I’m sure you’ve read tons of material on picking a school that fits, but how can you be sure? Picking ‘the right’ school can be a terrifying decision, but now that you have Stanford as an option, rest assured that at this point, you’re probably only picking from some pretty stellar options. Whether Stanford already sticks out, or if you have to decide from a list of many top-notch institutions, read on to hear the musings of one very content junior who headed out West instead of elsewhere, and maybe you’ll get a better feel for Stanford’s fit for you.
First of all, check out these fotos. Wow.
As I’m peddling frantically to my classes three to nine minutes after they started, I still take a second to look around in amazement at how beautiful this place really is. Some of Stanford’s beauty may be constructed (those palm trees aren’t native, all that landscaping is sculpted daily), but nothing beats the foothill backdrop and oh-so-frequent blue skies.
People from warmer climes will complain about our “winter,” which consists of a few rainy days, maybe a week in a row, of soft, warm drizzling rain, in which you’ll have to wear a sweater and maybe a raincoat (I, however, never wear anything but my thong sandals), but I’m never “cold.” I’m from Chicago. Live there for a year and then see if you can complain about Stanford’s weather. The sun and warmth of this place have had an immeasurable positive effect on my mood; my only worry is that I’m going to get used to it and never be able to move back to real weather. I miss thunderstorms, and at rare times, the snow.
On to less superficial topics: academics. What do you want to study? No f’in clue? Me neither! I’m a junior wavering between CASA (Cultural and Social Anthropology) and IR (International Relations). The best part about Stanford is that if we’re not the best in a given department, we’re at least at the forefront of research, and the profs teaching you will be well-known in their fields. We are spoiled with our access to said professors. Although almost every Prof loves teaching undergraduates, their involvement is institutionally guaranteed. In Freshman and Sophomore seminars, you will be taught by name-brand famous profs who will learn your names – these seminars are numerous, but capped at 15 students. It’s not unusual that these classes forge career-long relationships, meaning you’ll have Nobel and other prize-winning profs behind you every step of the way, from choosing a major to designing an honors research project. I never actually took any of these seminars because I’m stupid and miss application deadlines like it’s my job, but this access to profs extends throughout your entire Stanford career. I had a one-on-one class I designed myself with a leading prof. I said what I wanted to learn, he suggested a new book a week, and I met with him in his living room to discuss. The access and opportunity here is incredible.
Research. The ability to take an original idea and apply it in the lab or in theory and prove or disprove it, gaining a grad-school application booster or international academic notoriety. It’s so easy, so incredibly easy to get funding for this sort of thing. I’m going to Yemen next year to study globalization and international ‘development,’ and I have friends who have studied the AIDS epidemic in India, worked with the South African parliament on rape legislation, made a documentary film on Togolese refugees in Ghana, designed a new synthetic chemical process in the lab, so on ad infinitum. You’re limited here only by your initiative.
Community Service and Student Activism. Stanford’s prospective material probably brags something along the lines of our “vibrant and diverse student activity community.” But they’re right. We have over 600 groups on campus and you can start your own with only 5 other interested members and a few papers to fill out. You’ll get funding, recognition by the administration, and student meeting space. Many of these groups appeal only to a specific group, and can be merely diversionary, such as the Stanford Gaming Society. Others express and celebrate some of our diverse student identities or activities, such as Middle Eastern Dance, Taiko, BLAQS: Black and Queer at Stanford.
The activism community has been where I’ve spent most of my extracurricular time, often to the detriment of my academic education, but integral to my life education. I’ve spent more of my time working in Six Degrees: A Stanford Journal of Human Rights. We publish a quarterly student-written journal as well as host or co-host events focused on raising awareness of critical or lesser known human rights issues across the globe. You can check out our atrociously outdated website here. I’ve been an active member of or have attended the events of SLAC: Student Labor Action Coalition, working to get a living wage for the thousands of workers currently paid and treated unfairly under Stanford’s whack labor policies; the anti-sweatshop campaign, which is working to get Stanford to have all its branded apparrel produced in factories that uphold human rights, labor, and environmental standards; STAND: Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, a very active, effective, and nationally-recognized chapter of the national campaign; SOSAS: Safe and Open Spaces at Stanford, an organization aimed at creating a positive campus environment for students who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, trangendered, or otherwise sexuality- or gender- queer; SAID: Stanford Association of International Development; and I’ll quit here because this section is getting too long. It’s so inspiring to see empowered students around me making change not only here but the world over.
Care about human rights, the environment, education policy, international development, or, well, anything? At Stanford you’ll find other students who care too, and an administration that (usually) will support your cause. If not, it’s so easy to start your own group. An outdated directory of student groups can be found here.
Student Social Scene. People ask me what’s the best part about going to Stanford and what I do with my free time. Outside of class and structured extracurriculars, getting to know my fellow students is by far one of the best parts about attending Stanford. I live with Olympians, published Sci Fi authors, international pianists, and more, and this is only in my house of 48. I’ve been known to stay up until the sunrise debating how the world can be changed, where the individual belongs in the decrepid modern era, or who we want to sleep with and how we should go about getting ‘er done, and it’s engaging and interesting enough that I might just have to skip class the next day and sleep instead. I’m a firm believer in the ‘residential education’ aspect of the Stanford setup, that we learn just as much, if not more, outside of our classes as we do in them.
For the clear-headed, Stanford is a fun place to be without much pressure to drink or otherwise. There are tons of alternatives to parties, but I have many a sober friend who attend and have fun anyway. Already a partier, or ready to get your drink on now that you’ve graduated from captain of the mathletes team? You’ll find formally organized parties almost every weekend, or just hardworking peers who are ready to let loose in less structured events most nights of the week. As a freshman, all-frosh dorms tend to be more fun and social than four-class dorms, but fun is to be had everywhere. Smoke a lot of dope or want to experiment? Stanford’s not incredibly stuck up, and some here have been known to partake as well. Want to drop acid, take e, snort some lines, or shoot up heroin? You may meet a few who will join you, but you’ll probably be too distracted by the millions of other things to do to even think of this. Best go elsewhere.
Speaking of elsewhere, Stanford likes to brag that, “San Francisco, which is less than an hour away from Stanford, offers an extraordinary array of cultural opportunities and beautiful sights, such as the Golden Gate Bridge.” While San Francisco is indeed a bomb city with tons to do, in my experience, most students don’t get there very often. It’s sort of far away, most people don’t have cars, the trains stop running before midnight, and there’s just so much to do on campus that the nightlife in San Fran is too distant and expensive to compete. I try to get there as much as I can, and you should too. It’s awesome.
Okay it’s getting late and I have a flight to catch back to school early tomorrow. Check back – I hope to write more, and I’m sure others will add, too. Reply to this post with questions. Try to avoid Facebook if you can. There will be plenty of time to actually get to know people later. Good luck with your choice. While college is always what you make of it and you’ll be great wherever you end up, I hope this blog helps you decide that Stanford’s definitely the place to be. I know I’m incredibly glad I decided to head West instead of elsewhere.