Stanford Essays





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Discus: College Admissions: 2002 - 2003 Archive: July 2003 Archive: Stanford Essays
By Iloveschool95 (Iloveschool95) on Friday, July 04, 2003 - 10:56 pm: Edit

What were Stanford's essays last year on the application?

By Serene (Serene) on Friday, July 04, 2003 - 11:02 pm: Edit

They aren't the same from year to year?

One question I remember was to attach a picture w/ great significance and explain why.

By Medprof (Medprof) on Friday, July 04, 2003 - 11:11 pm: Edit

I think there was one about how you would describe yourself to your future room mate.

By Smac86 (Smac86) on Saturday, July 05, 2003 - 02:30 am: Edit

Well, those two essay topics were there two-three years ago too- I remember cause my brother had to write on the same two topics.

I hope Stanford has the picture-significance thingie- I already have a very very very very different thing planned out for it

By Innotof (Innotof) on Sunday, July 06, 2003 - 06:28 pm: Edit

Stanford requires students to write three short essays and one long one. The short essay questions are always the same. They are:

1) Of the activities, interests, and experiences listed previously, which is the most meaningful to you and why?

2) Sharing intellectual interests is an important aspect of university life. Describe an experience or idea that you find intellectually exciting and explain why.

3) Relate a personal experience that reveals something about you to your future college roommate.

Stanford give students to topics to choose from for their "long" essay. One of them (the photo topic) is the same every year. The other one varies from year to year. Last year's topics were these two:

1) Attach a small photograph of something important to you and explain its significance.

2) Risk comes in many forms -- exploring an idea, bridging a social divide, confronting one's fears. Reflect on a risk you have taken and introduce us to your thoughts.

By Shitakirimusume (Shitakirimusume) on Thursday, July 17, 2003 - 09:27 am: Edit

Please keep in mind that I did not write this. I found it on another forum which was posted by the original author, a Stanford student.

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I view my diploma as a receipt, but nothing more. It's not as marketable as some propagandists would like you to believe. In fact, during this past year, a number of stanford grads actually spelled out the word "Unemployed!" with pillows laid down on the football field, visible for all to see.

Let me give you another example. For those of you who don't know, Donald Knuth is known in the academic community as the "Father of Computer Science," and has been at Stanford since the late 1960's. He's well known for writing the "Bible" of computer science, "The Art of Computer Programming".

Yet even though I took over half-a-dozen core courses in Computer Science at Stanford, I never ONCE heard the name Donald Knuth, I never SAW the guy in person (or even in a photograph until I looked on his website many years after I graduated), and I have never read his books. "The Art of Computer Programming" books were never part of the curriculum.

But that's typical of Stanford: Pay a bunch of professors a lot of money to do very little teaching. In fact, professors generally have to teach only one-quarter (10 weeks total) of classes a year, and that's not even a full ten week period, because the lectures last all of 3 hours TOTAL in the week, and usually a couple of office hours placed at the most inconvenient times. This means that students are paying professors to devote 20% of a typical 40-hour work week to undergraduate matters, with the remaining 80% left to their own discretion. And for many professors, this schedule is in effect for only about 20% of the year (10 weeks out of 52 weeks in a year); the remaining 80% of the year is left to their discretion, such as doing research, consulting to other companies, doing lectures at other campuses, or running their own companies. (A rare handful of professors do teach for two quarters.) To add insult to injury, I had professors who skipped out on their office hours.

A Stanford professor named Tom Campbell (Bachelors, Masters, and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago, PhD Harvard) actually served for five full terms in the House of Representatives of the United States Congress while simultaneously receiving his salary from Stanford. He spent so little time on the Stanford campus that some people started to get seriously upset. Critics charged that he was exploiting Stanford's flexibility, while advocates argued that he was increasing the visibility of Stanford and thus enhancing its reputation. After twenty years at Stanford, Campbell recently became the Dean of the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley! Thanks Tom!

Most professors don't grade papers, and leave it to the Teaching Assistants. This is like writing code without a computer in front of you, and never bothering to run the program on ANY computer. How do you know if your program works? How do the professors know if their teaching is any good? How many of Stanford's Nobel Prize winning faculty attended Stanford as an undergraduate? I don't think a single one.

