Stanford University - Comments and Student Experiences|
Whether you should go to Stanford depends on what you want... Here are my observations:
Negative: Techie/fuzzy divide
You'll learn about this quickly at Stanford. Techies (engineering, natural sciences) and fuzzies (social science, humanities) have a very different experience with the school--there is respect between some of them, but often there isn't, and techies are treated as neurotic nerds, fuzzies as students who don't learn anything substantive. I myself was a "fucky" - double in international relations and symbolic systems (CS/Psych/Phil of Mind/Linguistics, and got a taste of both worlds.
The University's policies don't help here because techies and fuzzies are treated so differently...
If you are in a techie major, expect to pay a lot of money to get taught by TAs in huge classes. You will invest countless hours in your work for 3 units credit per class or you will fail. The curve is vicious enough you might just fail anyway. But if you teach yourself and survive the ordeal you will have a very marketable degree.
If you are in a fuzzy major, expect to have an intellectual orgy with small classes, great teaching, with little work required for 5 units of credit and an easy "A." Enjoy your college years and good luck finding a job; you'll need it.
Justifiably, most technical students feel cheated since they essentially pay to fund the humanities students... they DO have to work harder, so there's some truth to the idea they are the only ones on campus doing real work. I consider myself bright analytically, a former math nerd, and struggled to make A's in CS. I am a good but not brilliant writer and qualitative thinker. Earning A's in History and Psychology came with no real effort.
Unfortunately this dynamic often gets falsely carried over to the idea that those who go into humanities are not smart and don't work hard. I don't believe that at all... But for those who shortsightedly measure things by grades...
Positive: The students
Some of the most incredible people I have met, and the number one reason I would choose Stanford again if offered the choice. They are diverse in interests, outlook, and personality, and most defy the stereotype of the over-studious study rat. There's so many things one can get into... a cappella, social dance, Alternative Spring Break, Stanford Film society, language theme houses... and most end up pursuing many different things outside class. Deep, spontaneous philosophical discussions happen often; more often than is even good for grades. I think more than most of the Ivies, Stanford attracts the Renaissance wo/man. Stanford dtudents push their boundaries in many different directions, not just their career path.
Negative: Lack of support and guidance
That said, I honestly believe almost all these great things at Stanford are created with the time, talent, and yes even money of students. Most student groups receive 90% of their funding from special fees that students pay quarterly. The University has no good resources on campus for putting together events - the bookstore is way overpriced as is the food, and it doesn't help that "nearby" (~10 minutes by car) Palo Alto is even more expensive. Its students keep pushing for a student union as a social center for campus, but the University insists it does not have the money. (Note: It does have $100,000 it can invest in each Palm tree on the campus).
That doesn't stop Stanford from taking credit for its students' blood, sweat, and tears. I was a coordinator for the Alternative Spring Break program... One thing that infuriated me the most was that we had to write "Stanford Fund" leters to alumni donors telling them how their contribution helped our organization. It coughed up ~$2000 at the expense of our students' time which could have been used learning about the social issues of their trip. ASB's budget is ~$26,000. Just a note: we don't take service vacations; as should happen in any humble service, our students eat, travel, and lodge as cheaply as possible.
Negative: Palo Alto
A bunch of superficial, selfish, and unbelievably dull rich pricks. They are all-too-happy to enjoy Stanford's resources, but are student-unfriendly, shutting down the city at early hours so they can go to bed and complaining of noise from the University they chose to live next to (so we can't even use our own amphitheatre). Stanford makes Faustain bargains with Palo Alto, agreeing for example to build it an elementary school in exchange for PA's gracious allowance for Stanford to build on it's own land. I sleep better knowing my tuition helps poor oppressed Palo Altoans make their BMW payments.
Positive: Residential Education
The dorms are great and staff are well-trained to deal with students' emotional and psychological problems should they occur. There is a very open policy toward alcohol use, in the sense that RA's are treated as counselors, not police. The freshman dorm experience will make for one of the most fun years of your existence.
Negative: Administration and Bureaucracy
Inefficient, disorganized, unhelpful, and rude, though I don't think this is necessarily abnormal at a University. A warning: these people are there to safeguard Stanford's money and reputation... they will almost always prioritize it over the success and welfare of individual students. I have friends who have demonstrated to me this includes engaging in and covering up ethically questionable behavior.
Unfortunately these officials end up rolling back some of the positives at Stanford. Case in point is the alcohol policy, which is becoming more restrictive and authoritarian. Stanford is afraid of being sued.
