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Stanford Biology Phd Admissions Essay

This post was updated in March to reflect the latest information on Stanford GRE scores.

Been California dreamin’? Hoping to make it into that shining pearl on the great West Coast known as Stanford University?

Estimated Stanford GRE scores for graduate programs across the university range between for GRE Verbal, and between for GRE Quantitative, but scores vary by program and emphasis.

So, I’m guessing you know now that you’ve got your work cut out for you. Getting into Stanford, no matter what the program is you’re looking at is no walk in the park. You’re going to need the right experience, the right essays, the right recs, and of course, a pretty strong GRE score. But what GRE score do you need to get into Stanford?

At Stanford, average GRE scores won’t cut it

If you’re aiming for an elite university like Stanford or Harvard, you can bet an average GRE score isn’t going to cut it. That means a in Math and a in Verbal isn’t going to do very much to help your application. For example, according US News & World Report, here&#;s a chart of the average admit scores we know for certain:

ProgramAverage VerbalAverage Quantitative
Engineering - Masters
Engineering - PhD
Education - Masters
Education - PhD/Ed.D



Estimating Stanford GRE scores in other disciplines

Unfortunately, like most of the top universities, they never explicitly state the GRE scores they’re looking for with their applicants. Luckily for you, I&#;ve come up with up with a handy way to estimate the average GRE scores for Stanford&#;s top ranked programs, beyond engineering and education.

ProgramUS News RankEstimated Verbal RangeEstimated Quantitative Range
Biological Sciences1
Computer Science1
Earth Sciences3
Fine Arts15
Political Science1
Public Administration34

For information on how I derived these numbers see Methodology below. 🙂

Dealing with the requisite high scores

So, you’re here because either you’re freaking out that your scores aren’t good enough or you’re freaking out that you’ll need some astronomical score (okay, maybe you’re just curious). I know, I know. Tough cookies. But hopefully the above chart helps offer you some guidance on what you should be aiming for!

Just keep in mind, folks, that even a in math isn’t a free ticket to the School of Engineering. It’s all just a piece of the great and confounding admissions puzzle. Get into the mind of the admissions council. They want to see that you really have the brainpower to get deal with the tough level of coursework and research at Stanford. Will an average score cut it? Definitely not. But will a in Verbal keep you out of the Graduate School of Education in spite of being below average? Probably not.

Resources to get the GRE scores you’ll need

Check out the following links for more help preparing for the GRE:


Using the limited score data in the US News & World Report’s release on graduate schools (for engineering and education), I created a block scale that assumes a standard difference between the ETS’s average of intended applicants of a specific major and the rank block (ie Ranks , , ). Next I added the expected difference to the average score of the intended major and spread 2 points on either side of that to create a nice range. It would look like this:

ProgramRankRank blockIntended ScoreExp DifferenceRange
English4#7 points

Of course, you could argue that this isn’t perfect, and I’d have to agree. This is just intended to give you a general idea of what you should be aiming for. 🙂


Notes about &#;What are my chances?&#; comments

While we&#;d love to give everyone some kind of hard and fast number for your chances (it&#;s a nerve-wracking, opaque experience), we unfortunately can&#;t. This is because there are numerous factors involved in the admissions decisions and most of those factors aren&#;t the GRE. The best we can do is tell you below/at/above the score range, but that information you can see for yourself above. Our universal recommendation is that you check where you stand compared to the tables above. Then have a look at the forums to see student experiences. You can also call the Stanford graduate program of your choice to get more information; they can often let you know what score ranges they are seeing from applicants. Of course if you have questions about methodology or how to achieve certain scores, or pretty much anything outside of &#;what are my chances?&#; or &#;where should I apply?&#;, then we&#;d be happy to answer them in the comments :).

Most Popular Resources

About once a month, I get an email from a student in high school (and sometimes middle school) who wants advice about how to get accepted at Stanford.

They want to know what they should be doing to prepare for college applications - what clubs they should join, what sports they should play, and what activities they should get involved in. They want to learn the “secrets” that will make themselves appealing to admissions officers.

There is No Silver Bullet

The truth is that there are no “secrets” that will get you instantly accepted at your dream college, be it Stanford or any other college. The college admissions process is really, really random. I have friends who got into incredibly good schools but were rejected from much “easier” schools. College admissions depend on lots of details and circumstances that are just really out of your control.

