How to get into Stanford University

How to get into Stanford University

For Undergraduate (UG) and Masters (MS) degrees


As someone said, when you’re applying to Stanford, you are trying to join a club that includes people who have already interned at NASA, published books that went on to the NYT best sellers’ list, and played music at Carnegie Hall. But if you have it in you, you will probably relish the challenge. You will be able to enjoy the wind of freedom that blows and promotes unfettered research, service, and discovery at the university, to use some of its own words.


Stanford University Statistics and Facts

  • Motto: The wind of freedom blows
  • Established: 1891
  • Founders: Leland and Jane Stanford
  • Endowment: $28 billion
  • Academic staff: 2,210
  • Total students: 16,430
  • Location: Stanford, California
  • Campus: Suburban, 8,180 acres
  • Source: Wikipedia


Undergrad at Stanford University

Over 44,000 people apply for undergraduate seats at Stanford, but only about 2,200 are accepted, and over 1,700 are enrolled. So what does it take to enter the portals of the university for UG?

Some truths about UG admissions at Stanford: don’t let anyone misguide you. You will need strong academics, no escape. You should excel in one area in your extracurriculars and have an abiding interest in one area or activity. Among the myths are that all you need are good grades and that you should be well-rounded. Wrong. You need more than grades and you should have one focus area.

SAT scores

Some more facts: SAT score requirements are in the range of 1,430-1,590 (reading 700, math 730). Applicants who have a chance are usually in the top 3 percent of test takers. The estimate average SAT composite was for admitted freshman was 1,510 out of 1,600 in 2016. According to one source, your chances are good if you score above 1,590 on the 1,600 scale, “average plus” for 1,510-1,590; average minus for 1,430-1,510 average minus, possible for 1,350-1,430, and low for under 1,350.

Estimated chances by ACT score are as follows: 35 and above, good; 33-35, average plus; 31-33, average minus; 20-31, possible; and under 29, low.




Stanford University is a holistic institution with no GPA or standardized course requirements. But the estimated average high-school required GPA is around 4.18. The chances are 3.75, plus, good; 3.5-3.75, average plus; 3.25-3.5 average minus; 3-3.24, possible; and below 3, low.

Good counsel

You need to be a good student from the start, if possible from junior high. Tell your school counsellor or anyone in that position that you are aiming to go to Stanford and take the right classes. For example, if you want to be a doctor, you need to take chemistry, physics, and math classes, including geometry and algebra. If you want to take up art, choose physics, geometry, and computer design, besides art.

Stanford requires four years of English with a focus on writing and literature, four years of math with an emphasis on geometry, algebra, and trigonometry, three years of history/social studies with an emphasis on essay writing, and three years of lab science such as physics, chemistry and biology. Four years of study of a foreign language is also recommended.

Although Stanford has no minimum grade, it won’t hurt you to have higher grades. Particularly when 56 percent of successful Stanford applications have a GPA of 4.0 or above. Make sure you have stellar GPA. Remember that the harder your classes, the more positive consideration you are given.

If your school offers Advanced Placement Program (AP) classes, take them. The more classes the better, and the higher your grades in them the better. If your school doesn’t have a strong AP program, go for self-study. Think of taking computer science as Stanford has deep technology roots.

Prepare and do well in ACT Writing or SAT Essay. One of this is necessary, although Stanford does not have a minimum score. Get a near-perfect score. Twenty-five percent of applicants have a high SAT score in math and critical thinking. You need SAT scores at least over 700. But students with 1500/1600 may be rejected.


Participate in extras. You should take an interest in a sport, a hobby, or language now instead of waiting for a better time. If you opt for extras now, you will have accomplishments to show.

Join debate clubs or a quiz club and stick with your interest. Prolonged interest in one activity is better than some interest in a lot of things. Keep in mind that quality is better than quantity.

Look to participating in social service. Volunteer for nature club, animal shelter, or a local hospital. Show that you care for the community.

Do something extraordinary such as participating in a UN event. If you do something impressive, it is as good as if not better than participating in various activities and achieving something.

