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Setting the Record Straight on Admissions to Stanford

June 08, 1986

You carried a report of a talk I gave to students and parents at Laguna Beach High School (May 7). I appreciated very much the interest in the process of undergraduate admissions at Stanford University; it is a topic that generates as much misconception as interest. Your coverage, while generally accurate, contained a number of unfortunate errors.

The most significant factual error is contained in, "Although no one with less than a 3.6 grade-point average is admitted to Stanford. . . ." The truth is that there is no cutoff of any kind--for grade-point averages, Scholastic Aptitude Test scores or any other kind of test measures. It is true that the higher the grade-point average and SAT scores, the higher the probability of admission.

At the risk of grossly oversimplifying the process, it is accurate to say that there are two primary criteria for selecting the freshman class: demonstrated intellectual capacity and personal achievements outside the classroom (art, athletics, dance, debate, drama, music, public service, etc.).

It is a humbling process to see the range of significant achievements of 17-year-olds, and a challenge to the admissions staff to make the selection. As someone has said, the measure of a selective school is the quality of students who are not offered admission. The admissions staff shares in the joy of the admitted students, but we also share, through limitations in size of the freshman class, the disappointments of the many fine students to whom we cannot offer admission.

The second important point of correction comes from the unfortunate comparison I was said to have made between Stanford and other universities. As your readers will appreciate, it is difficult to condense the comments of a 40-minute talk into a half-page article.

In a question-and-answer period, I was asked why so many students are interested in Stanford and what was distinctive about the university. I had already said that it would be unfair to claim that Stanford is the only university that could provide a first-rate education. I said that I thought Stanford was distinctive in offering both an excellent education coupled with a fine quality of life overall.

I was dismayed that the reporter's summary made my response to questions appear both arrogant and offensive. Understandably, this was not an impression I had intended to portray.


Dean of Undergraduate Admissions

Stanford University

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