How to Get into Stanford

Stanford University is the most selective U.S. college, period. Tens of thousands of students in the U.S. and the world apply to Stanford University every year with the dream that they will be admitted. Unfortunately, very few will be accepted. Getting into Stanford is very difficult, making it important for you to know what to expect and how you can make yourself stand out from the other applicants. If you want to attend Stanford, you will need to begin preparing as early as possible so that you can understand what the school is looking for and how you can demonstrate that you would be a great addition to the Stanford community. Taking the right steps can increase your chances of admission to Stanford University.


Stanford Facts

Motto: Die Luft der Freiheit weht (The wind of freedom blows)
Established: 1891
School Type: Private Research University
Location: Stanford, California
Athletics: Pac 12 (primary)
Nickname: Cardinal
Website: stanford.edu


To help you tackle the task of getting into Stanford, below are frequently asked questions (FAQ) about the topic:

What is Stanford’s acceptance rate?

Stanford University is among the most selective institutions of higher education in the U.S. and the world. It is regularly ranked as the most selective because of the number of applicants and the percentage that are accepted. For the class of 2022, Stanford received 47,451 undergraduate applications and accepted 2,071. Out of those, 1,706 students matriculated at the university. This means that the admission rate for Stanford for the class of 2022 was just 4.4%. These statistics demonstrate how difficult it is to get accepted for admission at Stanford. You will need to start preparing as early as possible and work to develop your talents if you want to become a student at Stanford University.

What grades do I need to get into Stanford?

Your grades need to be nearly perfect to get into Stanford. To give you an idea of the type of GPA you should strive for during high school, Stanford reports that 58% of the applicants for the class of 2020 had GPAs of 4.0 and higher with an admit rate of 6%. Students with GPAs of 4.0 or above made up 75% of the admitted class of entering freshmen. In terms of high school rank, 78% of the applicants were in the top 10% of their classes with a 5% admit rate. Admitted students who graduated in the top 10% of their classes made up 95% of the entering freshmen for the class of 2020.

If you start a class and recognize that you are struggling, get help as soon as possible. Do not wait for your grades to come in. Hiring a tutor can help you to develop a better understanding of the material and to potentially develop an interest that you didn’t previously have. As long as you are willing to put in the work, a tutor might help you to earn an A even when you doubted that it was possible.

As we previously mentioned, earning top grades is not enough on its own. As you can see, many applicants were in the top 10% of their classes and had GPAs of 4.0 or higher but were not admitted. You will need to stand out in one area to get the attention of the admissions officers. Be willing to pursue academic excellence beyond the classroom by participating in competitions, research, and other opportunities that are available to you in high school. Doing this can help you to stretch yourself academically and to develop your talents so that you can shine.

What SAT and ACT scores do I need to get into Stanford?

To be admitted to Stanford, you will need to either take the ACT or the SAT. The school does not prefer one test over the other. Stanford reports that the entering freshmen class of 2022 had the following scores at the 25th and 75th percentiles:

  • SAT Math – 720 at the 25th percentile
  • SAT Math – 800 at the 75th percentile
  • SAT EBRW – 700 at the 25th percentile
  • SAT EBRW – 770 at the 75th percentile
  • ACT Composite – 32 at the 25th percentile
  • ACT Composite – 35 at the 75th percentile

The SAT Math + EBRW has a total possible score of 1,600. The ACT ranges from 1 to 36. The reported statistics for the entering class of 2022 demonstrates that you must aim to score as high as possible on the ACT or SAT.

Many students make the mistake of failing to adequately prepare for the ACT or SAT. Like any other test, you should spend plenty of time preparing for these tests. Start preparing as early in high school as you can. You can begin by taking practice tests such as the PreACT and the PSAT. Taking these practice tests during your freshman or sophomore year can benefit you in a few ways.

First, they can help you identify the areas in which you are weaker and stronger. You can then focus your test preparation plan on strengthening your weaker areas while building on your strengths. The second benefit of taking these practice tests is that they will give you an idea of the formats of the ACT and SAT, the timing, and what you might expect. Finally, taking the practice tests can help you to determine whether you did better on one versus the other. This can help you to decide whether you will ultimately take the ACT or the SAT when the time comes.

There is another reason to take the PSAT again in your sophomore or junior year. This test is used to identify students for the National Merit Scholar program. If you are chosen as a National Merit Scholar, you will receive a scholarship. It will also look great on your college application when you apply to Stanford.

