How to Get Into Stanford

How to Get Into Stanford

Getting into Stanford is difficult, to say the least. How can you stand out from the crowd and lock in a spot at this desirable college? Read on for our tips on what it takes to get into Stanford.

Stanford University is a very competitive university. Stanford ranked #1 on our list of the Most Desirable Schools. Stanford is also the top-ranked college in the state of California.

This means that a lot of students apply to Stanford University every year, which can make it challenging to get in. A lot of students hire college admissions consulting agencies to help them stand out from the crowd.

Stanford University, officially Leland Stanford Junior University, has long been considered as one the world’s most selective and competitive universities. Such is its selective admissions process that for Class 2026, more than 56,378 tried their luck but only 2,075 students were accepted—a 3.68% acceptance rate, so far the lowest in the school’s 138-year history!

No wonder then that, every year, thousands of high school students ask the question, “How can I get into Stanford University?” and even hire college admissions consulting agencies to increase their chances of acceptance.

Of course, attending Stanford University has its benefits including personalized attention, thanks to the 5:1 student-to-faculty ratio, as well as the emphasis on academic excellence and the school’s prestigious reputation. Enrolled students also benefit from the diverse academic programs offered including computer science, mathematics and statistics, and biological and biomedical sciences.

Even with the rigorous coursework, Stanford University’s 96% freshman retention rate speaks volumes of its students’ satisfaction with their overall college experience. The university is also known for its diverse body of admitted students. Stanford’s Class of 2026, consists mainly of Asians, whites, Hispanics, and African Americans, among other races, while female students outnumber male students.

Students who attend Stanford University also benefit from the excellent student support services! If you’re one of the brilliant few accepted, your admissions officer will likely be the first person who becomes the face, so to speak, of such excellence.

Stanford University offers services in non-remedial tutoring, day care, and job placement as well as health insurance and health services. Accepted students can also look forward to a safe campus with 24-hour patrols, lighted pathways, and controlled dormitory access, among others.

Stanford students also praise the university’s vibrant campus community and life. In fact, alcohol use is permitted among students of legal age, not to mention that there are numerous student-run clubs, fraternities and sororities, and organizations. Indeed, Stanford may be among the most selective schools, but it certainly knows how to party!

If you get into Stanford University, you will find that the university meets 100% of the financial aid needs of its students! Since Stanford is a private university, its total cost of attendance will likely be higher than in public universities with comparable education. With the 2023-2024 full-time undergraduate tuition at $20,577 per quarter, financial aid is a must for many students.

With that being said, here are the crucial things you must know about increasing your chances of being accepted into Stanford University.

Is it difficult to get into Stanford University?

Yes, it is, because the Stanford acceptance rate is below 4%! For the class of 2025, the acceptance rate was 3.95% and it decreased to 3.68% for the class of 2026. Indeed, even if Stanford University isn’t an Ivy League school, it has among the lowest acceptance rates even among Ivy League schools like Cornell University (6.9%), Columbia University (3.73%), Brown University (5%); all figures are for Class 2026. Only Harvard University (3.19%) has a lower acceptance rate.

What does Stanford University’s holistic admission process mean?

Every tip in how to get into Stanford is underlined by the underlying principle of holistic admission. Basically, every prospective Stanford student is evaluated based on their unique set of academic background, life experiences, and intellectual performance and potential, among other factors.

Think of it in the words of Aristotle, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” and you will realize that, indeed, getting accepted into Stanford isn’t just one thing—it’s the entirety of your application!

According to Stanford, every piece of documentation submitted as part of your application packet will be “reviewed as part of an integrated and comprehensive whole”. By reviewing your application documents in a holistic admissions process, its admissions officers seek to understand your potential personal growth in and contributions to the larger Stanford community, too.

For example, your academic records will tell the admissions officers about your high school career and academic achievements while your personal essay demonstrates your interests and ideas, even your special circumstances (i.e., significant challenges in life). Your letters of recommendation will tell them about your intellectual contributions and potential, as well as your personal character traits. Taken together, the admissions officers will have a better picture of who you are as a whole person.

Stanford’s admissions officers also consider your demonstrated interest in being accepted, although it isn’t among the primary factors. If you truly want to get into Stanford, you should attend campus tours and information sessions, as well as communicating with admissions representatives.

