sciences.
Students appear to be pleased with their courses: The freshman retention rate is 98%, and Stanford’s undergraduate teaching is ranked in the top ten nationally.
Student Body and Extracurricular Activities
Stanford is a diverse institution, with students from around the nation and the world. The student body is 48% female and 52% male, and 92% of students live in one of the 81 student residences on campus.
There are over 600 student organizations at Stanford, including the Stanford Solar Car Project and the Stanford Pre-Business Association. Sports teams, the Stanford Cardinals, compete in the NCAA I.
The football team enjoys a spirited rivalry with Cal. Each year, the two teams compete in the “Big Game,” with the coveted Stanford Axe being awarded to the winner.
There are 30 Greek organizations at Stanford, and about 25% of students choose to join a sorority or fraternity. These organizations host campus-wide events and spearhead community service projects.
Stanford freshmen are required to live on campus, and housing is guaranteed to entering freshmen for all four years. Most opt to remain on campus.
The 81 student residences at Stanford (called houses) are home to almost all undergraduates, and over 60% of graduate students. The campus community features eight dining halls, organic gardens, and a teaching kitchen. Students will also find libraries, state-of-the-art recreational facilities, and two world-class museums.
Stanford’s on-campus houses offer social opportunities such as dances, theme nights, intramural sports, and off-campus day and weekend trips. Students who live on campus are required to purchase meal plans. They typically eat at their dormitory’s dining hall, but they may dine at any dining hall on campus.
Dining halls serve food cooked by award-winning chefs and provide diverse menu options including gluten-free, halal, kosher, peanut-free, and vegetarian/vegan dining.
Applying to Stanford
Now, we’ll take a look at the most important information you’ll need to know as you apply to Stanford University.
Average Admitted Student
Keep in mind that Stanford accepts only about 5% of students who apply. This means that 95% of applicants will receive a rejection letter. To weigh your chances of being among the 5%, it’s a good idea to take a look at Stanford’s admission statistics.
Stanford’s average admitted student has a composite SAT score of 2200 on the 2400 scale. On the 1600 scale, this translates to an average SAT score of 1520. Based on the new SAT, Stanford’s 25th percentile is 1450, while the 75th percentile is a 1590.
This means that you should aim to score at least a 1450 on the SAT in order to be admitted to Stanford. This is still slightly below average, but it does fall within the range of accepted students’ SAT scores.
The average GPA for admitted students is a 3.95. Stanford likes to see that students have taken challenging classes, such as AP or IB courses, and that students are at or near the top of their class.
What if My Numbers Are Lower?
If you are already a junior, it’s probably too late to drastically change your GPA. At this point, you should focus on getting your SAT score as high as possible, securing strong letters of recommendation, and crafting excellent college application essays.
Of course, you can still apply to Stanford even if your SAT score and GPA are below these numbers.
Stanford’s website states that academic excellence is the primary criterion for admittance, but goes on to say, “Remember, however, that our evaluation of your application goes beyond any numerical formula. There is no minimum GPA or test score; nor is there any specific number of AP or honors courses you must have on your transcript in order to be admitted to Stanford.”
Stanford reviews applications holistically, and they also focus on “achievements in context.” They take into account family background, life experiences, and educational differences in order to evaluate how students have excelled in their own unique environments.
That being said, it’s important to be realistic if your scores are much lower than these numbers. If you are truly passionate about Stanford, you should still apply and see what happens. But make sure that you are also applying to schools where you have a greater chance of being accepted.
Students have two options when applying to Stanford. They may apply Restrictive Early Action or Regular Decision. Students who apply Restrictive Early Action may apply Regular Decision to other schools, but they may not apply under any other type of early decision program.
Stanford’s Restrictive Early Action decisions are non-binding, but they give students a chance to make college decisions earlier.
If you choose to apply Restrictive Early Action, your application deadline is November 1st. The last acceptable SAT date is in October, while the last acceptable ACT date is in September. Decisions are released by December 15th, and students must reply by May 1st.
In some cases, students who apply Restrictive Early Action may be deferred to Regular Decision, and they will find out Stanford’s decision later.
If you decide to apply Regular Decision, your application must be submitted by January 2nd. The last acceptable SAT and ACT dates are in December. Decisions are released on April 1st, and students must reply by May 1st.
For students who wish to apply with an Arts Portfolio, the deadline is October 15th for Restrictive Early Action and December 1st for Regular Decision.
Applying to Stanford: The How-To Guide
To apply to Stanford, you will need to submit the Common Application or the Coalition Application.
Stanford weighs both of these applications equally, so you may decide which to use based on the other schools to which you’re also applying. The Common Application is accepted by more colleges and universities, so it may help you save time during college application season.
If you are submitting an optional Arts Portfolio to Stanford, you must use the Common Application to ensure access to SlideRoom.
Below is a brief overview of both the Common Application and the Coalition Application.
