Stanford, CA

What are the academics like at your school?

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 documents 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.

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I've had many phenomenal professors who really take the time to learn their students names, and then continue to remember them months and even years later. That is definitely a validating feeling. Not every professor does it, but those who do are awesome. I have a few favorite classes, but one of them was Ethics and Politics of Public Service. The professor is one of the most engaging, phenomenal teachers ever, and he crafted the class in such a way that a large room full of 60 people felt like a seminar--and he brought us all on a personal emotional roller coaster that examined our ethical obligations to the world in the form of public service. It was a formative class in my conception of who I am and what I care about, and was one of the most intense and powerful academic experiences I have had at Stanford. Students study a lot, but that isn't a bad thing. Many study because they want good grades to go to grad school or do something else ambitious, but I also think, especially by senior year, that many people study hard because they really really care about what they are studying, and just generally intrigued and want to learn more. When that is true, studying doesn't feel like an obligation, it feels exciting. Not everyone participates in class, and whatever happens at the beginning of the quarter usually develops into a trend. People who are too shy to speak out early often never get over that, and never speak out. I never used to ask questions or speak out in class, and then I realized I was letting my pride get in the way of my education, and I forced myself to ask questions and offer comments, and my experience in my classes has been greatly improved. There is definitely a lot of intellectual discussion that happens outside of the classroom, and it is guaranteed to be engaging. I've had many an awesome conversation that I just stumbled upon and it turned into hours of debate. My major is amazing. Earth Systems is a group of students who are all so creative but also really care about the world and making it a better place. There is no limit to the number of interesting ideas and conversations that take place in the Earth Systems office. It is a great community of people to be in. Very accepting, very open-minded, very inter-disciplinary.

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One of my biggest disappointments at Stanford was the huge lecture classes for freshman (IHUM requirements for all freshman = stiflingly crowded lectures). On the flip side, Stanford seems to understand most students want that close interaction with a professor, and provides so called "introductory seminars" for freshmen and sophomores. You can get into these intro sems provided your application is accepted (not too difficult). Most classes - excluding those that are part of a core for popular majors - are somewhere between 20 to 40 students and provide enough opportunity for students to talk to the professor, provided those students don't mind going to office hours held by the Professor. For the very high volume classes, you'll get to know your TA (teaching assistant) much more than your Professor. For those who want to be close with Professors, that's entirely possible, but students need to be pro-active. For me, the only time I was able to truly engage with Professors in a long-term relationship was when I consistently went to office hours, and, more recently, when I decided to write a thesis with the help of two advisers. Being intellectually stimulated outside the classroom also requires one to be a bit proactive. Stanford students are very smart - but the culture doesn't encourage intense conversations so much as it does in (so I hear) University of Chicago. Not only the culture, but also the relative uniformity among Stanford students, keeps conversations a bit tame (for example, the majority of Stanford students are liberal, and those who aren't don't advertise it). Joining a student group (debate groups, atheist club, philosophy circle) is your best bet to taking your intellectual energy outside the classroom.

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Academics at Stanford are generally solid though you can certainly find yourself in boring classes if you aren't careful. My favorite class I've taken so far was one offered between Anthropology and Urban Studies called 'Cities in Comparative Perspective'. The professor talked theory beautifully and students tended to have strong, interesting opinions. My least favorite classes are the big lecture classes (which you often have to take as pre-reqs for the more popular majors) where the professors sometimes fail to communicate effectively. Small classes and seminars are usually very good; I don't spend much time with professors outside of class, but they definitely learn your name, encourage you to come to office hours and remember you. Intellectual conversations outside of class are not frequent, but they do happen and no one's afraid to seem smart. People generally seem very relaxed about academics, no matter how stressed they are behind closed doors, and are generous with notes and collaboration. Special note should be made of the language programs; of the two I've taken, French and Portuguese, both were amazing.