Above all else, Stanford values students with academic excellence stamped, so to speak, all over their application documents! Indeed, academic excellence is its primary criterion and academic records, particularly your official high school transcripts, are its main basis for reviewing academic excellence.

But contrary to popular notion, Stanford University actually doesn’t have specific numbers for standardized test scores, grade point average (GPA), and Advanced Placement grades, among other quantitative measures of performance! Instead, there are curriculum guidelines that high school students interested in getting into Stanford should be aware of.

The primary criteria that Stanford uses in its admissions review is intellectual vitality. Stanford’s admissions officers look for a prospective student’s genuine interest combined with a strong commitment to intellectual pursuits. Such keen enthusiasm and curiosity for intellectual pursuits must be demonstrated in diverse settings, too, from the dinner table to formal conventions, from the athletic field to the world stage.

Extracurricular activities and other non-academic pursuits are also considered an integral part of your personal growth and potential. Again, passion, commitment, and excellence are valued traits even in these aspects!

Even if you’re a member of several student clubs and organizations, perhaps a few community organizations, but you’re not much of an active participant, then these likely won’t be seen in a positive light. Instead, Stanford values students whose leadership skills made a positive impact on their schools, groups and/or communities—quality of impact over quantity of membership, so to speak.

Bottom line: Stanford’s holistic admissions process not only ensures that the best and brightest are accepted—more importantly, the students accepted are deemed the best fit for Stanford’s values! With an impressive yield rate of 83.66% for the Class of 2026, Stanford is, indeed, on the right path in this regard.

In the following three sections, we will take a closer look at how these aspects—academic excellence and preparedness, intellectual vitality, and extracurricular activities—increase your chances of getting accepted into Stanford University.

Back to Top

What are the recommended academic preparations to increase your chances of admission?

Knowing how to get into Stanford is very different from preparing to get into Stanford. Academic preparedness is the foundation upon which a successful college application rests on, and it applies to selective and competitive colleges and universities like Stanford.

During your high school years, you should consider taking these steps so that your academic records and other application documents demonstrate your academic excellence and preparedness.

Follow a Challenging Curriculum

Get exceptional grades in a challenging curriculum, preferably with guidance from your teachers, academic advisors or mentors, and parents, which will prepare you for the rigors of the world-class education you will receive at Stanford University.

Note that Stanford doesn’t have a required curriculum that will guarantee admission either, meaning traditional high school graduates, home-schooled applicants, and transfer applicants are on equal footing, curriculum-wise. But Stanford also looks favorably on applicants who have successfully completed the following curriculum during high school:

  • Four years of English courses with significant focus on literature and writing skills
  • Four years of challenging mathematics courses, particularly in geometry, algebra, and trigonometry; preference is given for advanced math courses like statistics and calculus
  • At least three years of courses in history and social studies with emphasis on essay writing skills
  • At least three years of science courses, such as in computer sciences, biology, human anatomy, physics and chemistry
  • < li>At least three years in world languages

Of course, Stanford strongly encourages flexibility in your high school curriculum because it demonstrates independent and creative thinking. But the recommended curriculum mentioned above is considered the best academic preparation for Stanford.

You should also consider taking about five courses every semester during your high school career, from freshman to senior year. Doing so demonstrates your ability to balance excellent academics with extracurricular activities, too.

Take challenging courses beyond the high school curriculum.

With academic excellence being the primary criterion for admission into Stanford, it’s understandable that applicants with excellent grades and competitive GPAs are preferred. You can demonstrate the desired trait by taking on challenging courses that signify your preparedness for college!

Think Advanced Placement and IB classes, as well as A-level, accelerated, or honors classes. Applicants with AP classes and scores can self-report them as additional information on their Stanford application.

The guidelines are different for students in IB Diploma programs and in the British education system. Their predicted grades or GCSE results, respectively, must be submitted by a school official to Stanford.

But it must also be emphasized that getting exceptional grades in these advanced courses doesn’t guarantee admission into Stanford either! Stanford students aren’t just known for their academic excellence but also for their genuine enthusiasm for learning and for making a positive impact on others and their communities.