Most of the techie-Teaching Assistants didn't go to Stanford either. I had guys from Purdue, UCLA, Dartmouth, Amherst, U. of Maryland, U. of Texas, and of course, the ubiquitous University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley). Several profs got their undergrad degrees from Berkeley.

The professors always view themselves as RESEARCHERS first, and teachers a distant third or fourth -- if at all. If you look at the Stanford's "Courses and Degrees", which is a catalog that lists the courses being offered for a particular school year, you will see that many classes are taught by "Staff". No, "Staff" is not the name of a professor, but a euphemism for "somebody who might be associated somehow to our department, such as a graduate student, and who may or may not have ever taught a class before, and who may or may not have any training in how to teach." Many of my classes were taught by Staff. I recently found out that the Staff instructor for an important core class, spanning two-quarters (20 weeks), had not even earned a Master's degree at the time he was teaching! He was a graduate student who only had a Bachelor's degree. He had practically zero teaching experience, and it showed. The poor quality of that class wasn't just my imagination, as that class has since been discontinued and is no longer offered, and that guy doesn't teach anymore anywhere in the world. But such vindication is small consolation. It was a waste of money and time that can never be recovered. Other core classes have even been taught by currently-matriculated UNDER-graduates. It amazes me that Stanford gets away with it, especially when most HIGH SCHOOLS require that their teachers have a master's degree and have passed state licensing exams.

In fact, some classes are so bad that Stanford undergraduates actually take courses at the nearby De Anza Community College and Foothill Community College. That's right: Community Colleges. Don't laugh -- if you read the book on the history of the Apple Macintosh, "Insanely Great", you'll find that the hardware engineer attended one of those community colleges (I don't remember which). And in my Freshman year, I knew a political science major who transferred from a California junior college into Stanford. As an out-of-stater, I was shocked, although I have learned that California's junior colleges have a higher standard than the rest of the nation. Nevertheless, it makes you wonder: Why am I paying so much money?

"Sophomore Slump" occurs after the euphoria of Frosh year. You enter as a sophomore and realize "the honeymoon is over", i.e. that your professors aren't necessarily gifted in communicating their knowledge (one time literally a guy "taught" numerical analysis on computers by reading from a textbook!), and that the classes are bloated with too many students (I never had less than 50 in a class, so forget the 7:1 student teacher ratio published in US News and World Report's annual college survey).

Years after I graduated, ex-president Gerhard Casper -- being a great guy who experienced similar problems during his undergraduate years in Germany -- tried to rectify the problem by creating Freshmen and Sophomore Seminars, to encourage faculty-student interaction and small class sizes. But the number of open slots for students is extremely limited, and most professors don't participate. Thus the vast majority of undergraduates miss out with one-on-one faculty contact, even though 100% of the student body pays the full $30,000/year tuition. And some of the seminars are of questionable quality. Nobel Prize winning physicist, Doug Osheroff (BS Caltech, PhD Cornell) taught a freshman seminar in...amateur photography. What a joke! Talk about taking advantage of the system.

And don't get me started on the undergraduate "advising system", which is also a joke! Currently 78% of the faculty do NOT participate in advising undergrads. Many of the remaining advisers are upperclassmen trying to pad their resumes, or graduate students who are alumni of other universities and who are also trying to pad their resumes . You will not get good advice from these people, because they do not really have a track record to demonstrate the validity of their advice. It is the "blind leading the blind." My own experience was a nightmare. Once I had declared my major, I chose a particular faculty member to be my adviser; he was the only guy in my field of interest. When I went to get my study list signed by him, he flatly refused, saying "I don't advise undergraduates." I was furious, but what could I do? I ended up signing the remainder of my study lists on my own.

How do Stanford's engineering students fare when pitted against other students in competition? Not well. "NATCAR" is a contest for California electrical engineering students, in which radio controlled cars race around a track. Look at the results and search for the Stanford name: http://www.ece.ucdavis.edu/natcar/Race_Results.html. As you can see, Stanford placed 10th in 2001, but is otherwise a no-show. In at least one of the years, the Stanford team tried-- but failed -- to get a car running. It looks like they have now simply abandoned the idea of entering.

