Question: I am in 10th grade now and would really like to get into Stanford University, but I go to school in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. The curriculum at my school is not the best and I don’t think I will measure up to the standards of Stanford. What can I do? What do I need to do in order to qualify for admission?
I laughed out loud when I read your message because my husband grew up in Fitchburg. He was in the Class of 1969 at Fitchburg High, so he was quite a bit before your time. Back then, he and many of his classmates went to “elite” colleges, but I know that this is not so common in Fitchburg now. (My brother-in-law teaches middle school there, and last year he gave me a list of all the FHS college acceptances.)
But don’t worry … college admission officials will evaluate you in the context of what is available to you. They realize that not all candidates will have the same opportunities. In fact, it can actually work in your favor to come from a high school that is “underrepresented” in the Stanford applicant pool.
In order to be competitive at Stanford and other top colleges, you should take the most rigorous classes offered and do well in them. If possible, also take on academic challenges outside of high school. These could include classes at Fitchburg State, Mount Wachusett Community College or at other area colleges. (Does your school offer a “dual enrollment” option?) You can also look for summer programs that will enable you to focus on an area of academic interest or to try a new one.
Admission officials will also be seeking passion and achievement outside of the classroom. As you can imagine, at the most competitive places such as Stanford, the admission folks see more than their share of typical school activities on applications (student government, yearbook, band, debate, literary magazine, etc.) If your interests are unique, it will help you to stand out in a crowd, although you will probably find that you’ll have to look beyond the boundaries of your high school to find unusual activities. (Holding a paying job definitely counts as a worthwhile extracurricular activity, too.)
Finally, keep in mind that, with an acceptance rate of roughly one in twelve, Stanford turns away thousands of highly qualified seniors each year. You can do everything “right” and still get bad news at decision time, so make sure that you research and select other colleges that excite you. If you’re a good student, you will have plenty of choices, regardless of the strength of your high school curriculum (or lack thereof!)
But, meanwhile, don’t view your Fitchburg experience as a liability. Instead, think of your years ahead as a chance to be a big fish in a small pond. Many students would love to be in your shoes, attending a high school where not everyone is vying for a spot at the same hyper-competitive colleges.