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Stanford University - The Days and Nights in Wonderland

MK from Stanford is one of the most gifted colleagues I met at Google. I was thrilled when he agreed to write about his university.

Stanford University, whose full name is Leland Stanford Junior University, is a well-known private university in US located in northern California, about 40 minutes away from San Francisco by car, and right in the center of the Silicon Valley. It has less than 7000 undergraduate students and a little more than 8000 graduate students, with near 2000 academic staff member.

The very special thing about Stanford is that it is strong in almost everything its offering. It has the top Engineering, Science, Humanity, Business, Law and Medical school in US, yet it is very far away from most of the major “academic powerhouses”. This allows Stanford to have the biggest campus among all the US universities (and the 2nd biggest among all the universities in the world) in the state with a very nice weather. That results in a very residential experience at Stanford, where more than 95% of its undergraduate students live on-campus in dormitory-like environment. The majority of the graduate students live on-campus too, and they are placed mostly in a place we called the “graduate village”, with small houses assigned to each 2-3 of them for a very competitive rent rate.

Like many other universities in US, Stanford is very focused on its undergraduate education. Similar to most of the schools, Stanford doesn’t require students to declare a major until their junior year in college (the 3rd year), and even after that, students can still change their major if they wanted to. In order to graduate, students need to finish a certain amount of major required classes, together with GERs (general education requirement) and the rest of the classes they choose to take. For an engineering major students, the ratio of those classes would be around 65%:20%:15%, and for humanity or science students, it would be around 45%:20%:35%. This ratio is a little different between majors to majors, but that’s approximately what it looks like. Most of students are not required to do a strict thesis in order to graduate, yet there are final designs for different majors instead of that. For example, for a Computer Science major student, the final design would be a year-long project with some industry clients. For some major, people can choose to write a thesis for their major and receive a honor in major after that. Those are called “honor thesis” and it needs to be declared at least a year before the finishing of school. Students would use approximate a year to do research for the thesis and complete it.

Stanford also have a slightly different school schedule than most of the other schools. We have four 10-week-long academic quarters in a year, and a full-time student at Stanford are expected to attend 3 out of 4 each year. Most people would choose to take a break on Summer Quarter, so summer ended up for mostly the visiting students and summer school students from other places all over the world. Most students finish their study and graduate after 12 quarters (equivalent to 4 years of undergraduate study), but people can graduate whenever they finish the total classes required, which can be finished in less than 9 quarters if one chooses to. That means, undergraduate students can really graduate whenever they want as long as they have finished. Most of the classes are small seminars with around 20 students per class, with the exception of the engineering classes, most of which consist of both big lectures and small discussion sessions. The biggest class ever at Stanford is the intro to Computer Science, which recorded 400+ students last fall quarter. It is offered also online for those who don’t want to go to class in person, and student would meet in discussion session once a week for the class, with no more than 8 students each session, led by session leaders who are qualified undergraduate and graduate students.

Students, especially the ones with an engineering major, tend to do summer internship or research when they are not required to be at school during summer. It is fairly easy to find an internship since Stanford is right in the middle of the Silicon Valley, where many of the technology companies are located, where many more start-ups are rising. There are multiple career fair during the year for these companies to recruit on-campus, for both internships and full-time positions, and that’s the most common way for people to get their job at Stanford. Right now this is almost a student-oriented market, being that it’s likely easier for a Stanford student to find a job, than for a company to sign someone from Stanford for a position. One possible reason for this is that many talented students here are very entrepreneurial, and they would prefer founding their own start-up over working for an already-successful company, while the other big portion of students choose to do research over internships. Some of these start-ups ended up as some well-known companies in the world, such as Google and HP.

The graduate programs at Stanford are also very good, with world-class research facilities and opportunities for almost every major area Stanford offers, including a 3.2 km long linear accelerator for particle physics researches. The masters program takes approximately 2 years to finish, and the Ph.D takes between 5-6 normally. There are always exceptions since similar to the undergraduate program, graduate program is also a graduate-when-you-are-done program, where people leave when they are done with their required academic part from Stanford.

The unofficial motto of Stanford is “work hard, play hard”, and that’s very well reflected on most of the students at Stanford. People spend a lot of time on non-academic activities and events, including sport events, recreational events, social events and etc. Stanford has won the NACDA Director’s Cup, which is an annual reward for the best performance in collegiate athletic program in US, 17 years in a row. In the recent Olympic games, Stanford students and alumni have contributed to 12 gold medals. Stanford has excellent facilities for its student, including a world-class private golf course that’s open to students on-campus.

I have just finished my undergraduate study as a Product Design major at Stanford, with several golf-related design as my final design for my major. I am also half-way done for my masters degree by now, which is a computer science major focusing on Artificial Intelligence and Human Computer Interaction. I have had a lot of fun at Stanford in the past four years, especially the time outside of classroom, with all the activities available on and off campus. I have run for student government and was elected the Senior Class President in my final year at Stanford. My role is simply raising fund from the school and from industry, and spend those to make sure that people of my year are having a memorable time during their last year at school. It at least has been a memorable experience to me, and I can guarantee that you will have a great time at Stanford, just like all of us, if you choose to join Stanford sometime in the near future.

Contact MK at edu (at) confected (dot) com