The Stanford cops are really despicable. Not only will they treat you like the scum of the earth for running a stop sign... on a BICYCLE, but they go overboard in looking to give MIPs. This crusade to stop underage drinking included taking videocameras into the Exotic Erotic party where many students were scantily dressed, ostensibly to document underage drinking.
Positive: Opportunities available
The world is your oyster at Stanford. Whatever you want to do, it's there; if not, you can bring it to campus and find students who will share your interests. I honestly believe no University has so many strengths across the board. Just remember, it must be YOU that makes them happen. You'll find lifelong friends and faculty members who will make the project easier, better, and more enjoyable... the central University will in general only make your life harder.
Stanford is a truly wonderful place to be an undergrad. The word idyllic comes to mind. Having visited friends at half a dozen other universities around the country (and vice-versa), I know with uncommon certainty that I made the right choice. Beyond the nearly unparalleled opportunities in the classrooms and research labs, the most valuable part of a Stanford education is being surrounded by and interacting with some of the brightest and most broadly thinking people you're likely to ever meet. Having graduated, I miss that!
As for those that claim Stanford is not diverse (ethnically, politically, etc.) -- this is crap. I challenge you to find a more ethnically diverse campus of this stature, anywhere in the world. While self-segregation is an unfortunate reality, students from all ethnicities and backgrounds participate in extracurriculars, sports, research -- not to mention classes. You'd have to live under a rock to not be exposed to other points of view at Stanford. Politically, you should expect that Stanford students tend to lean left, as do most bright, well educated people, especially in the Bay Area. However, there are plenty of conservatives both among the student body (certain fraternities, for example) and at the now-infamous Hoover Institution. At Stanford, I even had a few Evangelical Christian friends. There are many Mormons at Stanford, and many Muslims as well. One of my favorite classes was on Buddhist philosophy. You get the idea.
Full financial aid and need-blind admissions mean that Stanford is now economically more diverse as well. The stereotype of the snooty, privileged, left-wing Silicon Valley intellectual couldn't be further from the Stanford I experienced. There were more hippies and farm boys there than anyone fitting that unfounded stereotype. One of my best friends from undergrad at Stanford was from Kenya. Another was from Turkey. My freshman roommate was from Inglewood -- one of the grittiest neighborhoods of Los Angeles -- not exactly Beverly Hills.
So I guess I'm posting this mainly in response to the few strongly negative reviews I've read. I think those people really missed the boat. Many others have expounded on the countless things that make Stanford the best university in the world -- for undergrads as well as grads -- so I won't go any further. Suffice it to say, I was extremely satisfied with virtually all aspects of my experience at Stanford, and wouldn't trade a minute of it. In fact, if I could change any one thing, I would have stayed longer.
A final piece of advice for those considering a school like Stanford: Get out there and find activities and clubs that are interesting to you. Seek out people who challenge your views, and engage both students and professors in meaningful conversations. Go to basketball games. Go fountain hopping. If you're having difficulties finding your place at Stanford, talk to your Resident Fellow (RF) or your RA -- they took those jobs to help you! I'm convinced that if the poor souls who posted negative comments here had done that, they might have taken away a completely different impression. Hopefully yours will be more like mine.
Good luck, and best wishes.
I would have to say that my biggest complaints have to do with the surrounding area and the attitude of some students. Palo alto is not what I would call student friendly. The majority of its inhabitants are very well off and the town's shops and restaurants reflect this ($$$).
As for the students, I do not want people to get the wrong impression. I love the students at Stanford. The diversity and friendliness of the student body is at the top of my list of "things I love about Stanford." However, as a religious studies/philosophy major, I sometimes feel that the pre-professional attitude of Stanford can be a little oppressive. I don't want to say that Stanford students are anti-intellectual, but I would say that many are much more focused on their research and internships than on staying up all night discussing philosophical quandaries. Nevertheless, within certain departments (such as philosophy or religious studies) it is very easy to find people who are passionate about intellectual exploration, whether or not the rest of the world considers it worthwhile. And the majority of other students are also open to having deep conversations. I would just say that this is not the place for those who want to be completely immersed in the type of intellectual atmosphere one might find at an isolated liberal arts college.
Now for the positives. As I said before, I love the students at Stanford. First of all, everyone is brilliant. They have all done amazing things. Secondly, everyone brings something different to the table. The diversity of the student body provides an extremely enriching and eye-opening environment.
I also love the faculty. Those who I have approached for help have gone out of their way to assist me in whatever ways they could.
The campus is beautiful, facilities are in top condition, and there is a huge variety of different student groups one may join. I have also found that it is quite easy to become a part of the community on campus. I love Stanford and I couldn't imagine being anywhere else. I highly recommend it.