What does it mean to call yourself a “Stanford student”?

Oct. 9, 2022, 3:20 p.m.

Dec. 15, 2021 

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was obsessed with college reaction videos. Despite their predictability (the widening of the eyes and mouth, followed by noises of delight), watching strangers receive acceptances to their dream schools never failed to tug at my heartstrings. After witnessing the happiness of these lucky admits — whom I did not know but shared anxiety with — I decided that an acceptance letter would be the best moment of my life.

Flash forward to Dec. 15, 2021. I was at my favorite boba shop (shout-out to Cafe Pruvia) with my two best friends when the Stanford REA decisions were released. In all honesty, I thought I’d get deferred, so I opened my laptop with steady hands, ignored the cameras that were on me, and clicked the link. Stared at the screen with wide eyes. 

“I got in,” I said. Excitement bubbling out of my chest, I spun my computer around to show my friends the red confetti: “I got into Stanford!” 

I consider those collective jubilant minutes to be one of the happiest moments of my life. I still remember being overwhelmed by a flurry of emotions that started in my chest and sang through my smile. As the realization that I’d actually been accepted to Stanford sunk in, so did I — into the pillow-soft euphoria that comes from having your entire being empowered. The validation of the acceptance and the praise from my family, friends and peers launched me to the top of the world. Perched on my pedestal, I looked upon my life with a newfound pride. 

Unfortunately, I realized that the happiness I initially felt from my acceptance was the deceiving tip of an emotional iceberg. Shortly after the decision was released, I began to wonder if my acceptance was valid at all. Compared to the stunningly impressive REA admits I connected with on social media, my accomplishments (all of which were related to creative writing, which was my “spike”) felt minuscule and unimportant. These feelings of doubt were amplified when I learned that my high school peers were swapping cruel comments about whether I “deserved it.” But how could I criticize their skepticism, when I hardly knew if I deserved to be a Stanford student myself?

As these feelings of insecurity festered, I continued to receive praise from my family and close friends. Compliments that I’d once happily received began to make me feel sick, since I was no longer confident that I could live up to their expectations. I was still the same person I was before the Stanford decision, and yet everyone’s perception of me had suddenly shifted: for better or for worse.

April 28-30, 2022 

I’d pondered whether or not I was “Stanford material” in the months leading up to Admit Weekend. Although fully aware of Stanford’s unparalleled academics, I feared putting myself into an academic pressure cooker that I couldn’t handle. I saw myself as painfully “normal,” whereas my fellow admits were superhuman geniuses. The fact that I was planning on majoring in English in a heavily STEM-dominated school made me feel even more alienated. 

How could I possibly fit in? How could I possibly measure up? 

That was the mindset I had going into Admit Weekend: a three-day retreat at Stanford where the university tries to seduce you into accepting their offer of admission. Since my mom wasn’t interested in attending, I made plans to room with another admit at a hotel. Let’s call her “Emma.” On the surface, Emma fit my image of a Stanford student perfectly — which is to say, she was extremely intimidating. Over Instagram DMs, she informed me she’d been accepted to Harvard, Yale and MIT. Her art Instagram account boasted several national gold medals in the Scholastic Art and Writing awards, which I’d only ever been awarded for on the regional scale. Oh, and art wasn’t even her main activity: she intended to major in computer science. 

Emma was my first real impression of a Stanford student, and needless to say, I was terrified. But only minutes after meeting her, I realized that I’d harshly misjudged my Admit Weekend roommate. Rather than being the intimidating, clear-cut genius I’d expected her to be, Emma was kind, clumsy, and just as nervous as I was. So many of her mannerisms — like the enthusiastic warble in her voice and her tendency to laugh with her whole chest — reminded me of my friends back home. The fact that she was so surprisingly “normal” swiftly altered my perception of the typical Stanford student.

After I began seeing Emma for who she was as a person rather than who I’d believed her to be, our friendship blossomed. During the Uber rides to campus, we bonded over our love of food and Spotify playlists. Then, armed with backpacks and bright eyes, we took on Stanford together. Some photos I have from that first day of Admit Weekend include Emma running towards a fountain (“Have you heard of fountain-hopping?”), the two of us posing in front of the famous Memorial Church, and a group selfie (taken in 0.5x lens) at the @stanford.2026.bios meet-up. 

In between taking photos at Main Quad and eating dinner at Pacific Catch, Emma and I met a lot of other admits. It took only a few conversations for me to begin admiring my fellow incoming freshmen rather than fearing them. The genuine enthusiasm with which they discussed their passions as well as their genuine interest in learning about others, impressed me thoroughly. It was rare for a conversation to begin with “Hi, I’m (Name)” and end with “See you in September!” without some sort of meaningful, personal discussion taking place in-between. Moreover, it didn’t matter if one admit didn’t share another’s intended field of study: a conversation, powered by curiosity, would still occur. Over the course of three days, I witnessed this incredible phenomenon over and over again. Over the course of three days, my insecurities were repelled by the inclusivity of my peers. 

On the last day of Admit Weekend, Emma and I explored Cupertino with two admits from the Bay Area. After getting pho for lunch and Salt & Straw for dessert, the four of us got candid about imposter syndrome. I was shocked to hear Emma — as well as the two other admits — express feelings of un-belonging. I figured that their stellar GPAs, SAT scores, and extracurriculars would’ve been enough to boost their confidence, but in reality, they also felt burdened by the Stanford student stereotype.

Once our shared insecurities had been revealed, it was easy to talk about them. Sitting on the rooftop of a hotel in Cupertino, we voiced our feelings of inadequacy. We fell into a rhythm: After one person confessed their fears, the three others would vigorously affirm that they, without a doubt, deserved to be here. We ended up feeling less alone. 

Now

Being a Stanford student means grappling with questions of whether or not you belong here. We as a student body share the emotional burden lying beneath the surface of a glistening opportunity. 

Although the name Stanford may evoke heaps of praise and waves of insecurity alike, or prompt rumors of “did they deserve it?” from the mouths of bystanders, it will serve as a testament to our hard work for the rest of our lives. It will open millions of doors for you. 

More importantly, being a Stanford student means belonging to a student body that will uplift, innovate, encourage, and inspire. I’m writing this article from my dorm room — day 17 of living at Stanford — and I can say with total confidence that I have been thoroughly blessed by the people around me. Being in the presence of so many kind, creative, and wise people is in itself amazing, but I can also recall a multitude of distinct events in which my fellow Stanford students touched my heart. I don’t think I would’ve sang a duet to “Bags” by Clairo, played spontaneous Heads Up with my floor-mates, or had a vulnerable talk about religion (while sitting in the middle of a hallway no less) at any other school. 

To every Stanford student,

You belong here. You were hand-picked from an exodus of applicants. Put every negative connotation of the name ‘Stanford’ behind you, and embrace these next four years.

To myself, 

I’m proud of you for achieving peace of mind. I know that working through your insecurities was no small feat. Now that that’s out of the way, blue skies lie ahead; we both know that this place will bring you endless joy.

Love, 

Audrey

Toggle Dark Mode Toggle Dark Mode
Toggle Large Font Size Toggle Font Size

Login or create an account