How Hard Is It to Get into Stanford?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Two students sitting in classroom and studying together with laptop.

How Hard Is It to Get into Stanford?

For many high school students, a dream scenario is to apply, get into, and attend Stanford University. Without a doubt, Stanford University is one of the most highly regarded and selective schools in the entire United States.

But how hard is it to get into Stanford really? There is no question that there are a lot of different factors that go into answering this question, and there is also no question that the answer to this question is relative and changes year to year.

However, there is still a fairly consistent benchmark that high school students who are interested in attending Stanford can familiarize themselves with so that they can get a good idea of whether or not applying to and getting into Stanford is realistic.

At AdmissionSight, we work with passionate and intelligent high school students and help make their college admissions dreams become realities. In fact, 75 percent of the high school students that we work with end up getting into Ivy League schools or top-10 schools elsewhere in the United States. That, of course, includes Stanford University.

Stanford campus

So, if you are curious about learning how to get into Stanford or simply want to know more about what it takes to improve your chances of getting into Stanford, then you have certainly come to the right place.

Let’s get started on breaking down all of the important things that you should keep in mind when it comes to answering the question, “How hard is it to get into Stanford?”

Let’s go!

Stanford’s admission requirements

For students who are looking to get into any top schools in the United States, knowing what the school expects out of the high school students that apply is very important.

The basic reason why is because it allows students to get a good idea regarding how realistic it is that they actually get into the school. Moreover, it can also help them formulate a strategy in terms of what they will have to do if they want to improve their standing.

Young woman using a laptop.

  • English: four years, with significant emphasis on writing and literature.
  • Mathematics: four years of any rigorous mathematics incorporating a solid grounding in fundamental skills (algebra, geometry, trigonometry). We also welcome preparation in skills related to statistics, data science and calculus.
  • History/Social Studies: three or more years, with courses that include the writing of essays.
  • Science: three or more years of laboratory science (including biology, chemistry and physics).
  • Foreign Language: three or more years of the same foreign language.

Another really important thing to keep in mind is that on top of sticking to the aforementioned and recommended course list, students need to make a concerted effort to fill their high school course list with as many advanced courses as possible throughout their high school years.

This means enrolling in as many honors, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) or A-Level courses as possible. There are a lot of reasons why students are going to want to prioritize taking whatever kinds of advanced courses their high school offers.

The main reason is quite simple: Stanford wants to make sure that the high school students it accepts into its school will be able to deal with the rigors and demands that come with the highly advanced Stanford curriculum. Indeed, Stanford is home to some of the most intelligent and determined students in the world.

On top of that, Stanford employs faculty that are world leaders within their respective fields. What that leads to is a highly competitive classroom experience that comes with a lot of high expectations.

The last thing the admissions officers want to do when they are looking at the many applications they review each application cycle is make the mistake of offering admissions to a student who is not prepared for those challenges and demands.

One of the best tools that admissions officers have to ensure that the students they accept will be able to deal with the high level of difficulty that exists within the Stanford classroom is the student’s high school curriculum. If that course list is filled with advanced courses and college-level curricula, then the admissions officers will feel a lot more confident in their final decisions.

At AdmissionSight, we recommend that high school students who are looking to get into top schools enroll in advanced courses as early and as often as they can in high school. With that being said, students should be sure to enroll in advanced courses that they are either naturally adept at or highly passionate about.

These classes are quite a lot harder than typical high school courses, and students need to do whatever they can to put themselves in the good position to succeed. This means potentially avoiding advanced courses in subjects that are a struggle already.

After all, a bad score in an advanced course doesn’t do much to help a student’s chances of getting into any college or university, let alone one as selective and competitive as Stanford.

Which brings us to our next consideration when it comes to answering the question, “How hard is it to get into Stanford?”

One important aspect of getting into Stanford is making sure that your tangibles are on par with what the school expects out of its applicants. The first tangible is your grade point average. A high school student’s GPA is going to be one of the most important factors when they send their college applications out.

However, it is important to remember that while a low GPA can absolutely keep you on the outside looking in at a top school, great grades alone will not be enough to get you into a school like Stanford.

With that in mind, the average high school GPA for students that are accepted to Stanford is a highly impressive, unweighted GPA of 3.95. As you likely know, a straight-A GPA is a 4.0, so 3.95 is essentially a perfect grade point average, which may be an A- here or there.

Basically, the students who are getting into Stanford are the kinds of students that commit fully to their schoolwork and make it a top priority of theirs to earn high grades from the very start of their freshman year of high school to the very end of their senior year.

Another key tangible that students are going to want to keep in mind are the average standardized test scores that high school students who get into Stanford earn. Of course, the two standardized tests that students take in the United States are the SAT and ACT. When it comes to the average SAT and ACT scores for Stanford students, the numbers are – unsurprisingly – quite high.

For the SAT, the average score is a 1510 out of 1600. For the ACT, the average score is 33 out of 36.

One final thing about standardized testing before we move on completely is that as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many schools across the country have implemented a standardized test optional policy for the time being. Here is what the school has announced about the current policy:

“We recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has created limited access to admission testing worldwide. We are extending 2020–21’s test optional policy to a second year. For 2021–22 first year and transfer applicants, Stanford will review applications with or without ACT or SAT test scores, leaving the decision in the hands of the applicant.”