Adequately preparing to take the ACT or SAT will require more than simply taking the PSAT and the PreACT. After you have chosen the test that you will ultimately take, you should devote time studying and preparing for it. Try to set aside some time each week to study for your chosen test. Take full-length practice ACT and SAT exams from prior testing dates. When you take these tests, you can then use the scores that you obtain to help focus your studies. With good preparation, you should see your scores gradually improve as time passes.

Stanford reports that it super scores your SAT or ACT results if you have taken the tests several times. This involves the school taking the highest score that you have achieved in each subtest from the different times that you have taken the tests to arrive at a super score that presents you in the best light. This makes it a good idea for you to take the ACT or SAT several times, beginning in your junior year and continuing to your senior year if necessary.

Do I need to take the SAT subject tests to apply to Stanford?

Stanford does not require you to take SAT subject tests. However, it does state that you can self-report the scores that you obtain in your application. Subject tests allow you to highlight your areas of strength, so it makes sense for you to take subject tests in your strongest subject areas.

What classes should I take in high school to get into Stanford?

Earning straight As in high school while taking easier classes is not going to get you admitted to Stanford. You should take the most challenging courses that your school offers. For example, instead of choosing your high school’s regular chemistry class, take the AP chemistry or IB chemistry course, and get an A in it.

Stanford does not have a list of required courses that you must take to apply for admission because it recognizes that the curricular options vary from high school to high school. It does recommend that you take the following sequence of courses so that you will be well-prepared for college:

  • Four years of English with an emphasis on writing and literature
  • Four years of Math with an emphasis on fundamental mathematics
  • Three or more years of history and social studies
  • Three or more years of laboratory science courses, including biology, chemistry, and physics
  • Three or more years of the same foreign language

Stanford wants you to take challenging classes in high school. The school recommends that you talk to your guidance counselor for help with developing the right curriculum for you. While you do not necessarily have to take every honors, IB, or AP course that is offered, you should take these types of courses at least in your area of interest.

When should I begin preparing to apply to Stanford application?

Your entire high school career will be important to Stanford. This means that the earlier that you can get started preparing to apply, the better off you will be. If you can start before your freshman year of high school, you will have more time to work. Even if you are a junior or senior, it is not too late, but your process will look different. Juniors and seniors who have not maintained great grades will be at a disadvantage, however, because they will not have much time to improve their GPAs.

If you can start early, begin by creating a goal plan. You might want to take tests to identify your strengths and weaker areas. This can allow you to concentrate on improving your weaker areas while building on your strengths. After you have identified these, you can write a goal plan with concrete actionable steps. Having a written plan also allows you to check off the steps that you accomplish so that you can look back to see the progress that you have made toward reaching your goal of gaining admission to Stanford University. Working with a college admissions counselor might help you to create your plan if you have trouble creating it on your own.

If you are already in high school and are further along in your high school career, a goal plan is still a good idea. However, your plan will likely include a focus on test preparation while keeping your grades up. If you need an added GPA boost, you might want to take extra courses to help to raise it through summer school or at a local college or university.

What should I put in my personal statement for Stanford?

Your response to the essay prompt in the Common or Coalition Application and the answers you provide to Stanford’s questions are very important. You might want to begin writing draft responses in the summer before your senior year of high school. Your essay and short question answers give you a way to show the admissions officials at Stanford why you should be chosen for admission. You need to be able to tell your story memorably and compellingly, explain your passion, and describe what makes you tick.

You should write several drafts of your essay and short answers and have someone who has a critical eye review them for you. Avoid tossing around words that you looked up in a thesaurus. Your written responses should instead be in your words. You should proofread and edit what you write so that you do not submit anything that contains grammatical errors.

Never let your parents write your essay or short answer responses. This will not help you and may instead result in your application quickly being tossed in the denial pile. Admissions officers review thousands of applications every year, and they can tell when a parent has written an essay for his or her child. If you need help with ideas, run several by someone who you respect. Once you have an idea, write, rewrite, and rewrite again until you have an essay that you are proud of.

Who should I ask to write my letters of recommendation for Stanford?

Stanford requires that you have two teachers write letters of recommendation to support your application. You will give your teachers a link that they can use to submit their letters on your behalf. You will not see what they write, so you will need to choose who you ask carefully. Pick teachers in two different subject areas who know you well and understand your academic and personal progress. Having strong letters of recommendation can go a long way to helping your application’s chances of success.

You will also need to get a letter of recommendation from your guidance counselor and a school report. Stanford understands that guidance counselors at high schools have hundreds of students that they oversee and might not have the opportunity to get to know you well. However, your guidance counselor recommendation can still be helpful to your application and is a required component.

Does Stanford require an interview?

