When you look at a list of the lowest college acceptance rates in the country and your dream school occupies the number one position, this is hardly cause for celebration. Stanford University, with its 4.3% acceptance rate is even more selective than MIT, Caltech, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or Columbia. This means that becoming a Cardinal involves surviving a brutal admissions process that will see countless valedictorians, geniuses, and immensely talented young people tossed to the wayside.

Of course, the best way to optimize any elite college application is to do extensive homework on each school, finding an edge over your competition wherever you can. Toward that aim, the intent of this article is to give those considering applying to Stanford University:

1) An understanding of what you are up against.

2) More data on which to accurately assess your chances of admission.

3) Advice for how to get your application to Stanford stand out, even against other superb applicants.

To accomplish these goals, we will touch on the following topics:

  • Stanford’s Class of 2023 acceptance rate
  • SAT, GPA, and class rank of accepted Stanford applicants
  • Admissions trends from the Class of 2023
  • Why being “well-rounded” won’t help you get into Stanford.
  • How Stanford admissions officers evaluate applicants
  • A look at the demographics of Stanford undergraduates
  • The percent of accepted students that attend the university (yield rate)
  • Tips for applying to Stanford
  • How to assess whether applying to Stanford is even worth the $90 application fee (for you)

Let’s begin with an examination of the most recent admissions data.

Stanford Acceptance Rate – Class of 2023

Stanford received 47,498 applications for a spot in the Class of 2023; they accepted just 2,062. This acceptance rate of 4.34% was an all-time low for the university. For a historical perspective, the Class of 1978 had a 31% acceptance rate; the Class of 2011 was the last time the school had an acceptance rate in the double-digits.

Stanford Admissions – SAT, GPA, and Class Rank

According to the most recent official statistics available (Class of 2023), the mid-50% SAT range for admitted freshman was 1420-1570; the ACT the range was 32-35. An incredible 86% scored above a 700 on the math section of the SAT; 80% scored above a 700 on the reading section. Ninety-eight percent had earned a place in the top 10% of the graduating high school class and the average GPA was a 3.96. Amazingly, 95.4% of freshman had a 4.0 or better cumulative GPA over the course of their high school careers.

It is important to note that due to COVID-19, Stanford announced in June 2020 that will be test-optional for the following year’s admissions cycle. They expect to reinstate testing requirements for the Class of 2026.

Admissions Trends & Notes – (Class of 2023)

  • Stanford’s 25th percentile math SAT score jumped from 720 to 740 from the previous year.
  • 750 students were placed on the waitlist, down from 870 for the Class of 2022.
  • 83% of Stanford freshman in 2019-20 possessed an SAT score of over 1400.
  • The number of African American freshmen increased from 98 (2022) to 116 (2023).
  • Legacy students enjoy a big edge at Stanford—the acceptance rate for those with a parent who attended the university is three times that of a non-legacy.

Be Great at One Thing; Not “Well-Rounded”

Stanford is looking for the next generation of luminaries in a variety of areas. One look at the list of notable Stanford alumni and you’ll get a sense of what the university is looking for: the next wave of Supreme Court Justices (Breyer, Kennedy, O’Conner, Rehnquist), business leaders (Sergey Brin, Reed Hastings, Phil Knight) writers, politicians, athletes, actors/actresses, and Nobel Prize-winning scientists.

Being spread thin across ten activities, even if they are all impressive, simply isn’t going to blow away the Stanford admissions committee. Shining in one or two areas is key. For advice about how to stand out on the extracurricular front, check out our previous blog entitled How Many Extracurricular Activities Do I Need for College?

How Stanford Evaluates Applicants

Stanford ranks the following nine categories as being “very important” to the admissions process: application essay, recommendations, extracurricular activities, rigor of secondary school record, class rank, GPA, standardized test scores, talent/ability, and character/personal qualities. They rank zero factors as “important” and seven as “considered.” These are: interview, first-generation status, legacy status, geographical residence, racial/ethnic status, volunteer work, and paid work experience.

