How to Get Into Stanford: Creating a Winning Application

stanford mug
June 7, 2024
9 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/23/24

Thinking about applying to Stanford? Let’s explore everything you need to know to get into Stanford University.

Stanford University is one of the world’s leading teaching and research institutions, located in Stanford, California. Occupying over 8,000 acres, Stanford is one of the largest campuses in the United States. The university was founded in 1891 by Leland and Jane Stanford in memory of their child, Leland Stanford Jr.

In the past century, the university has grown and flourished into seven successful schools. Three of these schools consist of 40 academic departments at undergraduate levels. The other four schools are centered around graduate programs regarding law, education, business, and medicine.

Stanford Acceptance Rate

Stanford University’s 2023 acceptance rate is 3.68%. A total of 56,378 prospective students applied to attend Stanford, and 2,075 applicants were admitted. 

Stanford acceptance rate compared to how many students Quad get's into the same school!

Stanford Yield Rate

Of the 2,075 admitted applicants,1,736 matriculated for a yield rate of 83.66%. Stanford University has one of the highest rates among universities, indicating that most accepted students choose to enroll. 

How Hard Is It to Get Into Stanford?

Stanford has one of the lowest college admissions rates in the country at just 3.68%. However, this doesn’t mean it is impossible to be admitted to the institution. Stanford emphasizes academic preparation as a vital part of its selection process

Stanford wants students who are thoughtful, engaged, and likely to make an impact at their institution. This is why it's so selective. Gaining acceptance to Stanford requires diligence, taking steps to find opportunities and resources, and working closely with school counselors.

Take our interactive quiz below to find out how likely you are to get into Stanford.

What Is Stanford University Looking for? 

While it’s always in your best interest to portray yourself as authentically as possible, tailoring your college application to include traits Stanford seeks can help you take your application to the next level. Try showcasing these traits in your application to better your chances of getting accepted to Stanford! 

Accomplishments Outside the Classroom 

Although demonstrating academic excellence is crucial to your success, Stanford is also interested in your activities outside the classroom. These activities can include: 

  • Community service
  • Part-time jobs
  • Internships
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Volunteer positions 

Being an active participant outside the classroom shows you’ve likely developed crucial skills that will serve you at Stanford and beyond, such as problem-solving abilities, teamwork, and critical thinking skills. Ensure your application documents show the breadth of your passions and activities! 

Students With the Ability to Take Charge 

Stanford highly values students who show the initiative to become leaders. Part of Stanford’s mission is “preparing students for lives of active citizenship.” 

If you’re a self-starter who creates your own opportunities, pursues experiences to hone your leadership skills, and is involved in the community, Stanford is looking for students like you! Try to share leadership experiences in your activities list and personal statement. 

Intellectual Curiosity 

While striving for academic excellence is a great first step, Stanford seeks students with a voracious appetite for learning and discovery. Stanford states that it has a culture of “interdisciplinary collaboration that drives discovery and innovation vital to our world.” 

Consider times you’ve gone above and beyond to research a topic you were interested in or thought of innovative solutions to solve problems. Ensure your zest for learning and discovery is almost tangible in your application documents! 

Stellar Personal Traits 

Stanford seeks students with strong moral compasses who will consider the ethical implications of innovation and advancement, whether it’s a new medical procedure or government policy. 

There are many traits you can demonstrate in your Stanford application; empathy, honesty, and diligence can take you a long way. Remember, Stanford wants to be sure that the students they admit will positively contribute to the incoming class and campus. 

Diverse Perspectives and Lived Experiences 

Stanford desires to “enroll a class of diverse backgrounds and experiences, talents, academic interests, and ways of viewing the world.” No matter what your background is, it’s worth sharing with the admissions committee! 

Use your personal statement and supplemental essays to delve into your identity, background, upbringing, and perspectives. A diverse class means more opportunities to discover and discuss new perspectives and ways of seeing the world; show Stanford what you can contribute!