Some, but not all, applicants to Stanford will be invited to be interviewed. The interviews are conducted by volunteer Stanford alumni, and they provide you with the opportunity to learn more about Stanford. The interviews also allow the admissions office to learn more about you.

If you are chosen for an interview, the alum will contact you by email or phone. Respond to the email promptly to arrange a time and location for your interview. To prepare, you should talk to others who have been interviewed for Stanford and read blogs about the Stanford interviews online. This can help you to understand the types of questions that you might be asked so that you can be prepared. You should also practice interviewing with someone who can ask you some of the questions that you anticipate in the same location where your interview will occur. This can help you to become more comfortable and reduce your anxiety when the day arrives.

When your interview date arrives, dress nicely but avoid overdressing. Arrive early, and make certain to make eye contact with the interviewer. Listen to his or her questions, and answer each one thoughtfully. Never interrupt someone who is interviewing you, and be prepared to ask questions of your own. You can expect your interview to last from 30 minutes to an hour or more. After your interview, the interviewer will write a short report about you and the impression that he or she has of your fit with Stanford.

What does Stanford look for in students?

Stanford says that it uses a holistic admissions process to decide who to admit to the university. The school says that it views each part of an application as a part of the integrative whole to learn more about the applicant. The school lists four areas that the admissions officers consider, including the following:

  • Academic excellence
  • Intellectual vitality
  • Extracurricular activities/non-academic interests
  • Context

We will take a look at each of these areas and explain a little about what each one means.

Academic excellence. Stanford University says that its primary criterion for evaluating applicants is their academic records. The school says that it does not have a cutoff GPA score. However, given that tens of thousands of students apply every year, many applicants apply who have perfect or near-perfect GPAs, and many are not accepted. When you think about academic excellence from the perspective of the Stanford University admissions officials, you should understand that you should have great grades across the board throughout high school while also having one area in which you show exceptional talent or promise. For example, having a 4.0 GPA on an unweighted 4.0 scale is admirable. However, if you have a 3.75 GPA and but have placed in the top ranks in a prestigious international science competition like the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, you will be more likely to garner a closer look.

Intellectual vitality. The university also wants to find students who demonstrate intellectual vitality in all aspects of their lives. They want students who demonstrate intellectual curiosity in what they write about and in the recommendation letters that are written about them. Stanford wants students who stretch themselves intellectually and who can be expected to contribute to lively discussions in classes and beyond. They want to see that you are deeply committed to your academic pursuits and research so that you can have a positive impact on your fellow students and the university.

Extracurricular activities/non-academic interests. Stanford states that it is interested in what you do outside of the classroom through your extracurricular activities and your other pursuits. While some students think that they should participate in a large variety of different activities to stand out, Stanford specifically states that this is unnecessary. Stanford is more interested in seeing the depth of your involvement in one or two activities instead of seeing that you have dabbled in a broad range of activities with no real interest in any of them. Through your extracurriculars and your non-academic interests, Stanford wants to see the type of impact that you have had on your family, school, club, and your community. The school also wants to understand the impact that your activities have had on you. If you have excelled in a particular sport, you might gain an additional look. However, Stanford will want to see that you have also excelled academically before you will be admitted.

Context is key. Stanford emphasizes that it looks at all of the parts of your application in the context of your background, educational opportunities, and your family and work responsibilities. This allows the admissions officers to better understand how you have been able to take advantage of the opportunities around you within your environment. While these components might give you a basic idea of how the admissions officers at Stanford evaluate applications, a more focused look at how to prepare to apply for admission to Stanford is important. We will address the process and the steps that you can take throughout your high school years to improve your chances of being admitted.

Why does Stanford want students of good character?

Being of a good character is highly important both for your Stanford application and your life. During your high school years, take time to help others and to develop an understanding of what people go through. Having a good character can help your application because it will likely be reflected in the recommendation letters that your teachers submit. Stanford wants students who will positively contribute to the Stanford community, and having a good character is important. If you are interviewed, being polite and showing a good character can also leave a better impression on your interviewer.

If you dream of attending Stanford, you have chosen the most selective university in the U.S. Getting accepted will take a lot of dedication and hard work, but it is possible. Following the steps and recommendations in this guide for how to get into Stanford can help you to get closer to your goal.

How does Stanford’s application process work?

When you reach your senior year of high school, it will be time for you to apply to Stanford for admission. Hopefully, you will have achieved a high GPA and top scores on your ACT or SAT. By this time, you should also have been deeply involved in one or two interest areas outside of the classroom and have hopefully been ranked at the state or national level.

