If I tell you that I went to Stanford, I inevitably get the same question – “What was it like?” At times it feels so long ago, thus I’ve decided to write some thoughts down. Sorry if this post gets a bit long.
Honestly, what is Stanford like? That’s one of the hardest questions to answer, because the Stanford experience was so many things. Stanford isn’t just preparing yourself for your adult life, it’s also about being young. For me it was my first time away from home, mostly on my own. I spent 5 years at Stanford. I finished my both my bachelor and master degree in those 5 years. Many people find that their time in university to be one of their most formative years, the most intense years, the most memorable years. I also have tons of stories I could tell about my Stanford experience. However, lets begin with some generalizations.
Going to a school like Stanford with successful driven people, you begin to understand that everyone has their own experience with Stanford, none of which reflects the value of your experience. It’s very easy to get caught up with comparisons in a such competitive environment, but at the same time that competition is in itself also valuable. It pushes you and at forces you to confront your inadequacies. If you use it correctly it forges a hardiness in dealing with life in general. You learn breaking points, how it is useless to put on a fake image of success when you’re struggling to keep afloat, and most importantly how you can rely on yourself and others.
This school is very much a central communal bubble. The well-known “Stanford bubble” definitely exists. Part of it is physical. Stanford is the second largest campus land area wise in the world and largest in the US. Sure, there are tons of off campus getaways, but the majority of action occurs on campus. There are large dorms, but also row or small group houses, and apartments. The row houses are typically themed houses (language or academic themes) co-ops, self-ops, or Greek houses. Undergraduates are guaranteed four years of housing. A majority take advantage of that fact. Unlike colleges in big urban cities, nightlife occurs on campus a great deal more.
Part of this bubble is the assumed prestige. Outsiders treat Stanford students a bit different. Whether this is real or perceived, being in any prestigious community carries weight. This affects both those in and those out of the group (As a medical student, I’m seeing this in a whole new light). Having a Stanford email address allows you privileges. You can contact a Nobel Prize winner to answer a quick question and stretch your wings toward countless opportunity. In essence the alumni experience in combination with the time you spend at Stanford in combination is that much more powerful. Many people like me move onto further education and continue various academic pursuits or professional careers. Having that connection to a fantastic network is priceless. Yet at the same time makes me wonder about equal opportunity.
Another part of the insularity also stems from the psychological perceptions of academic pressures, extracurriculars, daily activities, and all the other stressors of life. This personal bubble exists within the larger bubble that everyone at Stanford sees.
Despite being unified by the insularity I mentioned above, the campus is also very much a microcosm of the greatest variety of societal in-groups. In probably no other place will you have such close connections with people outside of your “normal” life sphere. As a graduate from Stanford, I learned about the extreme value of diversity and why having interactions outside your comfort zone means so much for personal growth. It’s something best experienced firsthand.
I’ve spoken a bit about a few cultural aspects from my personal perspective. I’m sure people are curious about other things. The academics, daily student life etc. This may be of most use to high school students and parents, but I’m going to try to share personal impressions and experiences rather than “pamphlet-y” as possible in part 2 of my Stanford experience.