Again, there’s no specific minimum GPA required for admission into Stanford! But based on the average GPAs of enrolled students, applicants are well-advised to have at least 3.96 GPA—or in other words, straight As! Your class rank will also be considered in the review.

What can you do if your GPA is lower but you still want to be a Stanford student? Do your best in the standardized test examinations! You can compensate with higher SAT or ACT scores. You may also want to consult with a local college admissions consultant to increase your chances of acceptance.

As for course prerequisites that you can pursue in high school to become accepted into a specific degree program at Stanford University, there are none. If you’re accepted into Stanford, you’re accepted into the university as a whole instead of into a specific degree program. You can indicate your preferred major in the application but you can change your mind or stick to it during the enrollment process (i.e., no-obligation provision).

What about high-achieving high school students who finish their secondary education early—do they have preference in their applications for Stanford? Not necessarily. Stanford’s admissions officers consider every applicant’s unique academic journey in a holistic manner, meaning there’s no single academic pathway that will guarantee admission.

How can you demonstrate intellectual vitality?

The term “intellectual vitality” is closely associated with Stanford’s admission process and among the traits that Stanford looks for in their students. Indeed, being able to demonstrate your intellectual vitality is crucial in your success, not just in the Stanford application process but as a Stanford student!

In a way, intellectual vitality is also useful in overcoming the so-called Stanford duck syndrome! The term “Stanford duck syndrome” suggests that students appear calm, composed, and collected but are actually struggling to meet the university’s challenging academic standards.

Think of a duck gliding smoothly on water while its webbed feet are paddling furiously underneath to stay afloat and you get the idea of Stanford ducks/students. By tapping into their keen enthusiasm and deep passion for their chosen field of interest, Stanford students can overcome the duck syndrome.

What does intellectual vitality mean in the first place? It refers to the intellectual curiosity that drives innovative and creative thinking. Stanford students are strongly encouraged to think outside the box, consider unorthodox ideas, and create novel solutions to complex issues, whether in their research projects or in their daily life. With the contemporary world being ever-changing, innovative and creative thinking contributes to success in and out of the classroom.

It also refers to demonstrated leadership skills that are valuable in creating change and leading the charge. Stanford values students with a passion for making a positive impact and being a motivated leader is part of it.

Intellectual vitality also means the ability and willingness to foster an environment of diversity and inclusivity. Indeed, Stanford values diversity in its student and faculty body because of its positive impact on creative problem-solving and inclusive decision-making for addressing complex issues.

Students are also valued for their non-academic achievements that develop their soft skills including collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. Stanford looks for a commitment to ethics and values like integrity, honesty, and credibility, which are crucial in the continued growth of the Stanford community, as well as personal growth among students.

You can demonstrate your intellectual vitality in many ways on your Stanford application, too!

  • Your personal essay is an excellent opportunity to highlight your intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm. You should choose topics that showcase your experiences and interests, your motivation for excellence, and your perspectives. You can also highlight specific projects, experiences. and awards that contributed to your robust intellectual vitality.
  • Your letters of recommendation can also be used as a platform to highlight your academic performance and potential, as well as your passion for learning. You may want to discuss the contents of your letters of recommendation with your teachers or advisors for this purpose, but keep in mind that whatever they write is beyond your control.
  • You must also take advantage of your interview, if any, with Stanford’s admissions representatives! You will have the opportunity to discuss your intellectual vitality, engage in meaningful discussions, and mention media materials (e.g., journals, documentaries, and podcasts) that strengthened your passion for learning.

But don’t try too hard to impress either! With their years of experience and keen sense of observation, Stanford’s admission officers can see whether you’re being genuine in your answers. Your academic records and writing ability must complement your oral communication skills, too, because of the holistic way that Stanford evaluates its applicants.

Back to Top

What are the best ways to leverage extracurricular activities in Your Stanford application?

Being a well-rounded student means achieving academic excellence and enjoying extracurricular activities. After all, all work and no play makes for a dull person! For this reason, during your high school years, you must engage in meaningful extracurricular activities not only because you want to gain acceptance into Stanford but also because you want to enjoy life.

But don’t let your youth be wasted in the pursuit of Stanford glory either. If you’re accepted into Stanford, you will also find that Stanford students know how to have fun!