When Does the Stanford Application Open? 

Stanford’s 2024 application will open sometime in mid-September. However, it’s crucial to ensure you meet Stanford’s requirements before you begin working on your application. We’ll review them in more detail below.

Stanford campus

Stanford Requirements

To get into Stanford University, students should aim for high SAT scores around 1550 or ACT scores around 35. Top applicants typically also have 3.96 GPAs. To stand out further, take rigorous AP or IB courses and show off your writing skills with compelling essays!  

Here’s a complete list of Stanford’s entrance requirements.

Stanford GPA Requirements

While academic excellence is crucial for admission to Stanford, Stanford’s GPA requirements are similar to other prestigious Ivy League colleges. Thanks to its holistic approach, there is no minimum GPA or test score needed to be granted admission to Stanford.

There is also no specific number of AP or honors courses required to be admitted to Stanford. This, however, does not mean that your grades and test scores are not important. Through your high school transcript, Stanford will evaluate your academic records and assess your college readiness

In fact, in 2023, Stanford’s average GPA is 3.96, meaning that you will likely need to be top of your class to be admitted into Stanford.

Stanford SAT and ACT Requirements

Different factors go into determining what qualifies as a good SAT score. The same is true for what makes a good ACT score. And while there isn’t a minimum required SAT or ACT score to be admitted, Stanford’s average SAT score is typically between 1500-1550, while its average ACT score is between 33-35. 

Stanford has extended its test-optional policy for the 2023-2024 admission cycle. Students can decide whether to take and submit their SAT or ACT scores for the admissions committee to review. 

We understand that preparing for the SAT and the ACT can be intimidating, but they don’t have to be. Check out our comprehensive guides on successfully acing the SAT or the ACT. By utilizing external tools like our guides, you are setting yourself up for success. 

Academic Preparation

Although Stanford doesn’t follow any numerical formula in the admissions process, nor does it have a required curriculum or set of high school courses, a solid high school transcript can tell admissions officers a lot about who you are as a student, peer, intellect, and individual. 

Academic preparation student

Stanford has provided a recommended high school curriculum for those students who are curious about what their admission team may consider a standout transcript. The recommended curriculum is as follows: 

  • English: Four years, with significant emphasis on writing and literature.
  • Mathematics: Four years, with significant emphasis on fundamental mathematical skills such as algebra, trigonometry, and plane, solid, and analytic geometry.
  • History/Social Studies: Three years or more.
  • Science: Three years or more of laboratory science, including biology, chemistry, and physics.
  • Foreign Language: Three or more years of the same foreign language.”

The purpose of this recommendation is to set potential students up for success at Stanford since the university believes that students who can excel in this kind of intensive curriculum will be well-suited for Stanford’s rigorous undergraduate curriculum. 

Stanford Essays

Essays are a vital part of any college application. Aside from transcripts, test scores, academic and extracurricular achievements, and personal information, this is your best chance to show admissions officers who you are and why you are a good fit in Stanford’s student community. 

It is for this reason that it’s vital you know how to write a strong admissions essay

Applicants are given free rein to discuss what drives them and what has shaped them into who they are. This is great insight for admissions officers, so this space should be taken seriously and reviewed carefully before submission. 

Stanford Essay Prompts 

In addition to the personal essay, students will be asked to answer short-form questions. Applicants must adhere to a 100-word minimum and a 250-word maximum for each prompt. 

With every Stanford University Regular Decision and Restrictive Early Action application, applicants are required to complete short personal essays on the following three topics:

1. “The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning.

Virtually all of Stanford's undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—get to know you better.

3. Please describe what aspects of your life experiences, interests and character would help you make a distinctive contribution as an undergraduate to Stanford University.” 

If you are a student applying as a transfer, in addition to the first prompt listed above, you will be asked to answer a second and third prompt as a part of your essay question. For the first part, you will choose between one of the two prompts (below) that you’d like to write about:

1. “Virtually all of Stanford's undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—get to know you better.”
2. “Stanford’s community is an essential part of the undergraduate experience. How do you define community and what contributions have you made to yours?” 

