Is Stanford Ivy League? Ranking, Acceptance Rate, and More

When you picture an Ivy League university, you probably envision academic prestige, groundbreaking scientific discoveries, and high-powered, world-renowned alumni. 

That description certainly applies to Stanford University, one of the most prestigious and well-known universities not only in the United States, but around the world. 

Situated in Palo Alto, California, Stanford is in the heart of the Bay Area and the famed Silicon Valley. Therefore, it’s little surprise that Stanford is known as a first-rate research institution and home to countless tech and science innovations. Stanford is also known as an incubator of entrepreneurship and has an impressive track record of securing funding for start-ups. 

Home to redwood trees and distinctive buildings of red tile roofs, sand-colored concrete walls, and abundant archways, Stanford’s campus is striking and cohesive. In fact, Architectural Digest recently named Stanford one of the 50 most beautiful college campuses in America!

But Stanford is much more than beauty; it’s also brains. As of 2020, the university counted among its alumni 84 Nobel laureates. Notable alumni include former President Herbert Hoover, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, venture capitalist and co-founder of PayPal Peter Thiel, Senator Cory Booker, golf sensation Tiger Woods, first American woman in space Sally Ride, and Chelsea Clinton. 

Stanford students, professors, and alumni are consistently at the forefront of every field, ranging from computer science and technology to politics, law, public policy, medicine, and engineering. It is undoubtedly Ivy League caliber!

In this article, we’ll discuss exactly what it means to be in the Ivy League, how Stanford measures up, and what you can do to get accepted. 


Is Stanford an Ivy League School?

Stanford University
photo via Wikimedia Commons

Stanford is not technically in the Ivy League. However, it is comparable to the Ivies. It has even been informally dubbed the “Harvard of the West.”

The Ivy League, officially established in 1954, consists of eight universities: Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, Brown, Dartmouth, and Cornell. These are some of the oldest, most well-established universities in America, and they consistently rank in the upper echelon in terms of prestige, selectivity, endowment, and alumni impact. While the Ivy League first began as an athletic conference, it now is seen as much less about athletics and much more about academic excellence, admissions selectivity, and research prowess. 

Although Stanford is not technically a member of the eight-school Ivy League, it is nonetheless an incredibly prestigious, selective, and impactful university, and is often ranked above many Ivy League institutions in publications such as U.S. News and World Report. Stanford alumni are leading teams and innovation in every sector of society, and the university continues to attract the most brilliant and promising students and scholars in the world. 

Interestingly, unlike the contemporary Ivy League, Stanford also has a long history of incredibly strong athletic teams. In 2014, the Stanford Cardinal was even named No. 1 in CBSSports.com’s Best in College Sports. Stanford’s consistent success in high-profile sports like football, men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball makes for a lively campus with lots of school spirit, affectionaly dubbed “Nerd Nation” by Stanford University students.

Why Is Stanford Often Confused As an Ivy League School?

Many people mistakenly believe Stanford is an Ivy, and with good reason: nowadays, when we think of the Ivy League, we tend to equate this distinction with the most selective schools. 

Stanford certainly is one of the most elite and highly respected universities in the country and around the world, so it makes sense that people assume it must be in the Ivy League. After all, with an acceptance rate of around 4% and upwards of 50,000 applicants per year, Stanford is clearly in high demand! Its 2019 acceptance rate of 4% was the lowest in the entire country

As mentioned above, the Ivy League actually began as an athletic conference. Today, however, the Ivy League tends to connote academic prestige and elitism. Stanford definitely fits that bill – it just doesn’t happen to have been included in the Ivy League. It’s an Ivy in everything but name. 

Other schools in this category include MIT, Caltech, Duke, Georgetown, and the University of Chicago. 

When Stanford was founded in 1885, its primary areas of focus were the liberal arts and engineering. Throughout the 20th century, however, Stanford increasingly made a name for itself as a hub of scientific and technological innovation. 

