SparkNotes Blog

I Go To….Stanford University

Caroline loves her school, and we can see why! —Sparkitors

School: Stanford University
Location: Palo Alto, California
Size: About 6000 undergraduate and 8000 graduate
Type: Private
Number of majors offered: Seemingly everything, plus students can design their own major if they don’t find one that suits them.

Here’s my spin: Academics: Stanford is among the most competitive universities in the country, and you can’t get by without doing work and going to class. That said, students are really laid back and are found “fountain hopping” (hanging out in the various fountains around campus). There are a few general education requirements, like Introduction to the Humanities (IHUM) and Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR—yes, we abbreviate everything on The Farm), designed to get freshmen reading and writing at the college level. There are also great classes called Introductory Seminars (IntroSems), capped at around 15 students, for which freshmen and sophomores are given preference. These classes are by far the most popular among students because they allow you to become close with professors and often lead to research opportunities, or simply long-lasting relationships with faculty. Many students choose to pursue a double major, secondary major, minor, and/or Co-Terminal Degree (Co-Term), a program that allows undergrads to receive both their Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in 4-5 years. Study abroad is very popular—Stanford has 11 abroad campuses, plus a marine lab in Monterey, Stanford at Sea (two months spent on a boat in the Pacific), and a program in D.C. Most students study abroad junior year, but engineers are generally limited to Berlin and Kyoto, where engineering courses are offered. Human Biology (HumBio) is probably the most popular major, partially because it’s pre-med friendly and partially because it’s almost entirely self-designed. I’m a HumBio major with a concentration in Marine Science and Policy. It’s interdisciplinary and has fairly few requirements, so I can take classes in Australia and go scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef with professors!

Life: With 94% of students living on campus (and another 5% studying abroad at any given time), Stanford has a very strong campus community. Parties happen every night of the week and are widely attended by Greeks and non-Greeks alike. In fact, some parties, like Wine and Cheese Night at Kairos or Happy Hour at The Enchanted Broccoli Forest (EBF), are more popular among hipster types than typical partygoers. Greek life has a strong, but not overwhelming, presence. About 17% of students are involved in some Greek letter organization, but frat parties are almost all open-campus.

Students really balance work and play, and it’s rare to see a Stanford student frowning, unless they’ve just been in a bike accident. Nearly everyone bikes or skateboards to class because the campus is huge –and beautiful. It’s sunny 365 days a year (just kidding, but it does feel like it), and you’ll always find students in White Plaza, the student activities center, flyering for events and speakers, like the Dalai Lama, George Clooney, James Franco, or Perez Hilton, all of whom visited this year to speak to students.
With everything happening on campus, San Francisco is really an underutilized resource. Just an hour away by train, the city is home to countless museums, Chinatown, great food, parks, and historic landmarks.

Dorms: Almost all students choose to live on campus all four years (housing is guaranteed), and we have serious dorm pride. Upperclassmen bond in theme houses like SlavDom (Slavic themed), Casa Italiana (Italian themed), and French House, or co-ops like Columbae and Synergy, in which residents share cooking and cleaning duties. Rooms are generally pretty big, and housing options are diverse. On-campus apartments have their own kitchens, while most houses have chefs, and dining hall food is actually pretty good. If you’re not into any of those, there are tons of on-campus eateries.

Dorms come equipped with a huge support system: RAs (who, at Stanford, don’t have disciplinary power and are seriously just there to be your cool upperclass friends), RCCs (Resident Computer Magicians—I mean, Consultants), RFs (Resident Fellows, professors who actually want to live in dorms and hang out with students), Academic Directors, and PH’s (Peer Health Educators, more than just condom providers, though that is definitely in the job description).

The worst stuff: Palo Alto was recently ranked the most expensive college town in the country. High prices are definitely a trade-off for being in the heart of Silicon Valley and the tech industry (Facebook and Google practically recruit out of Stanford).

The best stuff: Stanford is a quirky place—just take the band. Usually found in body paint alone (or with tutus, for the more modest of the bunch), most of these guys don’t know how to play an instrument. I was even part of band for a day, toting a kazoo. Inflatable saxophones are popular, as are kitchen sinks and kegs as percussion. Everything about the band mocks tradition. Our fake mascot, The Tree, is elected every year after performing a series of ridiculous tasks, and the non-marching band has been known to spell out dirty words and make questionable shapes on the field. And Stanford students love it! Our traditions are outrageous and truly unique. It doesn’t hurt that our athletics are awesome and easy to rally behind. Over 10% of students are Division 1 athletes, and they all live with all the other students, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to be friends with at least a few of them.

The thing that sets Stanford apart, though, is the people. Professors are incredibly accessible—each is required to hold office hours at least 3-4 hours a week, and in my experience they’re genuinely excited to hear your thoughts and field your questions. Faculty and students alike really adopt the laid back California attitude, and students never seem to be competing with one another. I’ve been part of several study groups—the Stanford honor policy actually encourages collaboration! Everyone is ready and willing to help one another, and resources are seemingly endless.

They say there are three things you can do at Stanford, and you have to choose two: study, extracurriculars, and sleep. Most students drop the third and develop a caffeine addiction‚good thing there are no less than seven coffee shops on campus!

Sounds like Shangri-La to us!

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