My Experience at Stanford University

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Michael is a San Francisco tutor specializing in Algebra tutoring, ACT prep tutoring, Writing tutoring, and many other subjects. He graduated from Stanford University in 2013 where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Management Science & Engineering. See what he had to say about his time at Stanford University:

VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Michael: The Stanford University campus is incredibly beautiful, from the tree-lined paths, to Lake Lagunita, to Palm Drive—very few universities can compare. Stanford University’s campus is also incredibly safe, with very few crimes committed on a regular basis. It is very well lit, and there are safety beacons every quarter mile around the majority of the campus. While there is a free bus system that is relatively comprehensive, for the day-to-day commute from dorm to classroom, a bike is highly recommended. The campus is very bike-friendly, with bike racks outside every single building and classroom. It is also very car-unfriendly, and while parking is not that expensive, the time it will take you to drive to classes and park is non-trivial at best and much longer at worse. A car is useful to explore the surrounding suburbs, as apart from Caltrain, public transportation is minimal.

VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Michael: The teaching community at Stanford University is top notch, and professors, advisers, and teaching assistants are readily available to help with anything and everything. From homework help to starting your own company, Stanford University’s culture prides itself on being readily amenable to the student body and changes over time. However, you must actively seek those resources out. As a freshman, you will be initially guided toward them, but you must seek them out on your own accord if you truly desire them.

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Michael: Stanford University students are characterized as being victims of the “Duck Syndrome,” which stands for someone who looks calm and collected on the surface and who will tell you everything is fine, while under the surface/water, they are paddling furiously to keep up with the demands of school. As a former Resident Assistant, this is entirely 100% true, and it can be a good thing in a certain way. Stanford University has such a wide variety of clubs, academics, and social functions that put demands on your time that the university will stretch you beyond what you have previously encountered. Problems arise when students take it too far, which tends to happen mostly during freshman year. The saying “too much of a good thing” is extremely applicable here. Dorm rooms are typically very well maintained, dining has some of the healthiest food options in the country, the location of the campus is incredible if you are interested in technology and Silicon Valley, and there are regular opportunities to interact with unbelievably talented peers.

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Michael: I was a Management Science & Engineering major, and the engineers at Stanford University are by far the best-supported students on campus. During my time at Stanford University, 2009-2013, that trend became even more pronounced as Computer Science and startup culture became central to the School of Engineering. There are incredible resources available for those interested in the humanities, but the school’s natural focus has shifted toward engineers and startups.

VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Michael: Your ability to meet individuals on campus through your dorm, as well as clubs, is limited only by the amount of time you have to go to those activities. As Stanford University’s academic load is incredibly demanding, your time will need to be balanced accordingly. On the other side of the coin, students are typically incredibly open and welcoming to new individuals in whatever group they are in. I regularly joined new groups and organizations throughout my time at Stanford University.

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus? 

Michael: Stanford University students are some of the most sought after students in almost any area of study, but particularly in engineering. While the Career Center can be helpful for basic questions, a large portion of the best opportunities come through the personal network that Stanford University allows you to develop. These can come naturally through your clubs/organizations that you join or pre-professional organizations that promote a certain career path.

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Michael: The libraries have almost every possible book, movie, video game (yes, we have a video game archive), database, or magazine in the world, and if they do not, you can typically request it and have it delivered shortly thereafter. The Green Library (the main library at Stanford University) can get relatively crowded during finals periods, but you can always find a desk somewhere. Wireless Internet is plentiful and fast, and it covers the entire campus, so students are frequently seen studying (or not) out on the many acres of lawn around campus.

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

Michael: The only downside to Stanford University is that Palo Alto, the town just off the campus’s boundary lines, is not a great college town. Things are generally relatively expensive. However, the Marguerite and/or Caltrain can transport you to San Francisco or Mountain View where plenty of adventure awaits in under an hour. I would highly recommend exploring these areas if possible, and getting off campus if you can. Most students do not take advantage of this nearly enough.

VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Michael: Each undergraduate class is typically around 1,600 students, with about 7,000 undergraduates overall and approximately 9,000 graduate students across the many graduate schools Stanford University also has on campus. Introductory classes are typically large, often in the hundreds, but as soon as you hit sophomore year and you begin courses in your major, this number decreases dramatically. Discussion sections are also typically very small (about 10), which lowers the average class size. While some classes are large, I never felt as though it impeded my learning experience.

VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Michael: One of my favorite classes at Stanford University was one I took senior year that focused around venture capital and brought in speakers each week that discussed in detail one aspect of the industry. It was incredibly interesting, and it gave a fascinating perspective on an industry that I had been very interested in for a long time. It was relatively small and every student in the class was able to ask several questions each session.

Check out Michael’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.