The Common Application is accepted by over 700 colleges and universities. To complete it, you will need to go to commonapp.org, create a student account, and add Stanford University to your “My Colleges” list.
You will be asked to provide general information about your grades, courses, activities, test scores, exam dates, and parent(s)/legal guardian(s).
In addition, the Common App has a required essay. There are seven topics from which to choose. In brief, the seven topics include:
- Meaningful background, identity, interest, or talent
- Lessons learned from a challenge, setback, or failure
- A time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea
- A problem you have solved or would like to solve (ethical dilemma, intellectual challenge, or research query)
- An accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth
- A captivating topic, idea, or concept that you find fascinating
- A topic of your choice
If you fill out the Common App, you will also be asked to answer the Stanford Questions as an additional supplement. When applying to Stanford, the supplements are critical.
The Coalition Application is the newest option, and it’s accepted by 113 member schools. College tools and collaboration spaces (for students to connect with teachers, parents, or counselors) are also provided through this application.
If you select this option, you will need to go to mycoalition.org, create a student account, add Stanford University to your “Colleges” list, and invite your counselor and teachers writing letters of recommendation to be contacts in your Coalition account.
The Coalition Application also requires an essay. Students may write on any of the following five topics:
- An experience that demonstrates or helped shape your character
- A time when you made a meaningful contribution to others by focusing on the greater good
- A time when a long-cherished or accepted belief was challenged
- The hardest and best parts of being a teenager now
- A topic of your choice
Students will be expected to fill out the Stanford Application Questions as an additional supplement.
The Stanford Supplement, which must be completed as part of both the Common Application and the Coalition Application, is extensive. Students will be asked the following (this is our guide to answering the Stanford supplement prompts, including the “Roommate” question):
- Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (150 words)
- What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50-word limit)
- How did you spend your last two summers? (50-word limit)
- What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed (50-word limit)
- What five words best describe you? (10-word limit)
- When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch? (50-word limit)
- Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (50-word limit)
- Imagine you had an extra hour in the day—how would you spend that time? (50-word limit)
- 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. (100 to 250 words)
- 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—know you better. (100 to 250 words)
- Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why. (100 to 250 words)
Make sure that you use these questions as an opportunity to reveal new information about yourself. You should do your best not to be repetitive and to give the admissions committee an even closer look into your character, personality, and motivations.
Remember, there are thousands of other bright and talented students applying to Stanford, so it’s better to stand out in your unique way.
Additional Application Materials
You will also need to pay a $90 application fee. If this represents a financial hardship, you may submit a fee waiver request, which must be verified by your high school counselor.
In addition to the Common Application or Coalition Application and the Stanford Supplement, you will need to submit:
- SAT with Essay or ACT with Writing test scores
- School report including counselor letter of recommendation
- Official transcript(s)
- Letters of recommendation from two teachers
- Mid-year transcript (by February 15th)
This means that if you are admitted to Stanford, it’s not time to relax and slack off for the remainder of the school year. Stanford will be reviewing your grades again, and if they drop, your acceptance can be rescinded.
You must take the writing portion of the ACT and/or SAT. ACT or SAT scores without the writing portion do not complete the testing requirement for Stanford’s application.
Stanford requires all test scores for all high school sittings of the SAT or ACT. Scores may be official score reports or self-reported. If you self-report, you must enter your highest test scores first, then report the rest in the Additional Information section of the application. Alternatively, you can send your score report(s) as an attachment to [email protected].
If you are admitted and decide to enroll, official score reports will be required at this time. Stanford reserves the right to revoke an offer of admission if the official test scores do not align with the self-reported scores.
Stanford’s website specifies a few steps that students should take after submitting an application:
- Add [email protected] to your safe sender’s list or email address book. This is to ensure that you receive all Stanford University correspondence.
- Check your application status regularly after Stanford sends an email confirming receipt of the application.
- Consider applying for financial aid. More details can be found at financialaid.stanford.edu.
Conclusion: Applying to Stanford
When applying to Stanford, you will need to complete either the Common Application or the Coalition Application, in addition to the Stanford Supplement. Applications must be submitted by November 1st for Restrictive Early Action or January 2nd for Regular Decision.
Stanford also requires the SAT or ACT with writing, a school report with counselor recommendation, transcripts (along with a mid-year update), and two teacher recommendations.
You have the best chance of being admitted to Stanford if your SAT is at least 1450 and your GPA is at least a 3.9. Stanford is extremely selective, admitting just under 5% of applicants.
However, you shouldn’t be discouraged if your scores are lower than what Stanford typically accepts. Stanford does consider the application holistically, so even if your chances are slim, admittance is still a possibility.
If you do decide to apply to Stanford even with lower numbers, ensure that you also apply to schools where you are far more likely to be accepted.
Keep your expectations reasonable, but don’t be discouraged from applying if you’re truly passionate about Stanford.
Applying to Stanford is difficult for every student, no matter how qualified, so put in your best effort.
Last thing: Gain your college with your admissions advantage by enrolling in our college essay boot camp.