However, all is not lost. I have a few tips (they are really just patterns that I’ve noticed) that should increase your chances of getting accepted at Stanford.

Stanford Admission Tips

It’s hard to say exactly what Stanford is looking for, but I’ve noticed that most Stanford students (especially techies and engineers) have several traits in common.

  1. Love of learning. Every Stanford student I know loves learning for the sake of learning. That is, they want to learn stuff not to make money, not to get a good job, not to impress teachers, but because they genuinely enjoy learning new things.

  2. Curiosity. If you don’t understand something, do you just accept it and move on? Or do you insist on finding out the answer, researching it online, and trying to teach yourself if necessary?

  3. Risk-taking and Entrepreneurial. Have you ever attempted something which seemed impossible? Or, have you put a substantial amount of time into a personal project that had a significant chance of failing? Even if your project ultimately fails, the fact that you frequently take risks and try to do stuff that’s innovative puts you in a whole different category than most people.

  4. Independent. Stanford students are generally independent thinkers. They read broadly and form their own opinions about politics, philosophy, and life. They aren’t bothered when their opinion differs from the majority’s. In fact, they often go out of their way to learn about the other sides' arguments.

  5. Passionate. What do you love to do? When I was in middle school, I wanted to know how websites and the Internet worked. So, I decided to teach myself. I learned by reading articles online, skimming chapters from programming books at Borders whenever my parents visited the store, and through trial-and-error. I got hooked. I’ve been obsessed with the Internet ever since. You should find a passion and become an expert at it.

  6. Highly motivated. It’s not enough to “want to change the world” or “bring about world peace” or whatever other lofty goals you can come up with. You have to actually do stuff. What have you done so far? If you’re an engineer, you should build stuff – websites, games, tech demos – on your own or at school.

  7. Athletic. You need to play sports. It’s okay if you’re not the next Michael Jordan or Steve Prefontaine. As long as you’re committed, passionate, and improving your game (or track times), then you’re a student-athlete, which means you can balance multiple commitments and manage your time well.

You can make yourself stand out by trying to develop these personality characteristics, or if you already have them, by emphasizing them in your application.

Essay Tips

The best advice I can give you about essays is to let your voice shine through in the essay. Don’t let your parents, teachers, or whoever else you get to proofread your essay edit out your personality. You want to be a little bit risky and edgy. Don’t try to be overly formal and academic.

Remember to make it interesting. You need to tell a story about your life. It should be compelling and genuine. The admissions officers need to feel like you are a real person that they would want to meet and even hang out with.

In my own essay, I talked about how I’ve always been fascinated by technology and computers ever since I was a kid. I give a lot of credit to my parents and talk a little bit about my childhood. I also talked about my goals and dreams.

Be careful here, though. If you spend too much time talking about your goals and dreams without justifying how you’ve already started taking steps to achieve these dreams, then you’ll seem like you’re all talk. For example, I wouldn’t say “I want to end world hunger and poverty” unless you’ve already done stuff in high school that works towards achieving these goals. If you’ve got the goods to back what you’re saying, then you’re in good shape.

What are my chances?

Lots of people I know thought that it would be impossible to get into Stanford – that they were not good enough, or that they wouldn’t be able to afford the tuition even if they got in, or lots of other excuses that they invented. So they didn’t apply.

It’s true, Stanford is really difficult to get into (the latest stats say that % of applicants get accepted - it was % when I applied). But that’s why it’s worth trying for!

You Miss % of the Shots You Don’t Take

Like I said before, the admissions process is really, really random. It’s worth applying just because of that fact alone. You’ll never know if you don’t apply.

In addition, a lot of the other issues like unaffordable tuition isn’t an issue anymore, because financial aid is so great these days. Stanford meets % of your “calculated need” – which is really awesome. 87% of Stanford students receive some type of financial aid.

Long story short, definitely apply.

Good luck!

So that’s it. Those are my Stanford admissions tips and other assorted ramblings. I wish you the best of luck in the admissions process. I know how scary this time can be, but it all works out in the end. Good luck!

Now that I’ve written this up, I’ll finally have a page to point people at when they ask for Stanford tips.

Update: Read sample college essays!

I built a database of college admissions essays for top schools like Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, MIT, and more. It has dozens of successful essays (including my own!) which I collected from my friends who go to top schools.

Here are the links to my essays:

Please check out the site and let me know if you find it useful in writing your own admissions essay. I wish you the best :)

(If you liked this, you might like Travels in Japan.)