Additionally, you must answer one final prompt: 

“Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why.” 

If you are, indeed, looking to transfer colleges, check out our helpful article detailing all you need to know about writing a strong college transfer essay.

Each essay question allows applicants to explain why they would be a good fit for Stanford and what they could contribute to the community. It is extremely important for applicants to make sure they are communicating exactly what they want admissions officers to know when considering their applications. 

How to Write the Stanford Essays

Essays are arguably one of—if not the—most important aspects of Stanford’s application process. This is the only time that admissions officers get to hear your voice and get to know who you are. 

Stanford student studying

Your essays are where you can highlight your strengths, discuss your weaknesses, express your goals, share your passions, and consider your potential as a future Stanford undergraduate. 

This is the perfect opportunity to show admissions officers why you deserve to be a part of Stanford’s next incoming class. It is crucial that you prepare for these essays because they can make your application captivating and interesting. Consider the following while working on your Stanford application.

Practice, Practice, Practice

As silly as it may sound to “practice” writing an essay, it is necessary during the application process. There is a strict word limit that must be followed: for the Stanford questions, no more than 50 words, and for the short essays, no less than 100 words but no more than 250 words. 

Use tight, concise language to efficiently get your point across without wasting essay space on filler words or unnecessary phrasing. Answering the question to the best of your ability is what’s important. 

Make an Outline for Each Question

While outlines are typically used to structure long papers, they can be very useful when it comes to writing short essays. With an outline, you can map out your ideas and pinpoint what subjects you feel are most important and necessary to include. 

Having structure in your essays will also make it easier for admissions officers to follow and understand. As long as you are clear, concise, and direct about what you want to cover, your points and ideas will be easy to decipher and discuss.

Take Your Time

Even though your personal essays are required to be relatively short, it’s important to take time to think about your answers and what they will communicate to the admissions committee. Ask yourself, “What are the most important things that Stanford admissions officers need to know about me?” 

Students studying

After, make a list of the things you are sure you want to include in your essay responses. If you are unsure whether or not something should be included, don’t hesitate to ask your school counselor or an admissions consultant for their opinion - they help students every day with college applications! 

Proofread Your Essays

It’s in your best interest to have a second set of eyes proofread your essays prior to your final submission. Whether that be a counselor, teacher, or admissions consultant, it is always a good idea to get a different perspective from your own. 

Proofreading your essays also gives you the opportunity to strengthen, change, or reword your essay response. Plus, having someone edit your work will help you get an idea of how admissions officers will potentially perceive your answers.

Stanford Interview

During the freshman application process, Stanford offers an optional interview to some—but not all—applicants. This is an opportunity for Regular Decision and Restrictive Early Action applicants to sit down with a Stanford alum and engage in a meaningful conversation. 

These optional interviews are informal to encourage genuine and unique conversation. Because of this, there is no set list of questions

Stanford interview

If you are a potential student and did not get contacted for an interview, do not panic! Your application is still considered complete, and you will not be negatively affected by not being offered an interview. There are simply not enough Stanford alumni in each interview area to interview all applicants. 

Declining an interview will not negatively affect your application status, and you do not have to justify declining. This is, however, a fantastic opportunity to speak with Stanford alumni, make a great impression, and learn about Stanford.

How to Apply to Stanford

When applying to Stanford, you must first decide whether you are completing a Coalition Application or a Common Application. Though different, both applications are great options; both help potential students navigate their college application journey. Truly, there is no right or wrong choice!