Stanford's marketing department has used deceptive tactics to imply that Stanford has produced successful people. Look beneath the superficialities, and you'll find that the overwhelming majority did not attend Stanford as an undergraduate, and sometimes, not even as a graduate student. All of the following people have been used in Stanford marketing literature and press releases:

-Donald Knuth did not attend Stanford for his undergraduate degree; he went to Case Institute of Technology (Case Western Reserve). His PhD is from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

-The founder of MIPS, John Hennessey, did not attend Stanford for his undergraduate degree. His alma mater is Villanova University. He got his graduate degrees at State University of New York, Stonybrook. Take a look at the Senior Management and the Board of Directors at MIPS (www.mips.com). Not a single one received a degree from the undergraduate school of engineering at Stanford, even though MIPS is only 15 minutes away from the Stanford campus! Yet Hennessey was a provost for the school of engineering and is currently the president of Stanford! Does he know something you don't?

-The inventor of the mouse, Doug Engelbart, did not attend Stanford for his undergraduate degree. Engelbart picked up a degree in electrical engineering from Oregon State, and a Bachelor of Engineering and PhD from UC Berkeley.

-The founders of Sun Microsystems did not attend Stanford for their undergraduate degrees. Vinod Khosla went to the Indian Institute of Technology and picked up his masters at Carnegie Mellon, Bill Joy went to U. of Michigan and picked up a Master's at UC Berkeley (in addition to inventing the sockets protocol for the Berkeley System Distribution of UNIX), Andy Bechtolsheim got his undergraduate training in Germany and got an MS from Carnegie-Mellon, and Scott McNealy went to Harvard.

-The founders of Silicon Graphics did not attend Stanford for their undergraduate degree. Jim Clark attended a college in New Orleans, Louisiana, and picked up his PhD from the University of Utah. Marc Hannah went to U. of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Charles Rhodes picked up his BS, MS, and PhD's from Purdue University. Kurt Akeley got his undergraduate degree from U. of Delaware.

-The founders of Cisco System did not attend Stanford for their undergraduate degree. Len Bosack got his BSEE from U. of Pennsylvania. Sandra Lerner got her BA in Political Science from California State in Chico.

-The founders of Google did not attend Stanford for their undergraduate degrees. Larry Page went to U. of Michigan. Sergey Brin's alma mater is U. of Maryland.

-The founder of defunct VA-Linux and the fully functional Sourceforge did not attend Stanford for his undergraduate degree. Larry Augustin went to U. of Notre Dame.

-The founders of Apple Computer did not attend Stanford for their undergraduate degrees. Steve Jobs attended (and dropped out of) Reed College. Steve Wozniak received his BSEE from UC Berkeley.

-The co-inventor of the transistor, William Shockley, did not attend Stanford for his undergraduate degree. His alma mater is Caltech, and he got his PhD from MIT. But he grew up in Palo Alto, California (the town that surrounds Stanford University), and moved back to found one of the first transistor companies that would spawn off into the half-a-dozen companies that put the "silicon" in "Silicon Valley". (The founders of Intel didn't attend Stanford either.)

-The founders of EBay did not attend Stanford for their undergraduate degrees. Pierre Omidyar went to Tufts and transferred to UC Berkeley. After founding EBay, he gave $10 million to Tufts. Jeff Skoll attended the University of Toronto.

-The founders of Microsoft did not attend Stanford for their undergraduate degrees. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard. Paul Allen graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle. The reason I bring this up is that the two nevertheless have their names on two buildings on the Stanford campus. The Gates Building houses the entire Computer Science Department. I wonder why Stanford needed to solicit their funds? Don't they have scores of successful alumni who could have donated the money? It's a rhetorical question, of course. Many of the buildings on campus were funded by non-alumni, including the massive Green Library and Green Earth Sciences building, Stern Hall, the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for the Visual Arts (which was renamed from the Leland Stanford Jr. Memorial Art Museum), and others. Non alumnus and Silicon Graphics/Netscape founder Jim Clark recently caused a furor when he decided to stop funding the building of the Clark Biological Sciences building for Stanford's new department fusing biology and engineering. Explaining his decision in a published letter to the New York Times, Clark made it unequivocally clear that he gave the money for the building because he expected a return on his investment, and not out of love or loyalty to Stanford.

