Top 5 Tips For Getting Into Stanford Without Cheating

In March 2019, two Hollywood stars made headlines for cheating the college admissions system in a $25 million conspiracy involving parents, students, coaches and admissions officers. Meanwhile, most high school seniors attempt to earn their way into universities the old-fashioned way: legitimately. As this year’s college admissions decisions roll out nationwide, Stanford student Matt Mettias offers his tips to future applicants for how to gain acceptance to an elite university via hard work and passionate commitment.

Matt Mettias is currently a junior at Stanford University studying STEM and Art and pursuing graduate studies in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. As a professional, he has several years of experience working as a marketing consultant within industries ranging from health to entertainment. In his personal time, Matt enjoys studying ancient philosophy, writing poetry, and tending to his mother’s garden. His other hobbies include boxing, rugby, basketball, gymnastics, and bodyboarding.

Mettias offers these top five tips for getting into Stanford.

1) Recognize that GPA and test scores aren’t everything.

If your GPA is decently strong (3.7 and above) and you have taken rigorous courses relative to your school’s offerings, then, in most cases, you are already a candidate for admission. High test scores certainly won’t hurt, but they are no longer required for Stanford and many schools.

Now, it’s time to worry about the rest of your application!

2) Know that extracurriculars are critical.

Don’t imagine that just showing up to sports and volunteer gigs is enough. You have to show real depth of commitment.

Take the initiative to scout organizations you’re interested in learning more about and reaching out to them. Provide them with a value proposition of ways you’d like to help that go beyond the standard opportunities offered to high school kids. With enough tries and enough time in one field, you’ll establish a good track record and strong relationships within the organization you’re involved in.

Kavya Varkey, a current Stanford Earth Systems major, adds, “I didn’t try to take every single hard class in high school. I took the classes that I was interested in. This left me enough time outside of school to work on my environmental organization, which is my passion.”

3) Let others speak to your excellence.

In other words: Don’t skimp out when it comes to letters of recommendation.

Let’s use dating as a demonstration of this concept. Imagine that you’re curious about someone, but you don’t know much about them. If your best friend tells you that they know this individual and thinks you two would be a good match, you’ll likely prize this opinion highly. By allowing Admissions Officers (AOs) space to develop their own opinions about you from your rec letter writers, they will kindle a stronger preference for your acceptance.

4) Show promise.

Stanford and most other selective schools like Harvard and MIT emphasize the importance of wanting to lead others with a vision of making the world a better place. They call this “showing promise.”

To most AOs, your grades, test scores, and coursework rigor predict whether or not you’ll thrive in college academically. They want to go beyond this to select students who will not only savor their undergraduate experience but also make waves of difference in the post-college world.

Display your authenticity and passion. Be creative! In my main Stanford application essay, I chose to speak about my failures. When working with a homeless encampment, I created support projects that failed to gather enough monetary support from the state. I talked about my personal frustrations and disappointment with the situation, and more importantly, how I bounced back, developing newfound resilience and increased empathy.

5) Demonstrate your love of learning for learning’s sake.

Stanford specifically wants to know that you love learning. They even have a term for this: “intellectual vitality.” It is measured numerically on a scale of 1-5 when AOs evaluate your application, with lower numbers indicating a stronger candidate.

A few of my ranked areas were high, with my alumni interviewer mentioning that I “lack passion in one particular activity.” But at my core, being a curious kid who really loves learning, my intellectual vitality score outshone these other elements. Luckily, that was enough to get me a “yes” from the admissions committee.

To add an additional dimension, avoid being over-the-top braggadocious about your high school accomplishments in spaces where this is unwarranted. Doing this within essays or interviews – spaces designated to learn more about you (not what you’ve done) – can backfire.

“All in all,” concludes Mettias, “Remember these are simply pointers that helped me. Don’t feel pressured to follow any particular path. be authentically you throughout the college application process. Honest advocacy is key.”

Mettias says that his life purpose is “to be guided by love; to learn by listening.” One way he does this is to immerse himself in situations that keep him humble. For instance, he has joined the Stanford Men’s Rugby Team. “I approach each practice with acknowledgment that I’m neither the best player nor the smartest player, but I am open to learning through careful observation. Gradually, I’m getting better.”

To young people looking to tap into their life purpose, Mettias offers this pocket of advice. “Hold close to your ethics and don’t be afraid to challenge the way others think. In doing so, remain empathetic, keeping mindful of the fact that when pressure-cooked under any set of circumstances, we’re there fallible. With the human experience as our lifelong teacher, may we reach realization that –– at the end of the day–– when it comes to life purpose, you author your ‘Book of Life’: what points of view you carry throughout its pages, which actions you decide to take within its chapters, and the meanings you assign to the stories and circumstances you encounter.”


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