In terms of extracurricular activities, it is vitally important to have some type of “hook” when applying to Stanford. For example, Stanford has the top athletic program in the entire country, hosting 36 varsity sports teams. Of the 900 students participating in intercollegiate sports, more than 350 are on athletic scholarships. If you are a star player being heavily recruited by a coach at Stanford, your chances of admission rise exponentially, particularly if you are “in range” academically. If you are less athletically-inclined, perhaps you are a star orator and future member of the Stanford Debate Society or possess talents and an ethnographer, playwright, cellist, poet, scientist, robotics engineer, app designer, or community organizer.

Who Actually Gets Into Stanford?

Let’s look at the demographics of the Class of 2023.

Geographically, the Cardinal student body is comprised of students from:

  • California: 35%
  • Other U.S.: 52%
  • International: 13%

Stanford, like most elites, likes to achieve a level of geographic diversity that allows them to say they have a class member from just about every state. The Class of 2023 alone has representatives from 48 states and 78 countries. Therefore, if you hail from the Deep South or a less-populated state like Montana or Idaho, your location is more likely to provide a boost to your admissions chances than if you live in California or New York.

Looking at the ethnic identity of the total undergraduate student body, the breakdown was as follows:

  • White: 32%
  • Asian American: 23%
  • Hispanic: 17%
  • African American: 7%
  • American Indian: 1%
  • International: 11 %
  • Two or more races: 9%

Looking at the type of high school Class of 2023 members hailed from shows the following:

  • Public: 59%
  • Private: 27%
  • International: 14%
  • Homeschool: 1%

The gender breakdown of current undergraduates is as follows:

  • Men: 50%
  • Women: 50%

Stanford’s Yield Rate

Stanford’s yield rate—the percentage of accepted students who elect to enroll, divided by the total number of students who are admitted is 82.5%, keeping pace with Harvard University for the highest figure of any school in the country. Yale, MIT, and the University of Chicago all have yield rates between 70-77%. Elite schools like Duke, Notre Dame, and Cornell sport yields between 50-60%.

Tips for Applying to Stanford

The 47,000+ Stanford applicants should all be aware of the following:

  • An interview is not a mandatory part of the admissions process, but all applicants can pursue and optional alumni interview. Volunteers invite applicants by email and the interview itself can take place in-person or via video chat.
  • For advice on what types of questions you should be prepared to answer/ask visit our blog—College Interview Tips.
  • Stanford does not consider “demonstrated interest” due to their aforementioned sky-high yield rate. Therefore you do not need to make contact with the university just for this purpose. Due to their high yield rate, they simply don’t have to worry about this factor which can play a larger role at many other institutions.
  • Do everything you can to “bring your application to life.” This means seeking out recommenders who can speak to your passion and help your unique personality and attributes pop off the page. Essays will also be key…
  • Make sure to dedicate sufficient time and effort to the supplemental essays and short answers required by Stanford because there are 11 of them! You read correctly—11! In the 2019-20 cycle, they were as follows:

Essay/Short Answer Questions

1) Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (150 words)

2) What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 words)

3) How did you spend your last two summers? (50 words)

4) What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 words)

5) What five words best describe you? (10 words)

6) When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch? (50 words)

7) Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (50 words)

8) Imagine you had an extra hour in the day — how would you spend that time? (50 words)

9) The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning. (250 words)

10) Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate — and us — know you better. (250 words)

11) Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why. (250 words)

Providing some general guidance for all eleven essays (plus the Common App), the admissions committee encourages “you to spend time reflecting on who you are and what is meaningful to you. In your essays, be true to yourself and allow your genuine voice to come through.” Getting to answer so many questions that invite personal, deep, and honest responses is a wonderful way to ingratiate yourself to the admissions officer reading your application. These essays will take on added importance for the Class of 2025, where standardized test score submission will be optional.

Should I Apply to Stanford?

If you are at the top of your high school class and sport exceptional standardized test scores, it is definitely worth adding Stanford to your college list. If you have a “hook” of some kind whether it is in the realm of sports, music, drama, or STEM, that can certainly help to give you a genuine shot at admission. Yet, no matter how bright and accomplished you are, this is one university that is a “reach” school for every single teen. Even if you are a “perfect” applicant, you will still want to have a balance of “target” and “safety” schools on your college list. For more information on constructing a properly balanced list of prospective colleges, consult our blog—How to Create the Perfect College List.