Do you like Web design? Are you an artist? Get you portfolio up online and provide a link. Have you created an app? It shows that you’re not only technology prone but also entrepreneurial. Try to link one of your passions with what the school is already good at.

One student who was dancing since the age of two got in. Project the more human elements about you not just your achievements.

Mastering the application process

Craft an application specifically for Stanford. Know the deadlines. Apply well before or by the deadlines. Prepare and organize all that you need to apply beforehand instead of running around at the last minute.

Go to the Stanford website to study about the courses on offer and other information. Press the “never registered link” under Apply and you’re off.

Remember you need two teacher evaluations, preferably in math, science, foreign languages, English, or history/social sciences. The teachers should send the evaluations by the deadline.

Students who have studied in non-US systems need to have their official documents regarding grades and marks sent directly from your school. Copies of original transcripts and teacher’s evaluations are required. They also have to be translated into English. Read more about sending official academic transcripts.

In your application, don’t try to second-guess the university. Write from your genuine feelings and knowledge about yourself. Speak as you would speak to yourself. Talk about your commitment and your abilities, but don’t go overboard. Be realistic about your chances.

Stanford encourages applicants to reflect on who they are and what they want to pursue. It advises applicants to be true to themselves and use “their genuine voice” while speaking to the university regarding admission.

International students have to submit the International Supplement form in addition to forms mentioned in the traditional student section. They can take the TOEFL test. It is not necessary but is recommended.


Stanford believes in diversity beyond religious or ethnic backgrounds. It wants all sections represented based on your interest in sports, sexual orientation, political views, etc.

Stanford admission officers (AOs) will read your applications holistically. No particular merit may sway things in your favour. There is not one single merit that Stanford will consider to decide whether you should be admitted or not. For example, every year, thousands of students with high academic scores apply and they don’t make the grade. But people with lower scores do, based on their uniqueness and the diversity they bring.

The AOs will read your applications in context and see whether you have made use of your opportunities and how your activities might have affected your academic performance. Whether you had to work to go to school or you went to athletics training is a consideration.

They will read your applications independently but will not compare, because candidates may have different backgrounds.

Financial aid

At $13,000 a quarter, Stanford knows it is expensive. There are scholarships on offer to reduce the student’s burden. Stanford is needs-blind. If you have been admitted and need a scholarship, you will get it. Stanford has great scholarships. You may think your chances are not too bright, but apply anyway.

If you don’t ask for aid during the application process, you cannot ask for it ever in your four years at Stanford. Students are allocated funds from institutional funds based on their family circumstances.

Prepare well

First make up your mind that you really want to go to Stanford. Do you want to study engineering? Which branch would you study? Electronics, mechanics, or computer science?

What are the things that top schools look for when they look at applications? Improve your strengths in these areas and try to get into what someone calls “the creamy layer.” There may be no minimum requirement, but it never hurts to be at the top.

Prepare you essays well. Write about who you are, what you want to do. Why do you want to do whatever it is that you want to do? What have you done so far pursuing what you want to do? Here are some tips to write good college admission essays.

Someone mentions how important it is to write well. At least get your basics right. For example, you should at least get your capitalization right if not your grammar and punctuation.

Three principles

Three principles guide the admission process at Stanford: academic excellence, intellectual vitality, and personal context. The most important is academic excellence, that is, whether you have the potential and preparation for Stanford. Your high school transcript gives evidence of this.

Stanford seeks a commitment to expanding your horizons, your intellectual vitality, whether it is in class, or on the athletic field, or the lab. This should be evident in what you write about yourself and what your recommenders write about you.

The next is personal context. Stanford appreciates that every person is has unique circumstances. Family background, educational differences, and employment, and life experience are taken into account. The university takes your achievements in context and find out how you have utilized the opportunities that were given to you.

Stanford admits qualified students of any race or color or circumstance. It has an honor code that commits students against unfair practices in exams and class work.


Fluency in English is required for admission to Stanford UG courses. However, applicants from schools where the primary medium of instruction is not English won’t be at a disadvantage.

