- Class: Senior
- Major: Biology
- Gender: F
- High School: Los Altos High School
- Transfer Student: N
The best thing about Stanford? The freshman dorms! Yes, they can be intense and overwhelming, as some have 90-180 people, but I made most my best friends freshman year and really had a great time. Also, the weather and the Bay Area. San Francisco is only 40 minutes away. At Stanford the weather is gorgeous, campus is gorgeous. If you like the outdoors, hiking, mountain biking, nature preserves, sailing, kayaking, rock climbing, none are more than about a fifteen minute drive away. Even after four years of the same walks to classes etc, I never cease to be amazed by the natural beauty on campus and the surrounding areas. College town? Palo Alto is about a mile away from campus, which is a fifteen minute walk or a 5 minute drive. It's a yuppie town with some reasonable restaurants, a couple of cool theatres, but ultimately more for 30 year old Silicon Vally execs than college students. The night life is minimal, although there are a couple of good bars, including the Nut House (California St.) and Nolas (off University) that are fun. In recent years it has also become dominated by coffee shops with wifi, so there are good places to study.
On student:teacher ratios. The intimacy of students and professors and attention you'll get in the classroom largely depends on the classes you select. Introductory classes required for every major are often quite large (~150-300 people). However, the bigger they are, the more support infrastructure they have in the form of office hours, and experience teaching the class. For example, when I took Math 51, a multivariable calculus class, there were perhaps 300 other students in the class. However, the Professors and TA's had a lot of experience teaching the course because of it's size and the frequency it was offered. They had extensive office hours so any motivated student who wanted face time with the Professor could easily get it. In fact, Professors in large classes often complain because no one comes to see them during office hours! Thus, I think in some larger classes you get the benefit of economies of scale (experience, efficiency, etc.) but if you are motivated can also get a lot of personal attention. On the flip side, there are many small seminar classes offered at Stanford where you can become extremely familiar with your professors. One class I took Sophomore Year, an introductory seminar, was held in the professor's apartment on campus! Most professors at Stanford are very passionate about their subjects, and love it when students engage in the material and really show an interest. The challenge really isn't limited resources in the form of professors, but rather choosing what interests you among a multitude of interesting faculty and topics! Favorite classes: Human Behavioral Biology - Robert Sapolsky Professor Sapolsky is a great speaker, highly engaging, and chooses interesting subject material for this class. To illustrate, after one class had already ended, he launched into a personal anecdote about the source of his interest in human agression. While at first everyone had been getting ready to leave (~300 people!), as he got into his story, which involved his experience of civil war in Africa, the entire class went silent. The story was so profound, that even after he had finished there was a good 20 seconds of silence where no one moved. Considering the insanely busy schedule of Stanford students, this was impressive. Global Human Geography - Martin Lewis This class is like reading a condensed form of every back issue of the Economist ever published. Professor Lewis knows just about every human cultural group, major historical event, and every political geographical boundary ever to have appeared on Planet Earth. He's an engaging speaker, and basically walks you through every country in a particular region, how it got there, who lives there, what religion they practice, what current events are happening there, what the environment is like, and then ties it all together to illustrate broader trends in globalization. Section consists of his answering questions students have sent him that they find interesting about a particular region, and is a true dialogue between professor and students. This class is incredibly useful for understanding the world. U.S. History Since 1945 - Professor Bernstein This guy knows everything about U.S. history since 1945, period. He's also a great lecturer, I think he's actually interviewed at one time or another all the major political figures he mentions in class, and he must have spent hours in Presidential Libraries actually reading all the government do***ents he talks about; you won't get any second-hand information from him. I like classes that make me feel like I've incrementally improved my ability to function as a well-informed citizen, and understanding the past 60 years of American history/politics and foreign relations was really useful in constructing a context for what's going on today in the United States. Is Class Participation Common? Yes, more so in freshman classes or upper division seminars than anywhere else. Do Stanford students have intellectual conversations outside of class? Not all, but if you like having those conversations there are many niches for you. Are students competitive? Yes, but in a constructive way. I wouldn't have worked half as hard in college if I hadn't been surrounded by so many bright, productive people. Most of the competition is this internal comparison you make between yourself with your peers, which can be dangerous because when you lump all your peers together, you get a superhuman that is impossible to beat. It also depends on who you hang out with, the pre-meds and pre-law are consistently intensely competitive throughout college, but for those of us for whom grades don't really matter anymore, hard work is motivated by interest in the subject matter. My major/department: Human Biology, an individually designed major outside of 7 classes that everyone absolutely must take. For anyone who doesn't want to commit to a single subject or needs more time to decide what major you want to be, this is the major for you. You have a lot of flexibility to experiment with different classes, and can construct an area concentration in virtually any subject pertaining to humans and biology that you find interesting. Having this flexibility is what kept me engaged in my studies, because I always felt free to chose what I was learning, rather than just taking classes because it was mandatory. Do you spend time with professors outside of class? Yes, I play tennis with my academic advisor regularly. How do you feel about Stanford's academic requirements? The general educational requirements are a bit arbitrary. Don't be afraid to petition to have a class added to the list of classes the fulfill a requirement, often times professors could add their class to the allowable list but aren't interested or don't know about the paper process it takes to do that. Is education at Stanford geared toward getting a job, or learning for its own sake? Both. Stanford gives you plenty of time to indulge in whatever academic or intellectual pursuit you chose, but no matter how practical your major, having a Stanford degree has been immensely helpful in my internship and job searches over the years.
What do most students wear to class? Flip flops, casual summer clothes. Where are most Stanford students from? California (~40% I think). But there are many international students, and lots of opportunities to meet people from diverse backgrounds. A lot of my friends are international, which is great for broadening my world perspective (and also places to stay when I travel :) Political leanings? Left mostly. But actually, many students would qualify for center because a lot of us can be apathetic about politics (pre-Obama, that is). Do students talk about how much they'll earn one day? Definitely. This is possibly more a hallmark of Generation Millenium than Stanford students. But common themes seem to be both making a lot of money, as well as saving the world (not necessarily incompatible goals). Stanford has an especially entrepreneurial environment, given it's location in the heart of Silicon Valley. It's not uncommon here for people to start their own companies while they are still in school.
The Best Things
the people, the weather
The Worst Things
stress (cause = often unrealistic self expectations)