Stanford has two application processes available, including restrictive early action and regular decision. The restrictive early action application process may be appropriate if you have already earned the ACT or SAT scores that you need and know that Stanford is your top choice. When you apply through the restrictive early action application process, Stanford’s policy is that you may not also apply for another private university’s restrictive early action, early action, early decision, or early notification plan. If you do apply to Stanford through its restrictive early action plan, you will be allowed to apply to other private universities through their regular decision processes. Restrictive early action at Stanford is non-binding, which means that you will not be required to enroll at the school if you are admitted.

The regular decision process is Stanford’s traditional application process. This might be a better choice for you if your grades are improving or you need more time to retake the ACT or SAT. It is also a good choice if you are taking courses during your senior year that are much more rigorous than the courses that you took during your earlier years in high school.

What are Stanford’s application deadlines?

Regardless of which application process you choose, you must know the important deadlines and make certain that you submit your materials as soon as possible before you reach them. Stanford lists the following deadlines for the restrictive early action application process:

  • Oct. 15 – Application with an art portfolio
  • Nov. 1 – Standard restrictive early action application deadline
  • October – Last possible test date for the SAT
  • September – Last possible test date for the ACT

The school lists the following deadlines for the regular decision application process:

  • Dec. 1 – Deadline for an application with an art portfolio
  • Jan. 1 – Standard deadline for a regular decision application
  • December – Last acceptable SAT or ACT test date

If you apply through the restrictive action process, you will be notified of Stanford’s decision by Dec. 6. If you apply through the regular decision process, you will be notified by April 1. If you are accepted for admission, you will have to make your decision on whether to enroll by May 1.

When I apply to Stanford, do I have to apply to a specific degree program or school?

When you apply to Stanford, you apply to the university as a whole. You do not apply to a specific program or school and are not required to know what you would like to major in. However, you can list your intended degree if you know.

Should I apply to other schools if I only want to attend Stanford?

When you have a goal of attending a school that is as selective as Stanford, you should never only apply to that school. There are tens of thousands of applicants each year, and only around 4.5% are admitted. You should identify several schools that appeal to you while you are in high school and visit them. Narrow down your list, and identify which schools are reach schools and which are schools at which you will likely be admitted. By applying to several schools, you can still have a good institution to attend if your plans for attending Stanford do not work out.

How do I apply to Stanford?

To apply to Stanford as a freshman, you will need to complete the Common Application or the Coalition Application. You will also need to pay a nonrefundable fee of $90 or submit a request for a fee waiver. You must submit your ACT or SAT scores, but you are allowed to either self-report them or have them sent to the school. Your application file will also require a school report and a report from your guidance counselor, two teacher recommendations, official transcripts, and a mid-year transcript for your senior year by Feb. 15.

When you open the Common Application or Coalition Application and add Stanford to your list of universities, you will be given access to the Stanford questions. These are some additional questions that are specific to Stanford that you are required to answer as a part of your application. You will also need to choose one of the Common Application or Coalition Application essay prompts and write an essay about it. Stanford University has three Stanford-specific short essay questions, and you are required to answer all three of them.

When you complete your application, give yourself plenty of time to answer everything. Starting well before the deadline can give you time to have others review your essays and the rest of your application before you submit it. This can help you to avoid making mistakes or leaving important details out. After you are satisfied with your application, submit it before the deadline for the process that you have chosen. Listing degrees you are interested in pursuing will not lock you into them after you are admitted.

Can I appeal if I’m rejected by Stanford?

If your application for admission to Stanford is rejected, you should avoid being hard on yourself. Remember that thousands of qualified students who apply are rejected every year. Stanford does not allow you to appeal a rejection of your application for admission. If you are rejected, it is a good idea for you to move on and attend a different school that you like.

Can I reapply to Stanford if I’m rejected?

Stanford will allow you to reapply to the school after you have been rejected following a gap year. However, there is no guarantee that you will be accepted the next time, and it might make more sense to attend a different good university during that year instead.

Is Stanford an Ivy League school?

No, Stanford is not an Ivy League school? It is common for people to think that Stanford is an Ivy League school because of its selectivity and reputation for providing a world-class education. However, the Ivy League schools are a collection of eight highly selective schools that are located in the Northeast and include Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, Brown University, Cornell, and Dartmouth. While Stanford is not an Ivy League school, it is just as selective and provides an equal or superior education to its students.

The idea of getting accepted to Stanford might seem akin to winning the lottery. However, if you apply yourself throughout high school, are intellectually and academically gifted, and are willing to put in the hard work that it will take, you stand a better chance of being admitted to Stanford.

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