After deciding the avenue through which you will apply, next you should familiarize yourself with Stanford’s list of application requirements, which includes: 

  • A $90 nonrefundable application fee
  • Potential students are also welcome to fill out a fee waiver request if they are deemed fit
  • ACT and SAT scores (if you decide to take them)
  • School report form 
  • Official transcripts
  • Counselor’s letter of recommendation
  • Letters of recommendation from two teachers
  • Midyear transcript 

Potential students may also submit an optional art portfolio to highlight any extraordinary talents regarding the arts. This, however, must be submitted by an earlier deadline.

If you are feeling a little lost or intimidated by the application process, consult with your school counselor! They are there to help and will be able to keep you on track.

Stanford Application Deadlines

One quality Stanford looks for in their future students is being organized; therefore, it is paramount that you know the deadlines for each part of your application

That being said, Stanford application deadlines do vary depending on the type of application, like, for example, Restrictive Early Action application or Standard Decision application. 

See the table below for a quick breakdown of Stanford’s application types and their different deadlines:

Type of Application Restrictive Early Action Deadline Regular Decision Deadline
Standard Application November 1st January 5th
Application with Arts Portfolio October 15th December 5th
Transfer Student Application
(with or without Arts Portfolio)
March 15th March 15th

Transfer applicants follow different deadlines. This is why it is important to know what kind of application you are submitting so you are sure that you are adhering to the correct deadlines regarding your application.

How to Improve Your Chances of Admission to Stanford University

You may still be wondering how to get into Stanford, and while being granted admission is no easy feat, it is not impossible. Here are some tips that can help you to get accepted to Stanford. 

General Tips 

In order to start potential students on the right track for their future application process to Stanford, the institution recommends for all candidates to:

  • Take advantage of the opportunities and resources available in high school
  • Work hard and achieve at a high level in a full complement of academic subjects throughout high school, including during the final year
  • Consult early on with a secondary school counselor

Remember to start the process early to have plenty of time to prepare! 

Find Extracurriculars You Are Passionate About in High School

While strong academics are an essential component of your application, Stanford admissions officers also want to see what you are like outside of school and as a person. Familiarize yourself with some of the more impressive extracurricular activities that Ivy League colleges are looking for.

Student playing basketball

Whether it is a club, organization, sport, charity, family responsibility, or a job, if it has helped shape you as a person, it is a great way for admissions officers to learn about you outside of academics. This can help them gauge whether or not you would be a good fit at Stanford. 

Do Your Research and Practice Writing for Your Admissions Essays

Since the word count in Stanford’s admissions essays can be limiting, it is a good idea to write and rewrite your essays several times. This way, you will be able to not only reflect on what you want to write about but edit your work so that your writing is concise and effective.

Thinking about your admissions essays as an incredible opportunity to show admissions officers what drives you, what you are passionate about, what you would like to accomplish, and how you would contribute to Stanford’s institution and community. 

Take Advantage of the Optional Interview

During the freshman application process, an optional interview may be offered to applicants if your high school is located in an interview area. The optional interview is an opportunity for applicants to have a conversation with a Stanford alumnus. 

It gives potential students the opportunity to learn more about Stanford and enables admissions officers to learn more about potential students. 

Acquire Your Letters of Recommendation Early

When asking for letters of recommendation, spend some time thinking about what teachers or faculty members had a significant impact on you during high school. 

Stanford application

Then, go about asking for letters of recommendation early to give your recommenders plenty of time to chat with you about what you are looking for in a letter. If possible, try to find a Stanford alum to provide you with a letter of recommendation; this is an excellent addition to your application!

Seek External Help

Applying to a school as prestigious as Stanford can be overwhelming! To maximize your chances, consider connecting with a professional consultant to help you make sense of the application process. Click here to find out more about our services!

Is Stanford Right for You? 

If you have an unabridged passion for learning and expanding your intellectual horizons, you could be a great candidate for applying to Stanford. Stanford values a passion for learning in its potential students. 

This is why Stanford’s Admission Office utilizes a fully holistic approach when reviewing students’ applications. Although academic success is a large criterion in the application process, Stanford values students with a passion for learning and those who will significantly impact Stanford’s campus and community. 

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