Situated in beautiful Palo Alto, California, and within minutes of the innovation hub in Silicon Valley and the cultural epicenter of San Francisco, Stanford has become one of the most highly regarded universities in the world. Stanford attracts applicants from around the globe, seeking the acclaimed social and academic enrichment of its extensive resources, its leading research reputation, and intellectual student body.
Is your SAT or ACT score high enough to get into Stanford? What about your high school GPA? The college admissions process at highly-selective schools and top-ranked colleges and universities seems hard to understand. How does Stanford choose who to accept? What can you do to improve your chances? Raise your test scores? Do more extracurriculars? Apply restrictive early action?
Below, we’ve begun to dissect everything we know about the Stanford University admissions process. Read on to find out if you’re a competitive Stanford applicant and tips to help improve your chances of admission.
There’s no question: Stanford University is a highly selective school. In 2023, the overall admissions rate at Stanford was only 4%, meaning admissions officers rejected more than 96 out of every 100 students who applied. Moreover, that overall rate includes Stanford’s restrictive early action acceptance rate, which is higher than Stanford’s regular decision rate. That means that in reality, the regular admission rate at Stanford was closer to 3%!
In addition, the college admissions process gets more competitive every year, as the sheer amount of applications continues to rise. That means you need to really stand out. Don’t get intimidated by these admissions statistics. Once you know what Stanford is looking for, you can better tailor your college preparation and college application to meet their expectations.
Let’s start with your grade point average (GPA). Stanford admissions officers will calculate this based on your high school transcript, which you’ll submit with your overall application.
It is important to understand that a strong unweighted GPA, while taking as many AP, IB or honors courses as your schools offers. Weighted GPAs are not always as useful to determine how you are performing because high schools weight GPAs differently and because they can hide how far you are from a high enough GPA for Stanford. In truth, you need close to a 4.0 unweighted GPA to get into Stanford. That means nearly straight As in every class, while also taking the highest rigor classes available to you at your high school.
Stanford, like the rest of the Ivy League and most other colleges, prefers that you have either an SAT score or ACT score for admission. In the past few years, Stanford has been test-optional, but Stanford assuredly prefers applicants that have test scores. Stanford has no preference between the SAT and ACT, so choose the test that’s a better fit for you, thoroughly prepare for it, and plan to take it multiple times.
The range of SAT score and ACT composite scores for students admitted to Stanford variesThe table below shows the 25th through 75th percentile SAT and ACT scores, with the average Stanford SAT score being 1520 and the average Stanford ACT score being 35. However, keep in mind that unless you are affiliated with certain favored categories (athletes, legacies, donors, etc.), your SAT score or ACT score should be closer to the top of the listed range to ensure you’re maximizing your chances of admission.
|Test||Average Admitted Student Score Ranges||Average Score of Admitted Student|
|SAT Total Range||1470-1570||1520|
|ACT Composite Range||34-35||35|
* Note that Stanford University superscores the SAT, but Stanford does not superscore the ACT. That means they will mix and match section test scores from different days for the SAT, but only look at composite ACT scores from a single test date.
Those are the overall academic requirements for Stanford. But what about everything else? Students who get admitted to Stanford have a lot more than just an impressive academic resume. In addition to evaluating your academics, the college admissions officers at Stanford want to hear about who you are as a person and what makes you, you. In addition to reporting your grades and test scores, there are a few more critical components of the Stanford admissions process:
• Two teacher recommendations and one counselor letter
• A high school transcript
• A mid-year report
• A $90 application fee or fee waiver
• A completed Common Application
• Stanford-specific essays
First, to better understand who you are as a student beyond your transcripts and test scores, Stanford will request letters of recommendation from two of your teachers as well as your school counselor. When considering who to ask, don’t decide solely based on which teachers gave you the best grades, but choose the people who truly know you well and will be able to write detailed, personal letters.
Stanford also allows for Additional Recommenders; we highly recommend that students take advantage of this to showcase their leadership and/or character. Stanford cares a lot about who you are and not just what you have done. Hearing from mentors and others in your community that have a deep understanding of what you are like outside of the classroom is really important for the Stanford admissions committee.
Second, in addition to your transcript and his/her letter, your school counselor will submit a few additional documents:
• A school report, which includes your school’s demographics and its most salient features (like if there’s a limit on how many AP classes you can take)
• A mid-year report, which will update Stanford on your senior year grades that might not be officially posted when you apply.
These items will also help Stanford contextualize your application.
Next you’ll need to submit the Common Application (or Coalition Application). When you begin applying to college, you’ll get to know this online interface well; it’ll be where you go to apply not only to Stanford, but to Harvard University, Princeton, and Yale University, too! Much of the Common Application is standard demographic and educational information. You’ll also fill out an activities section, where you’ll detail all your extracurricular involvement. The activities section of the Common App is a vital way that students can outline what they have accomplished outside of the classroom during high school. This is generally what distinguishes one applicant from the next after grades and scores are considered.
On top of that information, the Common Application asks for a single personal essay that will be submitted to all your schools. This essay, of 650 words or less, is your opportunity to tell Stanford and the rest of your schools about an important moment or theme in your life. A strong Common App essay is key to a competitive application, so be ready to revise it several times! The Common App essay is your chance to better show Stanford who the person is behind the impressive grades and test scores. How can Stanford “see” who you are and what makes you unique?
Lastly, in addition to the Common App essay, Stanford and many other schools require additional, school-specific essays. These essays are one of the most important components of your application. They allow you to show why Stanford is the right fit for you and give you the space to clearly communicate how you will contribute to Stanford’s community. These essays can change from year to year, but generally they ask about your interest in the school and/or more details about what you’ve accomplished in high school. Last year, Stanford University asked various short-answer essay questions. Some of the topics were:
1. What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?
2. How did you spend your last two summers?
3. Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford.
Having a strong application strategy to get these essays drafted, revised, and done, as well as a coherent narrative to present in them, is essential for admission to selective schools like Stanford and other top-ranked colleges and universities.
Finally, you’ll need to pay a $90 application fee to submit your application through these online interfaces. These fees can be waived by showing financial hardship.
As you put together all these materials, keep in mind the eventual deadlines! Everything for Stanford must be submitted by:
• November 1 for Restrictive Early Action
• January 5 for Regular Decision
Restrictive Early Action decisions are released in mid-December, and Regular Decision applicants will hear online by April. Admitted students must decide by May 1 if they will attend.
Stanford University admits students from all over the country and from diverse backgrounds. According to Stanford’s Class of 2026 profile, the demographic breakdown of students admitted into the Stanford was:
The final thing to keep in mind is that Stanford University is so selective, that even if you’re a competitive applicant there, it makes sense to apply to similarly ranked schools as well, like Harvard University, Yale University, and Cornell University.
Good luck! And remember, if you are wanting further advice or support on any of this—how to understand your GPA, when to take the SAT or ACT, what extracurricular activities to do, how to spend your summers, or what to write your Common Application and Stanford essays about—please contact us to speak to one of our admissions consultants!
Contact us to learn more about our admissions consulting services.