My Time on Campus: Stanford University
Stanford University is the most selective private college in the US as of the conclusion of this year’s admissions cycle. Less than five percent of the students who applied to Stanford were invited to become part of its Class of 2020. I had the privilege of visiting Stanford last year. I am reposting this piece to let incoming students feel good about their acceptance, and possibly feel good about why they turned down Harvard. I also wanted to help future applicants to compare both schools–Ed.
Stanford University was my “dream school” growing up in Central New Jersey. It had everything that I would never find at a college close to home: year-round sunshine, major college football and a gorgeous campus, not to mention fine academics.
I awaited my visit to Stanford with more eagerness than past visits to other schools, with the exception of an opportunity that I had to tour the car design studios at Art Center College of Design several years ago.
I made a Pinterest page, but I decided to take a different tack at reporting on my visit. It’s really silly to make a Report Card for Stanford. This school goes to extremes to be affordable and accommodate career and academic interests that few others can.
The academic programs, the campus, athletic successes and alumni of Stanford University have already been well documented by others. Students who are fortunate to gain admission can be confident that the school will meet their full financial need. Those who come from families that earn less than $125,000 will pay no tuition. Those who come from families that earn less than $60,000 will pay nothing for direct charges (tuition and fees, room and board).
Stanford expects all students to contribute at least $5,000 towards their education through part-time employment during the school year as well as savings from a summer job. Needless to say those students who get further in their education, especially in computer science (the most popular major) or engineering, will earn far more.
Is Stanford University the “Harvard of the West”? Perhaps.
Leland Stanford, founder of the University went to Charles Eliot, then president of Harvard, for advice on how to honor his late son, Leland Jr.,who had died of typhus at the age of 15. Eliot suggested that the railroad magnate (or “Robber Baron,” if you prefer), then a U.S Senator, establish a university. Stanford did precisely that, on more than 8,000 acres of land in Palo Alto. Two of the original conditions of the charter: the university could never leave the campus grounds, and it had to charge no tuition (which it did until 1920).
Harvard, of course, has a lot more history. It predated Stanford by 255 years. It has the larger endowment ($36 billion vs. $21 billion in FY 2014). It is also the larger undergraduate school (8,300 vs. 7,000). If you’ve taken a business course that used cases your professor was more likely to find them through Harvard.
These schools have similarities:
- Both practice Restrictive Early Action in their admissions policies; students who choose of these schools as a first choice cannot apply Early Action to another private school. Stanford gets a third of a freshman class through this practice.
- Both will meet a family’s full financial need.
- Nearly every undergraduate at either school lives on campus.
- Both border on downtowns with many student-oriented businesses for dining, drinking and shopping as well as businesses that have a “tech flavor” to them.
- Both supply talent to technology corridors that are important to the growth of the U.S. economy.
- Both are in immediate proximity to the venture capital community in their region.
- Both have a similar mix of graduate programs in arts and sciences, business, education and engineering as well as professional degrees in the design professions, law and medicine.
- Career services and connections are unsurpassed. You can make connections in San Francisco from Harvard just as easily as you can from Stanford, though you will need to take a plane or Skype on your computer to meet them. The same is true with the Stanford students and alumni who want to make connections in Harvard’s backyard.
- Virtually everyone who gets into either school returns for their sophomore year.
- And, of course, both schools are exceptionally difficult to get into. Applicants have a less than ten percent chance of getting into either school, even with the most stellar credentials.
And there are differences that go beyond geography and the physical appearances of the campuses.
- Harvard’s roots come from the ministry, one explanation of why the university has a divinity school.
- Stanford is the more STEM-driven school; it has offered engineering throughout its entire history while Harvard added it during this century. Of course, Harvard has shared its host city with MIT since 1916. Their students were welcome in MIT classes when Harvard did not have the same class available. They still are.
- Harvard has the higher four-year graduation rate for the class that entered in 2009 (87 percent vs. 76 percent) according to College Results Online. This might be because Stanford is the more STEM-driven school.
- Stanford also has a longer history with coeducation. It has admitted women since its founding in 1891. Harvard did not allow men and women (at Radcliffe College) to take classes together until 1943. It did not formally dissolve its women’s college until 1999.
- Stanford has a very large campus in one town while Harvard is spread through three (Allston, Boston and Cambridge) in a densely-packed urban center. If you don’t like city life, you might prefer Stanford. The closest large city to Stanford is San Jose, which actually has a larger population than Boston, though San Francisco is less than 40 miles away.
- Stanford competes in scholarship varsity sports at the highest (NCAA Division I) level while Harvard grants no athletic scholarships. Stanford regularly wins the Directors Cup as the top-performing athletic department in the varsity sports it plays. Athletes are likely to be a larger part of smaller freshman classes at Stanford. In addition, Stanford’s “Big Game” is against a state university (UC-Berkeley) while Harvard’s is against a private “peer” (a perception of those who did not go to Harvard), Yale. I would probably say that Stanford has the better athletes in the sports that both schools play, mainly because it can entice them with scholarships regardless of financial need.
- Stanford has Greek life. Harvard does not.
- Stanford operates on a quarter system, much like its sports rivals on the West Coast, while Harvard operates on a semester system. Stanford students take a three or four-course load. Engineering is a more brutal academic experience on a quarter system than a semester system.
- Stanford offers the option to apply to an undergraduate college in Earth Sciences, which includes various disciplines in science and engineering as well as degree programs in Architectural Design and Product Design. While Harvard offers engineering degrees, it is more of a liberal arts school than Stanford.
Of course the comparison means little if you get into only one of the schools, or if you miss on both of them. Those who get into only one will most likely go to that school. And if you have the chance to tour Stanford, take it. Save time to take the separate tour of the Engineering Quad, even if you have never been or never will become an engineer. The scientific heart of “Nerd Nation” will literally blow your mind!