Now, groundbreaking research is stitched into the fabric of what it means to be Stanford. This excellence is reflected in Stanford’s most popular majors, including Computer Science, Biology, and Engineering. In all fields, Stanford’s students benefit from the merit of their peers and professors. Nearly three dozen faculty members have been awarded Nobel Prizes, and four faculty members have won Pulitzer Prizes. 


Stanford University: Ranking, Acceptance Rate, and More

Stanford is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, American university to get into. Its 4% acceptance rate – the lowest in the country – means that for every 100 applicants, only 4 are admitted. 

Stanford’s selective admissions process is one of the key reasons the university is ranked so highly in major national publications. US News and World Report ranks Stanford #6 in the country (tied with University of Chicago) – notably ahead of four Ivy League institutions: UPenn, Dartmouth, Brown, and Cornell. 

Meanwhile, Washington Monthly – the most viable competitor to US News – awards Stanford the #1 ranking in the entire country, ahead of all the Ivies. It’s possible that soon, Stanford will no longer be considered the “Harvard of the West”; instead, Harvard will be called the “Stanford of the East”!

According to Niche.com, which takes into account student and alumni reviews of universities, Stanford ranks #3 overall among universities in America, and also earns impressive ranks like #2 Best College for Student Athletes in America, #3 College with the Best Academics in America, and #3 Best Value Colleges in America. 

The international publication Times Higher Education ranks Stanford as the #2 university in the entire world, second only to the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and again beating out all of the Ivies in America. 

How to Get Into Stanford

Because Stanford is among the most selective universities globally, successful applicants must have an impressive combination of high test scores, high GPA, enthusiastic teacher recommendations, stand-out essays, and excellence in extracurriculars. Stanford practices holistic admissions review and therefore considers the student’s application as a whole rather than, for instance, focusing solely on GPA and test scores. 

Nonetheless, the GPAs and standardized test scores of successful Stanford applicants tend to be nearly perfect. The average GPA of admitted students at Stanford is 3.96, so in order to have a shot at being admitted, students need almost straight As in all of their subjects. 

However, getting great grades is not enough; students must also take advantage of as many AP, IB, honors, and other accelerated courses their high school offers. Taking advanced courses such as these helps demonstrate to Stanford that a student is serious about academics and is well prepared for the academic challenges that await them in college. 

Stanford’s average SAT score is 1500 and average ACT score is 34. The admissions office requires students to submit scores from all test dates, and then creates a superscore of the student’s highest individual Verbal and Math scores from each test date.

Unlike most of the Ivy League schools, Stanford is not a traditional liberal arts-leaning institution; the university tends to lean more towards STEM fields, somewhat like MIT and Caltech. This means that a student with a very strong STEM record (GPA, test scores, extracurriculars) may be a better fit for Stanford and thus be more likely to be admitted. 


Recap: Stanford Is Not an Ivy League School, However, It Is Dubbed the “Ivy of the West” Informally

To sum up, Stanford University is not part of the Ivy League, but in many ways, it might as well be. Stanford has produced some of the most remarkable graduates in fields as diverse as tech, engineering, politics, law, and even theater, and the university is home to some of the most groundbreaking research in the world. It’s challenging to find a ranking system in which Stanford is not in at least the top 10 universities, and more often the top 5, top 3, or even number 1 spot. 

Many students and scholars are drawn to this “Ivy of the West” because it offers an unparalleled research-oriented education in the heart of Silicon Valley with all that the California lifestyle has to offer. Stanford alumni become presidents (of the country, and of countless companies), entrepreneurs, thought leaders, tech moguls, and all-around world-changers. Stanford actually proves to be more difficult to get into than any of the Ivies in many admissions cycles!

When you put together Stanford’s world-class academics, groundbreaking research, strong athletics, desirable and inspiring location, and renowned faculty, it’s easy to see why Stanford is often thought of as an unofficial Ivy, or even better than an Ivy!

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