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I think the academics at Stanford are just as challenging as at equivalent schools. What might be different, is that at Stanford they try very hard to give the students advisers and therefore direction in their studies to not be overwhelmed. Especially during Freshman year this is the case. Additionally Professors and TAs to a great job to reach out to the student and give them as much support as possible. There is always somebody around willing to meet with a student if it is for his or her academic benefit. Stanford has a selection of Introductory Seminars what have the focus to have a small group of students discuss one topic in depth. This is a terrific opportunity to get to know faculty in one's area of interest. But it can also happen that professors from big lectures know one's name. This happened to me last quarter in an IHUM called Epic Journeys and Modern Quests and what is even more remarkable is that I did not even go to any office hour or had otherwise special contact with the professors.

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Professors can and do know your name, but it depends on the class. In big lectures, you have to make an effort to get to know professors. It seems like students are always studying here, even though people are always complaining about not studying enough. And Stanford students have intellectual conversations outside the classroom, which is both a good and a bad thing. It's great that people are excited to discuss important issues, but sometimes I just want to relax and not have to clarify everything I say or back it up with evidence. Stanford's general education requirements are pretty flexible, I think, so you'll fulfill them while taking classes you like. Requirements for the major vary by major, and sometimes they can be overwhelming, like Chemical Engineering. One thing about Stanford education is that it gives you perspectives on everything, not just what you need to know for your job. And if you don't learn these things in class, you'll learn them from the people you're around.

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I am sure the academics are pretty much what you usually hear from a school like this. In most classes if you make any effort to actually say hello to a professor and introduce yourself he will remember you. I have not yet had a professor who has forgotten about me. At this school if you need academic help, or any help for that matter, you usually need to only ask a person or two. If they can not assist you they will take their own time out of the day to help you as much as they can. Students here are very competitive. There isn't a week that goes by to where I hear someone is upset that they got a B grade in a class or on a test. Everyone here seems to be from a wonderful place where the only grade available was an A+. It is a given that everyone has work to do and everyone talks about how much work they have to do. In a way I see it as a showing of pride and the ability to see themselves through one of the hardest and best schools in the country.

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Professors sometimes know your name, and sometimes they don't. In a seminar, they most certainly will. In a lecture, they are likely not to bother. Favorite class: Nabokov and Modernism, taught by Prof. Monica Greenleaf, through the Comparative Literature department. Students study patterns vary. Class participation is common in humanities classes, and significantly less common in science/math courses. Stanford students do have intellectual conversations outside of class, but are most likely to do so with regard to humanities' courses, and in graduate seminars. Students are competitive. The most unique class: American Rock Music of the 1960s. Major/department: English. Fairly disconnected, no real activities. Didn't spend time with profs. outside of class. Academic requirements (in the humanities) are very, very doable. And, in the humanities, they are not geared towards getting a job.

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Professors knew my name while I was a student, and I’d hope some at least still remember me. My favorite class was probably Introduction to Film, and my least favorite was definitely Statistics. Fuck that. 9 AM, 5 days a week, and a graduation requirement. It still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Class participation, at least in the Humanities, was very common. In fact it was expected. And we commonly had conversations outside of class, on everything from Arrested Development to Theodor Adorno. I’m sure you could call some of them intellectual. I didn’t hang out with professors much outside of class, though, and I don’t think many of my friends did either. If we wanted to see them outside of class, we would generally go to office hours.

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The academics at Stanford definitely live up to the standards you would expect from a top university. The science and humanities classes all ask a lot from a person, especially as the quarter system is fast-paced. However, it's usually manageable. The unusual classes that I've taken so far are Jazz Theory, Air Pollution, Hacking Stuff (about building robot cars), Social Dance, and Breaking the Code (about codes). This is along with math, computer science, and required gen eds. Pretty much everyone has the time to take at least a couple classes "for fun" every year. Students are mostly competitive only around finals and midterms if they're in a class that grades on a curve, when it's actually important to do better than the person next to you.

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