Before you decide that you absolutely positively must attend Stanford, you need to get clear on why. “Because it’s Stanford!” is not a reason. While it’s impossible to characterize the entire school, we’ve spent years helping students apply (and get into) Stanford. Generally speaking, students who get into and thrive at Stanford have the following three qualities:
They truly enjoy the collaborative process
They have highly specific focuses
They are, and always have been, curious
Getting into Stanford is hard. And it’s kind of like building a house. You need the foundation before you can start adding the bells and whistles.
Perfect grades and perfect scores.
And we really do mean perfect. If you don’t have that, nothing else matters. We don’t say this to break your spirit, we say this to be realistic and hopefully help manage expectations. We’re often asked, is it better to get an A in a regular course or a B in an honors course? And, how can I get into X school with bad grades? But when it comes to Stanford, you need to be getting A’s in all of the hardest classes your school offers. And it’s relatively impossible to get into Stanford with bad grades. If you aren’t able to maintain perfect grades at a high school level, then Stanford isn’t the school for you. (By the way, there’s nothing wrong with that! There is no need to go to Stanford to be successful.) So before you move on to step two, know that without the grades and test scores, you’re Sisyphus pushing the rock.
An area (or two) of specialization.
Again, for the people in the back, this step only applies if you have all A’s in everything.
You have two areas of specialization and in those fields, you’ll need to go above and beyond in a way that shows you’re incredibly focused and dedicated. It is no longer the case that starting a little business will help you get into Stanford. But if you are more entrepreneurially inclined, you have to think big with your business. You need to scale. You need to be recognized. The more side-project type businesses won’t cut it. If you’re interested in engineering, you can’t just join the robotics club. You need to build something big and/or do research.
In recent years, it has been our experience that students with special interests in academically leaning fields have had the upper hand. So, if you’re taking all AP classes and want to show that you’re most interested in biology and/or chemistry, you’re also doing research with a professor AND doing summer programs at a college. You might be starting the club at your school. You’re bringing the club to other schools. You’re being recognized. If you’re interested in politics, you’re working on a campaign and again, doing political science research with a professor.
Community engagement (not community service)
Once more for the people who still aren’t with us: you need to have perfect grades and scores for this to matter. If you don’t have perfect grades ands scores, no amount of community engagement will matter. Onwards:
Let’s discuss the difference between community engagement and community service. We’ve written quite a few posts before on how community service often reads as privileged and disingenuous. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t do any community service, but we are saying that it’s not an effective strategy for getting into Stanford. More often than not, parents are financing that community service trip to build houses. Unless you’re planning, executing, and really making moves behind the scenes, community service is generally speaking not a great way to show off your personality or your interests. Stanford is interested in the bigger picture.
But back to community engagement. We’re all familiar with a variant of this question that’s asked on quite a few supplements: if you could change one thing about the world (or history), what would it be? Now, students often pick the most atrocious aspect of history they can think of and write a novel about what they would have done differently. That doesn’t work. You alone most likely couldn’t stop Hitler. And while this may seem like an unnecessary tangent, it’s not. We all wish horrible things didn’t happen in the past, and wouldn’t happen in the future. Talking and writing about how horrific slavery was doesn’t show an interest. Taking actionable steps in your OWN neighborhood RIGHT NOW shows a level of engagement and genuine interest. And that’s what we’re looking for.
So, be active in your community. Maybe you’re a member of student government or write for the local newspaper covering special interest stories. If you live in New York City, does your building recycle? It doesn’t have to be something huge. In fact, it definitely shouldn’t be something huge. Think of small ways that you can make your own community better. Start noticing where your neighborhood is falling short, or how you can help, and take steps towards trying to fix things. No one is expecting you to solve huge issues, but trying is a good place to start.
Getting into Stanford is hard, and this article is only the tip of the iceberg. If you need help, contact us here.