Did you know that there are more than 600 student organizations in Stanford? There’s one for every specific interest you have—academics, athletic endeavors, artistic pursuits, religious aspirations, cultural and social advocacy, and political causes. Just name it, Stanford likely has it—and if it doesn’t, you are welcome to create your own.

Here are the best ways that you can leverage extracurricular activities to boost your chances of being accepted into Stanford.

  • Choose quality over quantity. Your active participation and notable achievements—better yet, your leadership roles—in a few extracurricular activities are better than mere membership in several activities. Your extracurricular activities should ideally be aligned with your interests instead of being on your personal essay for show only.
  • Tip: Consider so-called Tier 1 activities that contribute to your standout status in Stanford’s competitive application process. Examples include national and international competitions in your field of interest (e.g., debate championships, math olympiads, science fairs) and publication of independent research projects in academic journals.
  • Highlight your commitment to whatever you set your heart to by participating in your selected extracurricular activities for an extended period. When combined with your demonstrated leadership skills, your long-term involvement demonstrates the strength of your will in pursuing goals despite the challenges.
  • Cite the awards and other achievements earned during extracurricular activities and their impact on your personal growth. Mention your initiative, too, in starting new projects or programs because admissions officers see change drivers as potential Stanford students.

What types of extracurricular activities can showcase your potential as a Stanford student? Think of your passion projects, community service involvement, and entrepreneurial ventures, as well as your participation in selective summer programs, internship experiences, and athletic and/or artistic pursuits. Again, the emphasis is on a well-rounded set of extracurricular activities that the admissions committee will appreciate.

Back to Top

What are the required application components at Stanford University?

The next step in knowing how to get into Stanford is reliable information about the required application components that the selective university requires from its prospective students. Keep in mind that with 56,000+ Stanford application packets received every year, it’s important to follow instructions to the letter!

Otherwise, your participation in Stanford’s college application process may end even before you have the opportunity to impress an admission officer. While Stanford notifies applicants of missing documents, it’s best to comply with the required application components from the first get-go—it demonstrates initiative, commitment, and competence.

The following are the required application documents for first-year applicants (i.e., high school graduates entering college as freshmen):

  • Common Application (The application means you’re applying to Stanford University as a whole, not to a specific school, department, or program)
  • $90 nonrefundable application fee (Fee waivers are available)
  • ACT or SAT test scores (Stanford is currently test optional)
  • School Report form and letter of recommendation from counselor
  • Official transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation from two teachers
  • Midyear transcripts (These are due by February 15, meaning high school students must plan ahead in securing them)

Home-schooled students can also get into Stanford and are also subject to the same admissions criteria as all other students. The Common Application must also be used in applying to Stanford.

There are a few additional guidelines that home-schooled applicants must be aware of when preparing their Stanford application packet. First, a high school diploma or equivalent is a must, and it must be recognized by your state as legitimate. Without a valid high school diploma, a home-schooled student cannot start classes at Stanford.

Second, a detailed description of the high school curriculum undertaken must be submitted along with the official transcripts. Stanford doesn’t require compliance with specific home-schooling programs, but its admissions officers look for challenging coursework in math and sciences, social studies and humanities, and languages. Admissions officers also want to understand the reasons behind the home-schooling decision, the learning process itself, and the benefits enjoyed from the alternative education.

Third, three letters of recommendation are required from home-schooled applicants. Two of these letters must be from teachers while the third letter must be from a secondary school counselor.

A parent may write a letter of recommendation in lieu of a secondary school counselor, but Stanford prefers an instructor-written letter, apparently because it’s more objective. External instructors whose letters of recommendation are accepted include community college professors and licensed teachers.

Fourth, home-schooled applicants can also submit their Advanced Placement (AP), SAT Subject Test, and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) exam scores. These will be considered as a measure of academic excellence and preparedness for the rigors of a Stanford education.

Transfer students can also get into Stanford although the Stanford application process is different for them because of their transferable credits. The required application components are:

  • Common Application
  • $90 nonrefundable application fee (Fee waivers are available)
  • ACT or SAT test scores (Currently testing optional)
  • Official high school transcript with date of graduation indicated (Equivalent documents may be submitted)
  • Official transcripts from every college or university previously attended
  • College Report (This form is provided by Stanford and must be completed by a school official either at your most recently attended college or current college)
  • Two letters of recommendation from academic instructors

If you’re absolutely sure about your decision, you must be aware of the Stanford application deadlines and plan accordingly. Keep in mind that securing many of the required application documents requires time, mainly because of external circumstances. Getting official high school transcripts, for example, can take between a few days to a few weeks depending on the school—and don’t forget the mailing times, too.

