How to Get Into Stanford: All You Need to Know

Friday, August 12, 2022

While Stanford may not technically be part of the Ivy League, the school’s academic caliber—not to mention its competitive admissions process—rivals that of Harvard and Yale. Many students are eager to enroll in the top-tier university, which has a wide array of renowned programs including engineering and environmental science.

Although earning admission at Stanford University is challenging, there are a few steps applicants can take to set themselves up for success. Keep reading to learn more about how you can set your application apart.

How to Get Into Stanford University: Table of Contents

  1. When to Apply to Stanford University
  2. How Hard Is It to Get Into Stanford: Early Prep 
  3. How Do You Actually Get Into Stanford: The Application
  4. Class Profile
  5. What Makes Stanford University Unique?

When to Apply to Stanford University

If you’re looking to gain admission to Stanford University, it’s important to understand the application timeline. Most applicants apply to Stanford during their senior year of high school, but those that are offered admission begin preparing to apply years earlier. Some students may choose to apply to transfer to Stanford University after completing a few semesters at another college. Finally, some applicants will apply to the university for graduate programs, such as an MBA program, law school, or medical school. 

Stanford Deadlines

For first-year, freshmen applicants, there are two different admissions timelines to choose from: regular decision and restrictive early action. The timelines for each are as follows:

Restricted Early ActionRegular
Application with Arts PortfolioOctober 15December 5
Materials for Arts PortfolioOctober 20December 10
Standard Application DeadlineNovember 1January 5
Last Acceptable SAT Test DateOctoberDecember
Last Acceptable ACT Test DateSeptember December
Notification of Missing DocumentsMid-NovemberMid-February
Decision Released ByDecember 15April 1
Student Reply DateMay 2May 2


The admissions timeline varies for transfer applicants. Here are the key dates to know: 

Application with or without optional Arts Portfolio DeadlineMarch 15
Materials for Arts Portfolio DeadlineMarch 20
Last Acceptable SAT Test DateDecember
Last Acceptable ACT Test DateFebruary
Notification of Missing DocumentsApril
Decision Released ByMay 15
Student Reply DateJune 1


Early, Rolling and Regular Decision

As students enter high school, they may start hearing about different application processes, such as early action vs rolling admission. While much of the application process will be  similar regardless of your timeline, it’s important to understand the distinct differences between early, rolling, and regular decision admissions options. 

There are two different forms of early admissions: early action and early decision. The key differentiator between the two is that early decision is binding, meaning that if a student applies to a college early decision and they are accepted, they must enroll. Meanwhile, early action is not binding. Also, Stanford offers restrictive early action (RA), which stipulates that students cannot apply to any other private college through an early admissions program. Generally speaking, most early decision and early action deadlines are in the beginning of November, with decisions released approximately one month later in early-to-mid December

In contrast, rolling admissions do not follow a strict deadline. Most schools that offer a rolling admissions (RA) option accept applicants from September through May. It is best to submit your application as early as possible because RA schools only accept students until they reach their enrollment capacity. Stanford University does not offer rolling admissions. 

Finally, universities offer a regular round admissions option. Students who apply via the regular round generally need to submit their applications by early January and they learn of their admissions results in April. Stanford University does offer a regular round admissions option.

Waitlisted Applications

Given how competitive it is to get into the university, it’s not surprising that Stanford usually waitlists a portion of its applicants. The waitlist is composed of exceptionally strong and distinguished applicants; the college just simply doesn’t have enough room to admit every single qualified student that applies. Waitlisted students find out that they have been waitlisted when Stanford releases its regular decision results. They have the option to choose whether they wish to remain on the waitlist. It’s important to note that admissions waitlists are not ranked; instead, Stanford admits students off the waitlist according to institutional needs and to ensure that the upcoming class is balanced. 

Students who apply restrictive early action, cannot be waitlisted but they may be deferred. A deferral admission result means that a student’s application is moved to further consideration during the regular decision application review. Deferred students must wait until regular decisions are released to learn of their admission result. Many students want to know what to do if they have been deferred. The first step is to determine whether or not Stanford University is still your first choice college. If so, it’s important to find out what materials the school needs from you, if any (such as an updated transcript), and send them out as soon as possible.

How Hard Is It to Get Into Stanford: Early Prep

Stanford University is one of the most prestigious colleges in the country. Every year, thousands of students apply and only a small percentage of them are offered a seat in Stanford’s incoming class. While admission to Stanford is notoriously competitive, students can increase their chances of admission by preparing well in advance and doing their research to become experts on the school. 

Build Your Profile

Like most colleges, Stanford University uses a holistic review process to evaluate applicants. This means that each piece of an application is part of an integrated and comprehensive whole. The primary criteria for admission is academic excellence, meaning Stanford is looking for students who challenge themselves, demonstrate intellectual curiosity, and are committed to expanding their horizons. According to the university’s website, a student’s high school transcript is the most important credential that they use to evaluate an applicant’s academic history. 

In addition to academic excellence, the school names extracurricular activities as another important consideration in its admissions process. The Stanford website notes: “an exceptional depth of experience in one or two activities may demonstrate your passion more than minimal participation in five or six clubs. You may also hold down a job or have family responsibilities. These are as important as any other extracurricular activity.”

Visit the Campus and a Class

If you’re eager to attend, visiting the Stanford campus is a smart move. Registering for a campus tour is a powerful way to familiarize yourself with the school. If possible, see if you can sit in on a class to get a taste of the lecture and/or discussion experience. It can also be beneficial to follow the school on social media so that you can stay updated on events happening on campus.