Academic programs

Stanford offers 70 programs of UG study in three schools. Its quarter-system gives students a chance to pursue courses that might not have been possible to pursue under the semester system.

Student-faculty ratio on campus is 1:4. Seventy percent classes have 19 students or less. Stanford students can pursue a double major and complete a bachelor’s and master’s in five years.

The intellectual climate at the university can be seen from the fact that $5 million is allocated to UG research every year. Since the university’s founding, 31 faculty members have won the Nobel Prize.
Also read All about Undergraduate College Admissions

Graduate admissions at Stanford University

Admitting departments make the admission decision, but the graduate admissions office evaluates degree conferral, academic transcripts, official test scores, and English proficiency.


Since there are 60 graduate programs to choose from, and as only one application can be submitted every year, students need to choose their programs carefully. They have to ensure that the chosen program meets their academic targets.


Stanford offers programs in the School of Medicine, School of Humanities and Sciences, School for Earth Energy and Environmental Sciences, Graduate School of Education, School of Engineering, School of Law, GSB, and Continuing Studies (liberal arts). Degrees range from aeronautics and astronautics to theatre performance and studies.


Keep in mind that most programs only take in students for the autumn quarter. Some departments admit students only for master’s. A few departments admit students directly from bachelor’s programs for their doctoral degree programs while others admit only master’s students.

Except for medicine and engineering, a master’s degree is required for applying to Stanford graduate programs. A bachelor’s degree won’t suffice. Your application is sent electronically to the department you have applied to. Decision-making varies from department to department. Stanford doesn’t accept paper applications.


Applicants must hold a US bachelor’s degree or a recognized degree from outside. Evidence of proficiency in English must be submitted. TOEFL scores are required for students whose first language is not English. Such students may have to clear the English placement test conducted every quarter.

From India, a bachelor’s degree in medicine or engineering or master’s degree in other fields is required. Detailed academic records should be submitted and the grading of the institution given. Applications are to be submitted online.


As with any top-tier university, competition for graduate seats is intense. The admit rate is very low and the candidate pool highly proficient. Admission processes entail a lot of elements that are not really within your control. You can only apply and hope you are among the best.

For example, for MS in Computer Science, the admit rate is low. Nearly every candidate selected accepts the offer. Anecdotal evidence has it a first screening is done to weed out candidates who don’t have a very high GPA or GRE [here are the average GRE scores for the top MS universities]. Each application is looked at and assigned a score. The scores are normalized so that they can be compared in fairness. The threshold of marks is higher for external applications than for internal applicants who have studied at Stanford before.

A GRE score in the 90th percentile is necessary for success [read about GRE score percentiles]. An alternative is to have other stellar elements in your application. As for GPA, successful applications seems to have score range of 3.6-4. As an international student, if you say you have 70 percent marks in your bachelor’s, this doesn’t count for much, since under the American system, it is not more than C grade.

One step ahead

As for your extras, you should show that you are virtually a computer scientist if you are applying for MS in Computer Science. Have you launched a start-up? Ae you crazy about computer programming contests. If you’re going for PhD and not MS, you need to show that you have already published some good research.

As for a letter of recommendation, your professors are the best persons to write it, since once they do that, their academic credibility is on the line and they are more likely to be honest and the university knows that. Next in the recommendation letter hierarchy come your general academic lecturer, graduate students, line manager, and colleague. A strong letter from someone who knows you is better than a weak letter from a top-shot professor who barely does. Here’s how to ask your professors for recommendations.

Your statement of purpose (SoP) should not be your resume in prose form. You should say why you applied, and what research you plan to do, and what you plan to do after graduating. Learn how to write an SoP.

Also read:
Stanford MBA with full scholarship: Why I rejected Harvard MBA
Why I turned down an admit from Stanford University?
What Stanford GSB looks for in MBA applicants
Stanford GSB Facts and Statistics: What every Stanford MBA student should know
How I got into Stanford MBA from India
Choice between Harvard/Stanford or Oxford/Cambridge – How would you decide?

References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16