By Jenny Thai
It’s no news that Stanford is one of the most coveted universities for college-bound students. Applications for the Class of 2015 reached a record high for the University, totaling approximately 34,200 and representing a staggering 7 percent increase from last year. But what is it about Stanford that attracts so much interest?
According to Bob Patterson, director of undergraduate admission, the primary contributing factor to the increase in student interest was the University’s firm commitment to embodying the free spirit of learning, exemplified in the school’s motto, “Die Luft der Freiheit weht,” or “the wind of freedom blows.”
“Students are interested in pursuing their academic interests and [the Stanford message] aligns with those interests,” Patterson said.
Stanford’s increase in applications has not been markedly greater than figures at its peer institutions.
“We’re increasing at about the same rate,” said Patterson. “Last year had the highest number of high school graduates. This year, there’s been a decline, but more students are applying to more institutions.”
Another factor to be taken into consideration is Stanford’s prevalence in popular media. For instance, in James Cameron’s blockbuster “Avatar,” Dr. Grace Augustine, an eminent ecologist played by Sigourney Weaver ’72, wears a Cardinal tank top whenever she shifts into an alien body. Stanford’s reputation as a world-class institution, diffused through social media, may have a hand in boosting student interest as well.
“I don’t think it hurts to have that notoriety from the press, in films, important research, Orange Bowl victories,” said Patterson. “But it’s not something we can actually track in terms of affecting increases or decreases in applications.”
Despite the fact that Stanford played a big role in the plots of teen culture staples such as “High School Musical 3” and the series finale of Hannah Montana — the latter of which sparked rumors that its star, Miley Cyrus, would be joining the class of 2015 — the University does not seek to sell the Stanford brand. Any requests to use the Stanford brand must be approved first by University Communications.
“We never proactively market the Stanford brand,” said Lisa Lapin, assistant vice president of University Communications. “Instead, they come to us. We evaluate their request and approve it only if the character in the show adheres to the qualities embodied by the typical Stanford student. For example, in ‘Avatar,’ Weaver is a scientist, which fits with what a Stanford alum would do.”
Regardless of the free publicity, Stanford takes a staunch stance in adhering to the university’s educational mission.
“We’re not soliciting more applications,” said Patterson. “In general, there is a lot of student interest, [so] we try to reach out to students who are not aware of the Stanford message, students who’ve never heard of it before.”
Despite growing fears of a vanishing acceptance rate, Bob Patterson remains optimistic about its stability for the Class of 2015. He anticipates only a slight increase in selectivity, due to efforts by admissions staff to drive home the Stanford mission to prospective students of all backgrounds.
“Class size will be relatively the same,” said Patterson. “I think the acceptance rate will be relatively the same as last year’s, maybe a little more selective. We’re trying to make sure that students do their research before applying.”
Students who applied under the regular admission program will receive their admissions results by the end of March.