Still, while sending in scores is not required at the moment, it is important for students to keep in mind that the SAT and ACT will likely become a required aspect of the admissions process in the near future.

Moreover, students who can safely take one of the exams and earn great grades could gain a major upper hand in the current format. After all, the whole purpose of a GPA and SAT or ACT score is so that a student can prove that they have what it takes to succeed at Stanford.

If you are able to send in an impressive, standardized test score while many students do not send one in at all, it can only go to help make your case for admissions at Stanford.

So, for those wondering how difficult it is to get into Stanford, the answer is already coming into focus. Without a doubt, getting into Stanford is hard.

It requires students to perform at an incredibly high level throughout their high school years in the classroom, and it also requires students to perform well on the standardized test of their choice. And that is just the beginning when it comes to what students want to do to get into Stanford.

How Stanford compares to the Ivy Leagues

When it comes to comparing schools in terms of selectiveness and competitiveness within their undergraduate programs, the primary statistic that people look to is a school’s acceptance rate. Without a doubt, the gold standard for competitiveness within the United States has – for many decades – been the eight schools in the Ivy League. Those schools are:

But just because Stanford is not part of the Ivy League, does not mean that it is not similar to the Ivy League in terms of prestige and how hard it is to get into. In fact, Stanford boasted a lower acceptance rate during the 2021 application cycle than any of the eight Ivy League schools.

The Stanford acceptance in 2021 was an incredibly low 3.67 percent! From that alone, you can have a pretty accurate idea of the answer to the question, “How difficult is it to get into Stanford?”

But how does the Stanford acceptance rate compare to the acceptance rates of the eight Ivy League schools? Take a look at the acceptance rates below to see where Stanford stacks up.

So, while Stanford may not be a part of the Ivy League, a very real argument can be made that – at least right now – Stanford is quite a bit harder to get into than even the Ivy Leagues. Certainly this is something that every student that is thinking about how to get into Stanford to be aware of!

How to improve your chances of getting into Stanford

Now that you have a pretty good idea of what kinds of grades and standardized test scores (if you take one) you will want to earn in order to improve your chances of getting into Stanford, as well as your chances in terms of the school’s acceptance rate, you are now probably interested in learning about any ways in which you could actually boost your chances of getting into the school.

A happy female student while reading a letter with good news.

When it comes to how to get into Stanford, there are actually some pretty impactful decisions that any applicant can make to give themselves a big boost. Now, these tools and strategies will not take a student with average grades and test scores and make getting into Stanford a reality, but if your tangibles are just about average, you can utilize these ways to improve your chances of getting into Stanford to get yourself over the hump and make yourself as attractive an applicant as possible.

Apply via Early Action

One of the best ways that students can give themselves a statistical boost when it comes to getting into Stanford is to apply to the school via its Restrictive Early Action admission option.

Early Action is one of the ways in which students can apply to schools early (typically applications are due in early November through early admissions). Early admissions gives students a chance to make it clear to a given school that that school is their number one choice.

In the case of many schools – including Stanford – applying via early admissions comes with a much higher acceptance rate. In the case of Stanford, the acceptance rate for students who applied via Early Action was 5.19 percent! That is a pretty sizable boost from the overall acceptance rate of 3.67.

With all that in mind, it is really important for students to keep in mind that when they apply via Restrictive Early Action, there are some crucial rules and guidelines that they will have to follow. Take a look here to familiarize yourself with those rules.

Take part in the optional interview process

Every application cycle, high school students that are applying to Stanford get the chance to take part in an optional interview with a Stanford alumnus/a. This is a two-way conversation that allows students to learn more about Stanford and also allows the alumnus/an interviewer – and by extension, the school’s admissions office – to learn more about the student.

A student being interviewed by a UChicago admission officer

On top of this, taking advantage of these optional resources during the application process offers a clear signal to the admissions office that you are truly dedicated to getting into Stanford.

Basically, any student who is looking to wave a big crimson flag that essentially says, “Stanford is my number one choice!” is going to take advantage of both the Early Action application option and the optional interview.

Craft truly fantastic personal essays

As part of every Stanford application, high school students have to send personalized answers to essay prompts that the school provides. When you are working on crafting these essay responses, you want to make sure that you are taking the time and putting in the energy that is necessary for this highly important task.

To give you a good idea of just how impactful these personal essays can be, consider the fact that – now that the standardized tests have been made optional – the personal essays may be the second most important factor of any student’s application, behind just the grade point average.

Writing in a piece of paper.

Come up with truly unique answers, give yourself time to write them well and effectively, and make sure to spend time reviewing, editing and improving your essays.

This will give you the best chance to use these essays as a way to prove to the admissions officers reading your application that you are exactly what they are looking for when it comes to members of the newest Stanford graduating class.

We’ll teach you how to get into Stanford

There is no single way to guarantee that you will be getting into Stanford. However, there are certainly steps you can utilize to improve your chances. At AdmissionSight, we make it our job to give every student that we work with the tools and knowledge necessary to maximize their chances of getting into top school. If you are interested in learning more, contact us today for a free consultation.


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