The Common Application deadline is 11:59 PM in your local timezone. Whether you have an optional arts portfolio or not, your application must be in by March 15.

Stanford sends notifications of missing documents by April and releases its acceptance decision by mid-May. Accepted students must reply by June 1.

Back to Top

What are the application essay standards at Stanford University?

Stanford places a premium on writing skills among its students and, thus, it’s no wonder that the quality of your personal essay is an integral criterion in the admissions review process. You may want to polish your written communication skills, write and rewrite your personal essay, and allow teachers, mentors, and parents to check your work (i.e., objective feedback).

Applicants to Stanford must actually write two personal essays—the first is based on the essay prompts provided in the Common Application and the second is based on the Stanford Questions. The Stanford Questions can be accessed and submitted via the Common Application, too—just add Stanford University to your preferred list of schools and these will be shown.

Keep in mind that, in both sets of essay prompts, there are no right or wrong answers because there are no two Stanford students alike! Your writing skills matter just as much as your genuine voice when answering the essay prompts. Your answers must also be aligned with your academic goals, personal interests, and career aspirations, too.

The current Stanford Questions consist of several short questions with a 50-word limit on each question and three short essay questions with a word count between 100 and 250 words each. These three essay prompts are:

  • What are the ideas or experiences that make you genuinely keen on learning?
  • What will you say to your future roommate (i.e., a written note) that will help them get to know you more? (The question is in acknowledgement of the fact that nearly all of Stanford’s undergraduates live in on-campus accommodations)
  • What aspects of your life experiences, character and interests will be useful in your distinctive contributions to Stanford University during your undergraduate studies?

Now that you know these essay prompts, you should start writing your answers! Of course, your answers will change as you gain more insights into your interests, traits and aspirations before you must submit your Common Application form with your personal essay. Be sure to check for spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors, too, since your conscientiousness in these areas demonstrate your pursuit of excellence, too.

Back to Top

What is the current policy on standardized test scores?

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, applicants for the 2023-2024 application cycle aren’t required to submit test scores (i.e., test optional). The policy on submission of scores for standardized tests for future application cycles hasn’t been decided on as of this writing.

But in a typical year, high test scores demonstrate academic preparedness among Stanford undergraduate applicants. Just as it is for grades and GPAs, Stanford doesn’t have minimum test scores for either the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or the American College Testing (ACT), and there are also no high test scores that will guarantee admission. This is the official stand of Stanford on its admissions website.

But since it’s a selective university with a holistic admissions process and based on past acceptance trends, we can safely conclude a few SAT/ACT-related statements. The average SAT score for admission into Stanford is 1510 but it can be as low as 1460 and as high as 1600. The minimum recommended ACT score for increased chances of Stanford admission is 33.

If you feel that your GPA isn’t a strong indicator of your excellent academic performance and potential, you should aim for high test scores in either of these standardized tests.

Since Stanford University has a test optional policy in place, first-year and transfer students who won’t submit standardized test scores will not be at a disadvantage. But if you want to submit test scores—Stanford will only accept either SAT or ACT scores, not both standardized tests—be sure to report your highest scores or request for your official scores to be sent to the university. Either way, Stanford’s admissions officers will review your application using its holistic acceptance process.

Be honest about your self-reported standardized test scores! Stanford can revoke an offer of admission in case there’s a discrepancy between your self-reported test scores and the official test scores. This is obvious because Stanford values students with a strong sense of ethics, integrity, and honesty.

The deadlines for testing vary depending on which standardized test scores you’re planning on self-reporting and your choice of application date. For the ACT, the last acceptable test date is September for restrictive early action and December for regular decision. For the SAT, the last acceptable test date is October for restrictive early action and December for regular decision.

Be sure to take either of these standardized tests at least a few months before the Stanford application deadlines. Stanford’s admissions officers will not postpone the review of applications for the arrival of standardized test scores.

