UCLA Vs Stanford – Which School Is Better?

Established in 1919, the University of California – Los Angeles is perhaps the most widely known of the nine schools making up the UC system

Also located in the Golden State is Stanford University, a highly-esteemed private research university that is nestled in the heart of California’s Bay Area, about 30 miles outside of San Francisco. As of fall 2020, Stanford had a total undergraduate enrollment of 6,366 students, making the school’s student body only about 20% the size of that of UCLA.

Each of these two great schools — Stanford and UCLA — is famous for providing students with an excellent education under the instruction of many talented faculty members who are leading experts in their respective academic fields of study. 

Both schools have been ranked higher than several Ivies, both in terms of general quality as a college and with regard to more specific subject areas.  

It hardly even needs to be said that both UCLA and Stanford are great choices for any future college students out there who are looking for rigorous academics, abundant extracurricular activity offerings, knowledgeable faculty mentors, state-of-the-art facilities, and all of the other elements that go into an amazing college experience.  

If you are interested in learning more about how UCLA and Stanford are similar and different — from their varying admissions standards, academic requirements, rankings, and more, then the following article is for you. 

Read on to learn more about each of these two phenomenal colleges, and then we will discuss some factors to consider when deciding which school to attend.

UCLA Vs. Stanford – Academic Requirements for Admission

UCLA Kaplan Hall
Beyond My Ken, UCLA Kaplan Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

The University of California – Los Angeles and Stanford University have both earned themselves a globally-acknowledged reputation for being highly prestigious universities. 

Thus, it is only natural that each of these two elite schools has a quite strict set of academic requirements for admission. 

In fact, UCLA receives more applications each year than any other college in the country, so it is especially easy to understand why such a highly sought-after college would need to set the bar for admission relatively high. 

It should be noted that despite the selective nature of each school’s admissions department, neither UCLA nor Stanford require a specific GPA for first-year applicants to be considered for admission.

Instead, both schools take a holistic approach to undergraduate admissions, meaning that each element of the application bundle is considered to get a sense of who the student is as a whole individual — beyond just what is reflected by GPA and test scores alone.

The median GPA for students accepted as first-years at UCLA is 4.54 on a weighted scale, equal to a perfect 4.0 GPA on an unweighted scale. 

At Stanford, the average first-year student earned a high school GPA of 3.96 on an unweighted scale. This median is slightly lower than that of UCLA, but it still stands that in order to be a competitive applicant to Stanford, students need to work hard and earn nearly straight As in honors and AP courses during high school.

When it comes to standardized test scores, UCLA’s standards continue to be high, with the average accepted first-year student earning 1405 on the SAT or 31 on the ACT.

Stanford’s median test scores are even higher than UCLA’s, with the average SAT score of accepted students being 1505 and the average ACT score is 34. 

UCLA Vs. Stanford – Ranking, Acceptance Rates, and More

Stanford University School of Law
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

According to the 2022 edition of US News and World Report’s annual list of school rankings, the University of California – Los Angeles is the 20th best university in the United States. On the other hand, Stanford University is currently ranked sixth-best in the nation. 

Looking only at public schools, however, UCLA is second to none, sitting in the first place spot on the 2022 list of top public colleges and universities.

Stanford has its areas of particular strength as well. For one, it is tied for being the best college for studying computer science in the country. Stanford is among the best of the best in undergraduate engineering programs, tying for second place.

In the fall of 2021, UCLA received 139,490 first-year applications. Out of this pool of applicants, just over 15,000 students were offered admission to the school, making the acceptance rate for that year 11%. 

Just one year later, however, UCLA’s acceptance rate dropped by a little over 2.5% to 8.6%. The school received 149,183 first-year applications that year, accepting only 12,825 students into the school.

The 2022 admission cycle at UCLA marked the lowest acceptance rate seen at the school in a decade. 

Stanford’s admissions process has also undergone a similar trend toward being more selective, as the school has seen a considerable drop in acceptance rates in the past few years. 

During the most recent admission cycle, Stanford received 55,471 applications for the first-year class of 2025. From this pool of applicants — the largest in the school’s history — only 2,190 students were offered admission, making the acceptance rate this year just under 4%. 

This figure — which is the lowest acceptance rate in the entire history of Stanford — represents a 1.24% decrease from the previous year’s rate of 5.19%.

Deciding Whether to Attend UCLA or Stanford

At the end of the day, there is no definitive guide to determining if Stanford University of the University of California – Los Angeles is the best fit for you. 

Where you should go to college depends on numerous factors, such as your preferences for location, size, and your preferred learning environment. 

For one, UCLA is far more extensive than Stanford in terms of the size of the undergraduate student body. On the other hand, the tables are turned when it comes to campus size. 

While UCLA’s urban campus takes up 419 acres of LA’s Westwood neighborhood, Stanford is stretched out over a vast 8,180 acres of suburban coastal land. 

In addition to location and size, the cost is also one of the biggest concerns the vast majority of people have regarding the college decision-making process. 

At UCLA, 69% of first-year students receive some amount of institutional or federal financial aid. At Stanford, on the other hand, over 80% of all undergraduate students receive tuition support, with 55% of these students getting money directly from the school.

Of course, one must also consider how much tuition to each of these respective schools costs to begin with. The estimated cost of one year of undergraduate study at Stanford is approximately $56,000, including tuition and all other fees. 

Looking solely at the sticker of each school, however, UCLA is a much more cost-friendly choice than Stanford. A year of tuition and fees at UCLA costs approximately $14,000 for students who are legal residents of the state of California, and about $43,000 for out-of-state students — the latter number still being more than $10K cheaper than Stanford.

The difference in cost can be partially explained by another key difference between the two schools: Stanford is a private institution and therefore relies heavily on private endowments, while UCLA is a public school and therefore receives government support.

RECAP – Which Is the Better School, UCLA or Stanford?

If you have been waiting for an answer as to which school, the University of California Los Angeles or Stanford University, is the better one, then unfortunately you will be disappointed to hear our answer: neither. 

Both UCLA and Stanford are outstanding colleges, each with its own unique strengths. 

When it comes to the specific program offerings, faculty members, and resources available at UCLA and Stanford, the many features that distinguish the two schools from one another begin to emerge. 

In addition to the difference in rank we discussed in the above sections, one might also consider, for example, Stanford’s long-standing position within the top 5 on US News and World Report’s annual list of the best law schools in the United States. 

UCLA also has a highly-rated law school, but UCLA Law generally hovers around near the bottom of the first tier, meaning the top 14 schools.

For students who are looking to attend a college with small class sizes, Stanford may be the ideal choice between the two colleges. UCLA has a student-to-faculty ratio of 18:1 — which one would generally consider relatively small.

Stanford, however, boasts an impossibly small student-to-faculty ratio of 5:1. The college emphasizes the importance of fostering close academic relationships between students and faculty members, creating a very close campus atmosphere and a robust alumni network

For those who are interested in undergraduate research opportunities, UCLA may have a slight edge over Stanford, as UCLA’s research efforts are extremely well-funded.

While Stanford’s annual research expenditure in 2022 was a whopping $1.2 billion — the tenth largest of any university in the country — UCLA’s was even greater that year at $1.4 billion, placing the school seventh in the nation.

In sum, both are excellent choices of institutions for higher education — it just depends on what you are looking for.