Connect With a Student

In addition to touring the campus, it can be helpful to get a student’s perspective on their experience at Stanford University. If you have any friends or acquaintances that are currently enrolled, don’t hesitate to reach out to get your burning questions answered. You may also reach out to the admissions office and ask them to put you in touch with a current student with similar interests.

How Do You Actually Get Into Stanford: The Application

Unfortunately, there’s no secret formula for how to get into Stanford University. However, there are a few key qualities that admissions officers look for when reviewing applications. Here’s how you can set yourself apart:

GPA Requirements

Stanford University doesn’t have a required high school GPA for admission. However, academic excellence carries the most weight in the Stanford admissions process. Over 75% of students who gain admission to Stanford have 4.0 GPAs. In addition to striving for near-perfect grades, it’s important to challenge yourself by taking advanced and rigorous courses if they are available to you at your school. 

SAT and ACT Scores

Much like GPAs, there’s no minimum SAT or ACT score that you must achieve to apply to Stanford. However, over 96% of students admitted scored between 30 and 36 on the ACT and roughly 90% scored between 700 and 800 on each section of the SAT. The best thing you can do to do well on the SAT or ACT is begin test prep many months ahead of your testing date through self-study, tutoring, and/or practice exams. 

Personal Statement

The personal statement is an opportunity to demonstrate both your writing skills and the qualities that set you apart from other applicants. Students can choose from a handful of different essay prompts and will write an essay that is between 250 and 650 words long. Instead of worrying about what you “should” sound like, it’s best to focus on letting your authentic voice and unique personality shine through. 


In addition to the Common App essay prompts, there are three Stanford University supplemental essay questions the admissions officers use to learn more about your interests and the role you would play on campus. Each response must be between 100 and 250 words. In each response, make sure your passion for attending the college shines through by referencing specific details like classes you wish to take and professors that you would be excited to study with. 

Letters of Recommendation

Stanford University asks for two letters of recommendation from teachers. Teacher recommendations should highlight your love of learning and the impact you have on the classroom. Since most teachers will get an influx of requests for letters of recommendation, aim to ask your instructors by the end of your junior year so that they have plenty of time to draft their responses. Stanford also allows an optional letter of recommendation from another source of your choice. As a third letter is not required, you should only submit one if you have someone who can provide a level of insight not seen elsewhere in your application. Don’t forget to give your recommenders a copy of your resume and a few talking points that outline your achievements to help them get started.

Admission Interviews

Applicants also have the opportunity to participate in Stanford’s optional admissions interviews with recent alumni. These interviews are informational, rather than evaluative, allowing applicants to demonstrate their interest in attending the college. Make sure to practice responding to various interview prompts and come prepared with your own list of questions for your Stanford alumni interviewer.  

Contribution to the Stanford Community

Stanford University admissions officers are eager to admit applicants who will make a lasting impact on the Stanford community. Throughout every component of your application process, including supplemental essays and admissions interviews, make sure to highlight your goals and the role you would take on once enrolled at Stanford University. Don’t shy away from specific details; it’s best to name specific clubs at Stanford you wish to join, classes you’re excited to take, and research opportunities that you would be enthusiastic to take part in. 

Class Profile

Acceptance rate 3.95%
Class size1757
Diversity % range12% international students
Popular undergraduate majorsComputer Science, Economics, Human Biology

As you’re learning about how to get into the university, don’t forget to review Stanford’s class profile. Every school includes slightly different information, but almost all class profiles highlight the university’s most recent acceptance rate, class size, how diverse their incoming class is, and include some of the majors that the college is best known for. This information can help you get a sense of the college’s admissions standards and assess your chances of admission. 

What Makes Stanford University Unique?

First and foremost, the university is known for its renowned academic programs. There are more than 65 majors at Stanford, ranging from aeronautics and astronautics to urban studies. 

Additionally, Stanford has a breadth of clubs and extracurricular activities for students to get involved beyond academics. Noteworthy clubs include The Ram’s Head Theatrical Society, the university’s oldest and largest theatrical society, which dates back to 1911. The Stanford Mendicants, an a cappella group formed in 1963, is another popular group.

Students who are passionate about sports will also feel at home at Stanford since the university has produced athletes who have won a combined 296 Olympic medals. Famous alumni include John McEnroe, Tiger Woods, and Julie Foundy. For students who are looking for a more recreational level of athletics, Stanford also offers an array of intramural and open rec options, including volleyball, soccer, softball, badminton, and pickleball.

There’s no shortage of landmarks and libraries for students to explore. The Stanford campus has more than 24 libraries and must-see museums like the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, the Rodin Sculpture Garden, the Anderson Collection at Stanford University, and the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden.

Whether you’re passionate about the arts or an aspiring engineer, Stanford is the right fit for students who are driven, ambitious, and committed to giving their passions their all. As the Stanford website suggests, students who will thrive at Stanford are those that are intellectually curious, committed to deepening their expertise in the fields they are passionate about, and determined to make a lasting impact on their communities. 

Admission Consulting

Every student (and their families) can benefit from college admissions counseling. This is especially true if they’re interested in gaining admission to a top-tier college like Stanford University. Working with an admissions counselor gives students the opportunity to receive personalized guidance throughout every step of the application process, including compiling a balanced college list and making the most of campus tours. 

Before committing to the invaluable experience of working with a college admissions counselor, it’s important to assess whether you’re ready to give the admissions process your all. Students need to be engaged in the process and excited about their academic future in order to make the most of college counseling. It’s also important to select a college admissions counselor who is accredited, qualified, and has ample admissions experience. Do plenty of research to make sure you pick an admissions counselor who brings out the best in you.

Needless to say, it can be tough to gain admission to Stanford University, one of the top schools in the world. That’s why IvyWise admission experts are here to help. Take the first step towards getting into your dream school and set an initial consultation.


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