How to Get into Stanford with Average Grades

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Aerial view of Stanford campus with trees and buildings in sight

How to Get into Stanford with Average Grades

When it comes to attending some of the best schools in the United States, typically the only kinds of students that truly have a good chance of getting in are those that are able to excel in and out of the classroom throughout their four years in high school.

Without a doubt, Stanford University is amongst those schools that really is only an option for the upper echelon of students. However, that does not necessarily mean that it is impossible to get into a school like Stanford with a less-than-perfect grade point average.

Stanford bell tower

But how can one learn how to get into Stanford with average grades?

At AdmissionSIght, we work with students each and every year to help them improve their chances of getting into their dream colleges and universities. Without fail, that means helping some students get into Stanford every application cycle.

Thanks to our years of experience within the admissions industry, we know that Stanford is right up there in terms of prestige and selectiveness along with schools like Harvard, Princeton, MIT and University of Chicago. And while Stanford, MIT and UChicago are not part of the Ivy League like Harvard is, they are three of the most sought after schools for students who are looking to attend them for either their undergraduate or graduate educations.

So, if you are curious about how Stanford compares to the hardest Ivy League to get into or the easiest Ivy League to get into, or if you are just wondering what the chances are that you will actually be able to say, “I got into Stanford with bad grades,” then you have absolutely come to the right place!

Let’s get started.

Stanford’s admission requirements

For any high school student that is hoping to get into some of the top schools in the United States, one of their primary goals leading up to the actual application process is to gain as much information as possible when it comes to what is expected of students who apply to such schools.

Not only does having this information help students know what they will want to achieve to improve the likelihood that they actually end up getting accepted to the school, but it also instills them with an overall sense of how good their chances actually are given their current grade point average, test scores, and more.

A college professor helping his students with a problem.

While Stanford – like the vast majority of schools in the United States – does not have a required course list that students need to fulfill in order to apply to the school, there are certain classes and topics that the admissions officers expect to see on an applying student’s high school transcript.

Here are the kinds of courses that students now have the goal of getting into a top school should absolutely take during their high school education:

  • 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 crucial thing that students need to keep in mind when they are plotting out their high school curriculum is to enroll in as many advanced courses as possible. This typically refers to either Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.

These classes come with much more advanced subject matter, a more standardized syllabus, and higher expectations across the board. There are a lot of reasons why high school students who want to get into top undergraduate programs should take as many of these advanced courses as possible. However, there are two specific reasons that absolutely stand above the rest:

The first reason is very much connected to the overall topic of this piece, and that is the grade point average. While typical courses are graded out of a 4.0 scale, with an A-grade being reflected by a 4.0, a B grade being reflected by a 3.0 and so forth, AP and IB courses are graded on a 5.0 scale. That means that an A in AP Chemistry, for example, will put a 5.0 into your GPA, potentially improving your overall grade point average drastically.

In fact, this is a reason why many of the top schools have average GPAs for students that are accepted that are quite a bit higher than a 4.0 GPA. AdmissionSight always encourages the students that we work to enroll in AP or IB courses as early and as often as they are comfortable with, with an emphasis put on enrolling in advanced courses that cover subjects that the student is either naturally gifted at or especially interested in.

Because these courses are quite a bit harder than core curriculum classes, extra work and effort is indeed required.

The second reason why taking advanced courses is so helpful is because it signals to admissions officers that a student is ready for the rigors and competitive nature of classes at top schools like Stanford.

Remember, these kinds of schools attract the most determined students and some of the most famous faculty in their respective fields. This can create a highly competitive classroom environment. Truly, it can sometimes prove to be too much for certain students. So, to make sure that they are setting students up for success, admissions officers love to see advanced courses on an applying student’s high school transcript.

Stanford admissions basics

Now that you know what is generally expected of students, we wanted to break down some basic numbers regarding Stanford admissions. Those are, the average GPA of students that actually get in, the average standardized test scores (SAT and ACT), and finally the acceptance rate at the school currently:

  • Average GPA: 3.95
  • Average SAT: 1510
  • Average ACT: 33
  • Acceptance rate: 3.67 percent

Those are some pretty eye-popping numbers. In fact, the 3.67 percent acceptance rate from the 2021 application cycle marked one of the lowest in the entire United States. In fact, if you want to see how Stanford compares to the hardest Ivy League to get into or the easiest Ivy League to get into, just take a look at the acceptance rates from the eight Ivy League schools from the most recent application cycle:

So as you can see, not only is Stanford’s current acceptance rate lower than all of those of the schools in the Ivy League, but it is quite a lot lower. That should give you a pretty good idea of just how hard the school is to get into even for students with exceptional grade point averages.

How to improve your chances of getting into Stanford

This may leave you asking yourself how on earth you are supposed to figure out how to get into Stanford with average grades.

There is no reason to think that having average grades is going to help you get into Stanford in any way. Of course, it is going to make the entire process more difficult and stressful. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. If you are looking for ways to improve your chances of getting into Stanford or any top school without a GPA that jumps off the page, here is how you’re going to have to do it.