-Finally, you've no doubt read in "Burn Rate" that Yahoo! was started by a couple of undergrads in their dorm room. Unfortunately, that's not true. The majority shareholder, David Filo, attended Tulane University as an undergraduate. He met up with another GRADUATE student Jerry Yang (who DID attend Stanford as an undergrad) at Stanford in Kyoto, Japan -- surprising to me, because I always thought the world wide Stanford centers were reserved for undergraduates.( But with over 900 electrical engineering GRADUATE students enrolled, versus maybe about 80 electrical engineering undergrads, it's clear that that the graduate students have the upper hand.)

I could go on and on. Intel. National Semiconductor. Texas Instruments (which manufactures the chips for Sun.) None of these were founded by undergraduate alumni, and Stanford should not try to take credit and inflate its own resume based on the successes of non-alumni. How would you feel if (hypothetically speaking) an investigation revealed that your beloved local Krispy Kreme Doughnuts store was actually stealing the doughnuts from an obscure little local no-name bakery down the street, and repackaging and selling them to you at inflated prices? Wouldn't you want to switch to the bakery and save your money?

Anybody who tells you otherwise is full of it. Especially US News and World Report. I realize that nobody can influence US News and World Report, so it's best to educate prospective college students with the facts. I've been there, and done that. Don't go to Stanford for your undergraduate degree, but DO go there for your graduate degree (although I think that Stanford now will take between 30% to 60% of the income of any invention or other intellectual property you create while working at their labs). And based on the biographies above, it's definitely OK to go to a state university. Some people feel a stigma otherwise.

If you don't believe any of this could happen, read the Boyer Commission's report at

http://naples.cc.sunysb.edu/Pres/boyer.nsf/

and "Profscam" by Charles Sykes, who ironically has a fellowship at the Hoover Institution, an independent think-tank nestled in the Hoover Tower on the Stanford campus.

Also, go to websites of various high tech companies, and look at the biographies of the executives. Find out the names of each executive's undergraduate alma mater. The results are often surprising, and will give you a clue about where you can get the best value for your money. In addition, take note of people who attended Stanford, and wisely figured out that they didn't need to continue paying Stanford for a lousy education:

- Nobel prize winning author John Steinbeck. - Ted Danson, the actor who portrayed the bartender Sam Malone on the syndicated television series "Cheers". Danson transferred from Stanford to Carnegie-Mellon. - John McEnroe, Wimbledon tennis champion. - Reese Witherspoon, actress. - Tiger Woods, golfing prodigy and multi-gazillionaire.

Remember, these folks DROPPED OUT of Stanford.

You may notice some reviews on this topic that claim that Stanford students are getting six figure salaries upon graduating. Caveat emptor -- that is all in the past, due to the hype of the Internet bubble, which has collapsed. As I pointed out, this year, graduating Stanford students had a tough time finding (and not finding) jobs. In these days of economic recession, incessant job layoffs, and uncertain times, you -- the potential college consumer -- owe it to yourself and your parents (or guardians) to get the best value for your money.

Finally, let me say that writing this review is somewhat painful, because when I graduated from high school, ready to go to Stanford, my parents were proud, I felt like I had accomplished something, and the future looked great and rosy. When I got to Stanford and experienced it, it was not great, did not provide me with the fundamental and necessary training, and left me cynical and pessimistic about the underlying motivations of the faculty.

Don't make the same mistake I did.

Good luck in the future!

By Progex (Progex) on Thursday, July 17, 2003 - 09:35 am: Edit

Interesting read.

By Medprof (Medprof) on Thursday, July 17, 2003 - 12:52 pm: Edit

This was posted by someone who has college age kids. So the experience is hardly up to date. The internet bubble affected a large number of CS people, not just Stanford grads. He also ignored the many accomplished individuals listed at the Stanford web site that did went to Stanford for undergrad, e.g. Vincent Cerf, Father of the internet, and only chose individuals to illustrate his negative view point.

By Xiggi (Xiggi) on Thursday, July 17, 2003 - 02:45 pm: Edit

Vincent Cerf, Father of the internet

Oh, and all this time I thought it was Al Gore :)


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