Hopes and Dreams in a Stanford Education

Originally published in the Stanford Daily as part of a column series known as Adventures in Academia that explored issues related to the Stanford University community.

Three years ago, a young and wide-eyed high school senior (which happened to be me) first visited the campus of a gorgeous university nestled in the foothills of the Silicon Valley. Stanford was an imposing institution with that Palm Drive view, and the students seemed to be uniformly smart - smarter than me.

I made the decision to attend this school, despite the storied rains of Admit Weekend 2007. I am grateful for that decision and for my time here so far. Reflecting back, I want to share some thoughts on that decision, and in the process, help all the ProFros here this weekend prepare for one of the most formative stages of their lives.

First, this decision is not the most important one you will ever make. All the top colleges of America are strong schools, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. To an enormous degree, your fit in a university will greatly determine your final performance. If you enjoy the school you attend, your next four years will be interesting and memorable - and I would argue more successful.

But what is “fit”? For me, it is being surrounded by energetic, ambitious, entrepreneurial and interesting people who want to change the world and throw out the old paradigms. Stanford has been a perfect match for me in this regard.

There is also the need to fit into an academic community at Stanford. Since the vast majority of students change their major during their freshman year as they explore new fields, it is incredibly important that there are a wide variety of strong departments to provide options for majoring. Stanford was a match for me in this regard as well. Even though I changed my major a handful of times, I was never at a loss for a new academic home with an incredible department and interesting faculty.

To sense the fit for yourself, avail yourself of the faculty at department open houses, and make sure to talk to your fellow ProFros and current students. At least once this weekend, try to have a lengthy conversation with a small group of individuals, probably at night after all of the planned activities have concluded. These are the meat of a liberal arts education, and few things this weekend will decide your fate faster than finding someone with as much passion as yourself.

I truly believe that any of the top universities in the country can produce exceptional students. However, if fit has not helped in making your decision, then other factors must be considered.

There are differences between Stanford and some of our peer schools. I feel as though we are younger, more nimble and more entrepreneurial. We do not have as much of an ivory tower feel, although the Bubble can creep in. Stanford is the model of the twenty-first century research university for much of the rest of the country. Just look at how schools like Harvard, Princeton and Duke have changed their campuses. These schools and more like them hope to do what Stanford has already done - to be at the center of societal change by being the fundamental incubator of new ideas and theories and to bring such knowledge into practice.

It begins with interdisciplinary studies, and thankfully, these are a hallmark of an education here at Stanford. We do not teach a single paradigm, but rather many of them with the goal of introducing a broad education to every undergraduate. This is the reason why majors like Human Biology, Public Policy, and Mathematical and Computational Sciences are so popular - they allow the exploration of a scholarly idea from multiple perspectives.

If there is one aspect that I still feel makes Stanford different, it is the culture. There is something unique about the Bay Area that makes this region thrive like none other. There is competition, but camaraderie. People can have brilliant failures, but also brilliant successes - and both are considered valuable. We have a culture of learning from the past, but not allowing the past to hold up the future. Plus, the Bay Area refuses to create rigid hierarchies here. This kind of environment is what created the Internet, and it is the foundation for all of the incredible advances Stanford is currently developing.

Reflecting back, I made the right choice to attend because it felt good to be on this campus - as it still does. The dynamism and energy never gets old, and you are looking at the school that truly is solving the biggest problems of our time (maybe the solution will come from you?) Take in the festivities of Admit Weekend, and then go home and fill out that sheet.