However, Stanford will superscore test results! For ACT scores, the subscores will be reviewed and the highest composite will be considered. For the SAT scores, the highest individual scores on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math parts will be superscored from all sittings.

What are The important things to remember about transcripts and other school forms for submission?

Since Stanford uses official high school transcripts, the School Report form, and the letters of recommendation in their holistic evaluation of applications, you must exercise diligence in their completeness and accuracy. Here are things that you must remember in this regard.

  • The official transcripts (Grades 9-12) and their equivalent documents, such as IB Diploma or A-level results, must be sent directly to Stanford University from the school. (Transcripts sent by applicants aren’t accepted)
  • A high school diploma or its equivalent is also mandatory for accepted students to start their classes at Stanford.
  • The School Report Form and Counselor Recommendation Form, which are in the Common Application, must be completed by your high school counselor or similar school official. The Counselor Recommendation Form also includes a letter of recommendation.
  • The letters of recommendation issued by two teachers is also a must. Stanford strongly suggests getting letters of recommendation from either your Grade 11 or Grade 12 teachers in math, science, English, history or social studies, and/or foreign languages. If you have taken advanced courses, a letter of recommendation from your Grade 10 teacher will be accepted.

Tip: If you have another person whose insights into your unique personal interests and academic goals can be useful in your application, you can include their letter of recommendation in your Stanford application. You should assign them as “Other Recommender” to facilitate the process of transferring their letter of recommendation to your application file.

Stanford recommends the use of the Common Application forms in the submission of the required application documents since it’s the most efficient manner. But school personnel may also send your application materials with the appropriate attachments to the address. Be sure to check your application checklist for lacking documents, too, and follow-up with the concerned high school officials.

If you’re applying to Stanford in hopes of getting accepted into one of its prestigious arts programs, you should consider submitting an arts portfolio. You should highlight your achievements including awards at the state, national, and global levels to stand out. Stanford allows submission of an arts portfolio in one of four areas—Theater and Performance Studies, Dance, Music, or Art Practice.

Back to Top

What’s the deal with the interview?

Stanford doesn’t require first-year applicants to undergo an interview—it’s optional for both regular decision and restrictive early action applicants. The interview is a two-way street, too, between the applicant and Stanford.

On one hand, Stanford alumni and admissions officers can engage in meaningful discussions with you and, in the process, get to know more about your interests, achievements, and aspirations. On the other hand, you will gain insights into the Stanford community and campus life, its academic expectations, and its support services, among others. Your insights will be valuable in deciding whether being a Stanford student is, indeed, the best fit for you or not.

But you don’t have to stress yourself about it either! Your application will be reviewed by the admissions committee—of course, your application packet must be complete and accurate—even without an interview.

There’s also the matter of availability of a local Stanford alumni who has been trained in the interview process. In fact, you cannot request an interview for this reason! You will only be sent an invitation for an interview based on said availability in the area where your high school is located, not on the strength or weakness of your application.

The schedules for the optional interview also vary depending on whether you’re a restrictive early action or a regular decision applicant. For the former, the interviews fall in the first few weeks of November. For the latter, these are from early January to mid-February.

Note that there are no interviews conducted on the Stanford campus. Instead, Stanford alumni interviewers can choose between in-person and virtual interviews. In-person interviews must be conducted in a public place while virtual interviews are made over a videoconferencing platform, such as Google Meet or Zoom.

Applicants can also decline an invitation for an interview without putting their chances of acceptance at risk! You don’t even have to state your reasons for declining the invitation, but you must communicate your decision to the Stanford alumni interviewer promptly.

Let’s assume that your goal to gain acceptance into Stanford has been achieved—what now? After all that hard work, you should consider following through by completing the Stanford admissions process!

But we must also point out that while Stanford is a prestigious school, it isn’t for everyone—you must decide whether it’s the best school for you, and it’s a responsibility that falls squarely on your shoulders. But that’s for another article.

Check out the College Admissions Process Guide for additional tips on finding, applying to, and getting into the college of your choice.

See our Resources Guide for much more on studying, starting your job search, and more.

Photo Credit: By LPS.1, Public Domain, licensed through CC0 1.0.

Do you have a question about this topic? Ask it here