Take responsibility and offer explanations for your low GPA

One of the most important things that any high school student can do to overcome an average GPA and get into a top school like Stanford is to take responsibility for the things that went wrong during their years in high school.

This is especially true if you are the kind of student who suffered academically because of some kind of unforeseen event that took place during your high school years. Some of the most common examples of this include family issues such as a divorce or loss of life, an illness that you dealt with, moving into a different city or state or moving schools, or anything similar.

Male and female students looking at the screen of a laptop computer in class.

In fact, a young student who was willing to own up to their mistakes and admit that they suffered academically because of one reason, or another could end up looking quite mature in the eyes of admissions officers at the school. After all, everybody makes mistakes in life. It takes a truly humble and grown-up person to admit those mistakes, however.

One common unforeseen experience that had an impact on a lot of students’ ability to perform well in the classroom was the COVID-19 pandemic. With schools shutting down and remote schooling becoming the norm for millions of students across the country, many top students saw their grades fall. If you are one such student you should absolutely take the time in your application to discuss how COVID-19 had an impact on your academics and why you believe you will be able to overcome those challenges when you begin your undergraduate education.

Get strong letters of recommendation

Another great way to overcome an average GPA and get into a top university like Stanford is to get fantastic letters of recommendation from your teachers and high school counselor. Every student that applies to Stanford is required to send in one letter from their counselor in high school and two letters from two separate members of their high school’s faculty.

These letters are meant to give the admissions officers at Stanford a better understanding of who the applying student is as a person. For a student who is applying to Stanford with an average GPA, the letters of recommendation portion of their application offer them a fantastic opportunity to help prove that despite their less than perfect GPA, they are dedicated and intelligent students.

The most important thing to remember when you are trying to get top letters of recommendation is that you are going to want to choose teachers and a counselor with who you have a strong relationship already. This means that you are going to have to form strong relationships with these people throughout your high school years. Taking as many courses as possible with the same teachers will help encourage the growth of these relationships, as will visiting your high school counselor on a fairly consistent basis.

This strategy should not be seen as opportunistic. In fact, it is very rewarding for both teachers and students to form strong bonds with one another. It fosters greater learning and often allows the teacher to do exactly what he or she wants to do with their job; help students.

One other thing to keep in mind is that high school students should make sure that they are asking for these letters in advance. Typically, it is recommended that students approach teachers about writing their letters of recommendation either at the end of their junior year of high school or at the very beginning of their senior year of high school. This will ensure that the student will get the letters that they need by the time that they plan on sending in their Stanford application.

Nail your standardized test scores

In case you do not already know, Stanford has adopted a test-optional policy in regards to both the SAT and ACT. This is in reaction to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as schools have no desire whatsoever to encourage students to take a standardized test if it means putting their health, or the health of their family and friends, at risk.

With that being said, the school makes it very clear that if students do send in standardized test scores, the school will consider it as part of that student’s overall application.

Students writing on the table.

So, if you are a student who is planning on applying to enter with a lackluster GPA you are going to want to make sure that you take the standardized test of your choice and earn a truly fantastic score. In fact, you will want to make it a goal to earn a score that is quite a bit higher than the aforementioned average standardized test scores at Stanford.

Why is this the case, you may ask?

Well, let’s think about the reason why top schools only usually accept students who end up at – or near – the very top of their high school classes in terms of grades and GPA. Basically, they want to make sure that they are accepting students who are up to the challenge of the undergraduate program’s curriculum. There has to be a baseline level of intelligence and dedication to not only succeed but also excel.

So, if you are a student who is not able to prove that you have what it takes through your GPA, you have to find other ways to do that. Acing the SAT or ACT is a great way to try to do that. In fact, back when the SAT and ACT were seen as much more important factors of the undergraduate application process, it was believed that students with truly underwhelming GPAs could overcome them simply by scoring top scores on the standardized test of their choice.

The same may not be true now, but if you have an average GPA and a truly phenomenal, standardized test score, you will give yourself a much better chance at overcoming that GPA compared to getting an average standardized test score, or not taking one of the tests at all due to the current test optional policy.

Write stellar personal essays

The final way in which you can overcome your average GPA to get into Stanford is to write truly remarkable personal essays. These days, a lot of importance is placed on the personal essay section of the application, as it is seen as the best way for admissions officers to determine whether or not a student is the right kind of culture fit for a given school.

A woman sitting while writing on her notebook and a laptop in front of her.

So, to give yourself a chance to overcome your average GPA and get into Stanford, make sure to give yourself the time and make the necessary effort to write essay responses that are truly special and will really set you apart from the rest of the students that apply.

We can help you improve your chances of getting into Stanford

No one said it would be easy, but if you are determined to get into Stanford despite your average GPA, it is certainly possible. AdmissionSIght can help. Contact us today to set up a free consultation so we break down what we will do for you to improve your chances of getting into this fantastic institution.



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