Stanford University Admissions Coaching
Stanford University Admissions Guidance
What is Stanford Looking For?
Intellectual vitality. Passion. Personality. These are the key
hallmarks of successful Stanford applicants.
Stanford assigns every applicant three separate ratings on
a 1-6 scale (1 being the highest, 6 being the lowest):
Academic Rating (1 to 6)
Extra-curricular Rating (1 to 6)
Intellectual Vitality Rating (1 to 6)
At Stanford, your GPA is recalculated based on the following formula: (1) grades from 10th and 11th grade only (no freshman grades), (2) academic courses only (no physical education, typing, band, orchestra), and (3) flat grading where an “A-” becomes an “A” (great if you have an “A-”) and where a “B+” becomes a “B” (bad if you have a “B+”).
Here's what an Academic Rating of 1 (highest rating) at Stanford looks like:
Top 1-2% of high school class
Most challenging courseload of AP courses
SAT/ACT and SAT II scores in the 99th percentile
Glowing letters of recommendation indicating that student is best out of applicants from past several years from his or her high school
Extra-curricularly, Stanford looks for specialists who are passionate about one or two things over students who are well-rounded.
Here's what an Extra-curricular Rating of 1 (highest rating) at Stanford looks like:
Intel STS Finalist (top 40 in country)
Soloist at Carnegie Hall
US Math Olympiad Qualifier (USAMO)
Patent pending (without parental involvement)
Awards at the national level
Unlike the Ivies, Stanford has a separate rating for intellectual vitality, which measures an applicant’s love of learning for the sake of learning outside the classroom. Many Stanford applicants who are Academic 1’s rate low on the Intellectual Vitality scale since the applicant loves competing for grades more so than learning for the sake of learning.
Here's what an Intellectual Vitality Rating of 1 (highest rating) looks like:
Independent academic research outside the classroom with a college professor leading to published research in a journal
Superior Stanford intellectual vitality supplemental essay
Showing a true love of learning for the sake of learning at a high level outside of the classroom and confirmed by recommendation letters
Academic/Extra-curricular/Intellectual Vitality 1-1-1's at Stanford are rare and comprise less than 1% of the applicant pool at Stanford - they are almost always admitted as long as they write good essays. Stanford does not use hard cutoffs to eliminate applicants. Stanford often admits 1-3-2's over 1-2-1's. This is why the Stanford supplemental essays carry disproportionate weight relative to the Ivies - Stanford is known for admitting the most compelling applicants, not necessarily the most qualified on paper.
Approaching the Stanford Supplemental Essays
Unlike its distant East Coast cousins Harvard, Yale and Princeton, which like to admit applicants who are finished products or sure things, Stanford actively seeks out the most compelling applicant over the finished product. As such, Stanford weighs the supplemental essays more heavily than the top Ivies.
At Solomon Admissions, we give our clients an extensive primer on how to tackle the three main Stanford supplemental essays. Here’s a brief excerpt from our recommended approach to the all-important Stanford intellectual vitality essay:
1. Stanford students possess an intellectual vitality. Reflect on an idea or experience that has been important to your intellectual development. (100 to 250 words)
The Stanford intellectual vitality essay is used to weed out countless 4.0 students who lack a true love of learning. This essay impacts the Intellectual Vitality Rating and can be seen as the never-ending dinner conversation essay (if you can’t talk endlessly about an intellectual idea that excites you, then you will struggle with this essay).
Stanford uses the intellectual vitality essay to cull perfect students who are not intellectuals and who get perfect grades and test scores for the sake of getting into Stanford and getting a high-paying job, not because they love learning.
A bad answer to this question addresses ideas that interested you because they impacted your grades in a class. Stanford actively seeks students who take ownership of their education outside of the classroom because they love learning. A great answer addresses one intellectual idea which reveals your love of learning far beyond the classroom walls for the sake of learning - one idea that can be translated to undergraduate research and academic publication at Stanford, and is hopefully related to your academic major.
This is what Stanford is testing through the intellectual vitality essay:
Does applicant take ownership of his or her education outside of the classroom?
Is the applicant the kind of student who would enrich the learning of other Stanford students?
Is the applicant passionate about learning? (Stanford assigns applicants a separate intellectual vitality rating based in part on this essay)
As you can see, the Stanford supplemental essays require extensive thought and time. In addition, Stanford has a personality test disguised as an extensive set of short answer questions that is designed to weed out perfect students who take themselves too seriously. For help on the Stanford intellectual vitality, roommate or “what matters to you and why” essays, feel free to reach out to us. The information provided here is the tip of the iceberg for acing the Stanford essays.
For more information about the college application process,
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