The best thing about Stanford is definitely the people. Although at first it is easy to feel lost and not feel like you have a great connection with people you meet, especially since freshman dorms are a total crap shoot and many people come from a group of incredibly close-knit friends from home, but once you do find a community you fit into, the people are awesome. I've met so many inspiring, creative, passionate people who are genuinely just good people. I think Stanford's size is just right. Not so small that you aren't always meeting new people, but not so big that you feel lost in the crowd. One thing that can be hard about going to Stanford is, when you are away from the farm, telling people you go to school there. I often try to avoid it, and I know many other people who do the same. People definitely react strongly, and definitely change their perception of you. Young people at state schools all the sudden think you are an elitist, or that ridiculously smart kid in their high school classes that was annoying and answered all the questions right. They think you don't know how to have fun or relate to people. Adults or the ambitious type often think you are a greater force to be reckoned with, and might take you more seriously. I spend most of my time on campus at the Earth Systems office (my undergraduate major has a sweet lounge where students hang out), in classes, or in the library. I like it though. Once you find something you love studying, spend time in a rigorous academic community is thrilling and inspiring. I also spend a lot of time just chilling with my friends in my coop. Palo Alto is a miserable college town. It has a few hole-in-the-wall kinds of places that are nice to be at, but there is nothing worse than going out on a Friday night to a bourgeoise bar and being surrounded by all other Stanford students. However, San Francisco, Berkeley, Santa Cruz are all amazing places. If you make it a priority to get out more, there are tons of awesome things to do in those places. It is more of a trek though. There isn't a whole lot of overt school pride, but I think people really do love Stanford and appreciate all of the amazing things it has to offer.
The best thing about Stanford is the quality of the professors and students. You’re not just challenged by the academics, but by your peers as well. People feed off one another’s energy. I spent a lot of my time on campus outdoors, either hanging out on Wilbur Field or studying at Moonbeams (coffee shop). As for Palo Alto, it’s a young town but not really a college town. We would go there for food, movies, and trivia night, but it certainly wasn’t the place to go for fun. The biggest controversies on campus were around the Iraq War (there were big protests, especially early on), and around dining hall/residence employees, who would sometimes go on strike after being denied certain benefits by the administration. I doubt if either will be resolved anytime soon. One experience I’ll remember forever is Full Moon on the Quad, when everyone heads to the main quad on campus and proceeds to watch (or partake) in a giant makeout fest. The tradition is that seniors kiss freshmen, but these days everyone seems to be involved. Some people are in costumes, some people are wearing nothing at all (thank you co-ops), and some people are playing instruments. It’s a good time.
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.
Best things: beauty. The Stanford campus is unparalleled for its aesthetic appeal and general 'feel' of safety and privilege. People react with envy and admiration (jealousy, too!) when I tell them of my Stanford education; however, this reaction is largely to be found in those who have not attended a school of comparable pedigree. I spent most of my time on campus wandering about the many, beautiful outdoor areas - Moonbeans coffeehouse, the quad, White Plaza. Stanford's administration is generally workable. I suffered minor issues with the Financial Aid department regarding unjust late-fees (tuition). Biggest recent controversy? I'm not sure there's ever much controversy. There's a fair amount of school pride, particularly amongst the band community, which is also one of the more unusual things about the school. One experience I will always remember is the general enjoyment of the co-op scene, lively yet unimposing. Most frequent complaints: perhaps the lack of quality parties?
I personally love Stanford. I love the campus - it's beautiful and safe. I like the variety of housing options, even though the housing draw isn't very fair. We also have some unusual but very interesting classes, which is great. But I do think that the workload is too heavy and we could still learn a lot without having as much reading or assignments. Professors aren't generally good advisers, so you have to know where to go to get help. But the resources are definitely there. I will always remember new student orientation week because it was the most exciting time at Stanford, (and I didn't have any work to do). One thing a lot of people don't like about Stanford is that it's disconnected from the rest of the world. We don't get to experience much outside campus and the social scene can get boring after a while.
Stanford was great. Despite the fact that it's pretty mid-sized there's a plethora of different activities and niches to immerse yourself in and no lack of opportunities. The down side of Stanford is that compared to other colleges at its level the student body, although brilliant, tends to be quite vanilla and surprisingly anti-intellectual. The up side is that there's tons of low hanging fruit in terms of really interesting opportunities if you want to do Stanford funded adventures, work with eclectic and top-notch faculty and just expand your horizons. For instance, Stanford funded me to go to the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean, Yellowstone National Park, the Galapagos and I was able to study in Monterey and on a 135' tall ship for a month.
Overall, Stanford is a pleasant place with interesting people, good academics and an attractive campus. Common complaints include: too far from a big city (ie, San Francisco- Palo Alto and San Jose don't count), not enough social life, bad dating prospects. How quickly you will like Stanford depends largely on what kind of person you are: if you like sweatpants, hip-hop and Econ, come right in. If, on the other hand, you prefer skinny jeans, indie bands and CompLit, campus will seem less welcoming initially. But with six thousand undergraduates you can meet literally any kind of person you want, and people tend to find their niche.
Stanford is a truly wonderful place to be an undergrad. The word idyllic comes to mind. Having visited friends at half a dozen other universities around the country (and vice-versa), I know with uncommon certainty that I made the right choice. Beyond the nearly unparalleled opportunities in the classrooms and research labs, the most valuable part of a Stanford education is being surrounded by and interacting with some of the brightest and most broadly thinking people you're likely to ever meet. Having graduated, I miss that!
I really like, that evenybody at stanford is treat ed the same. There are no clubs for rich people or geniuses. Instead it is common that the millionaire's daughter might live in a room with the worker's daughter and they wouldn't even know, because money is barely an issue. Some goes for grades: Even though everybody is doing their best, people do not boast with their grades and their superiority, but instead help each other.
I spend a lot of my time in the dorms, which I really enjoy. Freshmen aren't allowed to have cars, but a parking pass can easily be obtained, so leaving campus and going to events in San Francisco or elsewhere is easy. People are generally impressed when I tell them I go to Stanford, as it has a great reputation, particularly as I live in the Bay Area. The administration does a great job, and everything is run very smoothly.