The message echoes throughout our culture: Go West. It’s the idea that we can capture the spirit of progress by packing our bags and journeying far away from home. Scientists have done it. Artists have done it. Businessmen and entertainers have done it. The admissions officers in Old Union are telling you to do it. Here’s an account of what you might find when you get there.
Stanford University is located in Palo Alto, California, twenty minutes away from the west coast of the United States. The cultural and economic center of San Francisco is a half-hour drive up the peninsula. The city of San Jose is half an hour away in the opposite direction. Between these two cities is what the world calls “Silicon Valley.” Think for a moment and you’ll realize: Stanford is smack-dab in the thick of things.
Despite being a short drive away from major offices of companies such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, Stanford students live with the touch and feel of a traditional college campus. Most important buildings of the university are inside the Campus Drive loop, the majority of classes are taught behind the arches of the main Quadrangle and the newly constructed Science and Engineering Quad, and most undergraduates live in the vast array of dorms and houses on campus. Living conditions vary from cookie-cutter boxes to unique rooms in converted mini-mansions. Where you live depends on the luck of the “draw,” a housing-assignment event that happens each spring.
Students spend most of their time on site during the school year, to the extent that those without car access (that’s you, freshman) can aptly call Stanford campus “the Bubble.” Living off campus (in anything larger than a closet) is not a popular option; you’d need the salary of a CEO to do so.
For you city types out there you’ll begin starving for the buzz of downtown in no time. Unfortunately, Stanford begins to feel spread out at times that you’ll understand why many call it “the Farm.” If you live for the thrill of the Metro or the “T”, stay on the East coast. Otherwise, expect a trip to San Francisco to see Miss Saigon, for instance, to happen two or three times per ten week quarter. Opportunities to visit Yosemite or Lake Tahoe happen just as often. Day trips to Monterey Bay, shopping malls, and other area attractions are extremely common, but again, you’ll need a car. For those not so lucky, Palo Alto offers little more than upscale cafes to take your date to before a semi-formal.
Now pay attention, ’cause here’s the kicker: in the opinion of the vast majority of students, campus life at Stanford is simply amazing. The opportunities you’ll have to explore the lives of those around you is incredible – be prepared to become deeply connected with students, staff and faculty alike. Dinners with faculty and campus “celebrities” are regularly programmed; dorm patriotism (complete with dorm battle-cries and chants) is fostered; birthdays are celebrated religiously.
The effort that both students and staff make to build understanding is successfully illustrated by a popular dorm event called “Crossing the Line”. At this event, a line is marked on the ground and students are asked to stand on one side of the room. Someone reads a statement, such as “I am a practicing Christian” or “I am sexually active.” Those who agree with the statement cross the line. Afterward, a vibrant discussion ensues about religious beliefs, self-esteem, personal philosophies, among other things. Most students agree during this discussion that friendship is a priority in their lives, and a major reason that they choose Stanford.
Living in dorms and attending Stanford, in general, is very expensive. The surrounding area is over-priced. Until students stop coming, I guess we’ll all just have to deal with rising tuition and cost of living. (Student activists who like fighting administration, please come!)
The sun is shining, there are wafty little cirrus clouds in the clear blue sky, and a warm breeze is brushing upon my face. I’m sitting out on the lawn writing this article on my Dell laptop, periodically looking up to watch people playing basketball and students studying on the grass. Imagine this scene for a moment – you’ll see a lot of this around here. Yes, the weather here is nice.
For those who rely on lulls in the curriculum to handle their work, the quarter system at Stanford will be difficult to handle. It’s a running joke that professors who come over from Harvard and Yale (both run on semester systems) try to cram everything into the quarter anyway. This may mean that you’ll have less time to participate in extra-curricular activities, or it may mean that you’ll just have to clean up your act.
It’s widely known that many of Stanford’s departments, especially those in science and engineering fields, are second to none. A list of departments that have traditionally brought us the most fame and fortune include Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Math, Political Science and Economics. Faculty, past and present, include Linus Pauling, Richard Zare, Robert Sapolsky, Eric Roberts, Steven Chu, John Taylor, Richard Zimbardo, Condoleeza Rice. If you know anything about their respective fields, you’ll know who I’m talking about. It is true that science and engineering departments overpower the humanities at Stanford, but it is untrue that students don’t take a high stake in the arts and humanities as well. Many students choose to major or minor in humanities or social science related fields.
In addition, the university has dedicated itself to bolstering the humanities with additional funding. The Leland Stanford Junior Museum, with one of the largest Rodin collections in the world, was re-opened after ten years of renovation early this year. Regardless of the general attitude toward “fuzzies” (those in the humanities), students of the arts always seem to know how to take care of themselves. There are always student musicals, recitals and readings happening on campus.
Student initiated research is a big issue on campus, especially for those interested in science. For the most part, motivated students will be able to find research positions in one of the labs on campus, including those in the medical school. Over half of the biology majors this year completed an honors thesis, which usually entails at least one year of independent research in a lab. A handful of advanced students publish every year in journals such as Science and Nature. In short, if research is your thing, Stanford will love you; but prepare to sacrifice your social life.
Stanford is a perennial divisional winner of the Sears Cup, an award given to the university with the most collegiate athletic championships in the country. Besides being a thrill for the players involved, Stanford’s success in the competitive sports gives students something to cheer about – loudly. To get their hands on coveted Men’s basketball tickets this year, students camped out a week in advance outside Maples Pavilion. School spirit is very much alive here. As Dick Vitale said when he body surfed the crowd this year, “It’s all about Stanford, Baby!”
Let me calm down a little and try to wrap it up. It’s true that the overwhelming number of students here believe they’ve made the right college decision. Stanford students tend to believe that the social climate here is a sweeter pill to swallow. But don’t think Stanford can give you everything. We don’t have the history and culture of the city in our backyard. We definitely don’t have the ivy and don’t, at this point, have the feeling of having an established “legacy.” What we live by is the “work hard, play hard” mentality, and the crazy idea that the “Going West!” in the name of progress is the only way to go.