Busting Stanford myths

April 24, 2015, 2:08 a.m.

New admits to Stanford generally have a good sense of Stanford’s academics and culture from their own research and the promotional materials that they receive prior to Admit Weekend. At the same time, however, admits commonly have some misconceptions about the “Stanford experience.”

The Daily interviewed students and professors throughout the Stanford community to give admits a better sense of what being a student at Stanford is really like. We sought to address four of the most common questions about Stanford: Who is a typical Stanford student? Does every student ride a bike? Is there no room for the humanities? Do students struggle with “weed-out” classes?


Stopping Stereotypes

People often have very different ideas about what the typical Stanford student is like. Depending on whom you ask, the stereotype of a Stanford student might be a computer programmer, a surfer or something in between.

Elizabeth Woodson ’15 is the president of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU), which represents all Stanford students on campus. According to Woodson, these stereotypes don’t capture the wide range of students in the student body.

“There is no one stereotype that I would attach to Stanford — because it’s a diverse place — other than [students’ reputation for being] impassioned and really smart,” Woodson said.

Woodson notes that Stanford classes are structured such that no one type of person is predominant in a given incoming year.

“I think Stanford creates classes that are incredibly, comprehensively talented, so it’s a vast variety of interests that are going to be pretty ingrained in the class,” she said. “I also think Stanford does a good job of getting people to pursue their previous passions and also [giving] opportunities to be able to expand.”

Although Woodson believes that there is a strong emphasis on experiencing and exploring new ideas and emphasized the internal strength of the communities found throughout Stanford, she hopes that these communities at Stanford can do a better job of coming together.

“That’s something that’s really hard to do, and that’s something we can do better,” Woodson said. “So the new Class [of 2019] will be able to both add to our current group but also help us better connect the dots, and that’s something I look forward to hopefully seeing Stanford accomplish in the future.”


Transportation Trends

It’s hard not to notice the sheer number of bikes that seem to flood the Stanford campus every day. In fact, a common stereotype is that all Stanford students bike, or that a bike is necessary to traverse the campus.

However, many Stanford students find other ways to get around; for example, some students travel campus on foot.

Guilherme Reis ’18 is one of the many avid walkers that can be found among the sea of bikes.

“I had [a] friend before coming here who didn’t bike,” Reis said. “When I got here, I actually got a bike, but it sat outside my dorm locked and I barely used it. I realized I just feel like walking, and I’ve been walking since. If you plan ahead, walking is not a big deal.”

“The bikes do run the campus, but generally there is no difficulty getting around campus without one,” he added.

Of course biking and walking are not the only modes of transportation on campus. On any given day, you might see motorized scooters, skateboards or even a unicycle.


Major Community For All Majors

Humanities students coming into Stanford often express concern that computer science and engineering majors are prioritized, leading to a smaller community and set of resources available to humanities majors at Stanford. However, according to Sunil Rao ’15, history peer advisor, Stanford has plenty to offer humanities students.

“I don’t think it’s a lack of resources; I think it’s a lack of visibility,” Rao said.

Rao explained that students who look deeper will find many resources in the humanities and social sciences, especially in terms of funding opportunities, chances for faculty interaction and extracurricular activities.

“I think there’s so much there, and you find as you look around, you find people who are your age or a few years down the line who are doing the same sorts of things as you, which is really I think the most energizing thing,” Rao said.

Rao encourages undecided freshmen to figure out what faculty are teaching interesting classes, take those classes and go from there.

“You really need to think about what excites you and just sort of let that guide you,” Rao said. “I don’t think you should overthink it too much.”

In addition, humanities students should not be intimidated by the glamor and wealth stereotypically associated with computer science, according to Rao.

“If finding a job is your concern, then I think you’re best off doing things that interest you, that you think add to the person that you want to be, and opportunities will arise,” he said.


From Impossible to Empowered

Every year, incoming freshmen dread introductory classes in subjects like chemistry, which have a reputation for being impossible “weed-out classes.”

According to senior chemistry lecturer Jennifer Schwartz Ph.D. ’08, who teaches the introductory courses CHEM 31A and 31B, this fear is quite natural and common among incoming freshmen.

“I think the change is so big from high school to college that it can be very intimidating,” Schwartz said. “Also, college science is quite different from high school science. This can be shocking for students who were very successful in high school — this along with the transition to university life can be a big shock.”

“However, we are preparing you to solve science problems you will encounter in the real world,” she added.

That said, according to Schwartz, almost all students are able to make the transition.

“Most students are quite successful, and essentially everyone who completes the course ends up passing, so this myth that everyone is failing out is just blatantly false,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz stressed just how many resources are in place throughout the University to allow students to transition to college-level expectations, especially in introductory classes.

“We focus a lot on useful study habits, and there are many tools to develop this,” Schwartz said. “For example, we have problem solving workshops to aid people who are having difficulties with course material. Equally, we make sure the sections are all small groups to allow students to ask questions and get more practice with the material.”

For students that have no experience with science, many science sequences offer companion courses that help to promote proficiency with the material. For example, the chemistry department offers the companion courses CHEM 31AC and 31BC, which are quite small, to focus on additional study skills and allow for further practice with the material.

“I think it’s important for all freshmen to come into the University with the expectation that this is going to be quite different than high school, and that’s ok,” Schwartz said. “Learning is like a sport: we can’t expect to be good unless we practice it in a lot of settings.”


Four Lies and a Truth

One belief held by many people within the Stanford community is that Stanford has a unique, irreverent spirit, proud of its dedication to intellectual and athletic excellence but also willing to have fun. Unlike the four other beliefs we’ve discussed, this one is entirely true.

From the unpredictable antics of the Stanford Band, to the Mausoleum Party held at Halloween, to the Wacky Walk held at graduation, Stanford has a unique flair all its own. Stanford cultivates uniqueness, self-discovery and passion in each of its students. It’s an institution that, like its students, defies stereotypes.


Contact Skylar Cohen at skylarc ‘at’ stanford.edu and Zachary Brown at zbrown ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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