Tuesday, July 3, 2012

We Are Gatsby!

Like everyone else here, I have my own ideas about what goes on behind the closed doors of admissions offices at top schools. I personally like to think it involves some arcane ritual with blindfords and a dartboard. However, I thought I'd make my first post about the next step of the process. In the end, we can only choose one school, and many of us end up with the daunting (in an awesome way!) choice of where to matriculate. I'm going to focus on analyzing ,in a completely unbiased fashion, of course, some of the differences I noticed between Stanford and Yale.

During my admit weekend visits, it seemed like a huge amount of the students I met were trying to decide between Stanford and the Big 3 east coast Ivy League schools(Yale, Harvard, and Princeton). Of course,some people were also looking at other places as well. These people mostly fell in one of two groups. Some were considering specialized places such as MIT, Juilliard (music), or Annapolis (NAVY). Others were considering significant scholarships at other schools. I personally can't speak for either of these groups, and the right decision here often depends on one's own specific circumstances.

Stanford and the Ivy Leagues, however, compete on a more even playing field. All offer strong courses in a wide variety of subjects, all have diverse classes, and all limit themselves (except Stanford with some athletes) to need based aid. Since any aid differences can often be eliminated at these 4 schools (all of which happen to be filthy rich) with a little maneuvering, it all comes down to picking the place that feels right.

I'm not going to suggest that there aren't significant differences between the top Ivy League schools, but of the 4, most students seemed to agree Stanford is the odd man out, while the other 3 have relatively similar campus cultures. Therefore, I'll use Yale to represent all of Stanford's East coast competitors.

The location of Stanford is a pretty obvious factor. However, this affects more than just weather (where most would agree Stanford dominates). Stanford's Cali location also has a huge effect on the school's culture. I'd imagine this is largely due to the huge percentage of California students that matriculate. Even though it's packed full of overachievers, Stanford still somehow feels cool and relaxed. despite this, everyone is still working incredibly hard. This has lovingly been dubbed the "duck syndrome",but I honestly felt the effect it had was creating a relatively more warm and enjoyable environment. Yalies struck me as a bit more outwardly intense and competitive. Everyone was still incredibly friendly and welcoming, but I personally felt a bit less comfortable in this environment.

I also heard quite a few people worrying about the prestige of the schools. I think this is kind of ridiculous at this level, but many felt Stanford was less prestigious that it's Ivy League counterparts. I wouldn't necessarily agree with this. I think Stanford is kind of like Fitzgerald's Gatsby. It's the new money among these academic powerhouses that existed long before California was even a state! Personally, I found this exciting. The Ivy Leagues are the top schools of the past, but Stanford is the future! This is reflected in it's Silicon Valley location, it's STEM prowess, and (a favorite of the Stanford propaganda people) its entrepeneurial spirit.

The last thing I'd like to compare is the schools' student bodies. In reality, the schools admit many of the same people, and both classes end up with incredible people. IN GENERAL, I'd say that Ivy League people seem to be a bit more like what people would expect when they think of students at top schools. Many of these are the type A overachievers who started 5 clubs, saved a small and impoverished country, and somehow had time to self-study for that 18th AP test. At Stanford, quite a few students seem genuinely surprised to have made the cut. It seems that admissions at Stanford tends to look more highly upon essays, quirkiness, and a desire to get out and do something new in the real world. Many will roll their eyes at Stanford's slightly quirkier admissions, but I felt it created an additional layer of diversity that other schools just can't match.

I never really analyzed these factors in depth before choosing a school. That would have been kinda tough since Stanford scheduled their admit weekend literally days before we had to commit to a school (complete coincidence I'm sure). For me, something just clicked. Yale was incredible, but Stanford just had this secret sauce that won me over. Here's my advice to anyone making this kind of choice. Visit both places. Go with your gut. Never look back!

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