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An Interview On
Stanford University

Background

Interview Date:May 2020

Gender Identity: Male
Race/Ethnicity: South Asian
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2020
High School Experience: Private school in India with a graduating class of about 24 students. There was a strong culture of going to college in the United States.
First-Generation College Student: No
Major: History
Minors: Psychology and Political Science double minor
Extracurricular Activities: I played club Badminton and I [have leadership positions] in the Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students (BASES) and The Stanford Daily.

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
I would say BASES and the newspaper both did because they played a big role in figuring out what my interests are and what I enjoy doing outside of work.

Academic Experience

Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
The workload depends on the classes I’m taking at a particular time. I generally have at least two weekly reading responses and a minimum of two papers across each quarter.

Is there anything you feel either of your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
I think they do a very good job of advising students and developing a community around the History department. They’re also very accessible, so if I have any issues, I can easily get in touch with my professors.

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I think Stanford’s really collaborative. I’ve been able to get out of my comfort zone and take courses like Economics, Statistics, and Econometrics, and no one seemed reluctant to help out when I had questions. Also, when I’m in office hours with a T.A. and they are busy with another student, people in the office hours sessions will explain to me how they got to their answer.

How accessible are your professors?
At least in the departments and courses I’ve taken, I think the professors are very accessible. But, I do know that in other departments that aren’t as small or humanities-focused, it can be harder to access professors because there are so many more students. I’ve been able to strike good relationships with my professors in most departments, whether it’s History, Psychology, or Political Science. I’ve also reached out to professors in the business school and law school and they were very open to having a conversation. I’ve had a very positive experience trying to access faculty and administrators.

Do you think people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
I think people are open to a certain extent. Especially when it comes to controversial topics, it’s sometimes harder to have a discussion that doesn’t involve people getting overly excited. But, I think that varies by topic and geography. For example, political or history-related topics outside of the U.S. are less heated than topics regarding the U.S.

Why did you pick your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I’m very happy with my major. I chose it because I knew I wanted to do something in the humanities, I just wasn’t sure what. I took a bunch of different courses and liked that History is very flexible, so that’s how I’ve been able to do two minors, lead a student organization, study abroad, and take classes at the law school and the engineering school without feeling overrun by the amount of work I have to do. The major isn’t demanding in terms of credit load, it’s demanding the work you have to do in the classes, but since I choose almost all of the classes I take, I don’t have a strict box to follow and it’s more flexible.

How do you like the quarter system? How has it impacted your academic experience?
It’s definitely been a mixed reaction to the quarter system. It’s great because I can take a lot more classes than I could at a semester system school and I can study abroad without missing half of a year. The other side of that is you’re always running trying to keep up with the pace of the quarter system. By the third week of class, especially if you joined a class in the second week, it’s a lot to try to catch up with what’s going on. Also, because there are so many deadlines, it’s harder to chill and enjoy campus unless you structure your quarter to not have difficult classes. But, even if you have a really easy quarter, your friends could be taking a really hectic quarter, so it’s hard to find time to meet and just chill for the sake of chilling.

How was transitioning academically as an international student? Were there any systems in place to help you adapt?
I think international orientation was one of the best things I went to. I think it’s better than regular orientation because you get to meet all the other international students and it’s much more intimate and less structured than regular orientation. It was great to have just three or four days to get to know the other international students and not be running around campus going to different programs. I made some of my closest friends through that program. Otherwise, I think the transition into the U.S. kind of never ends because every year as an international student there’s something new you have to deal with, whether that be an immigration issue, work authorization, or internship problems.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived on and around campus?
Freshman: Florence Moore Hall in a one-room double
Sophomore: Toyon Hall with one roommate
Junior: Crothers Hall with one roommate
Senior: Narnia House in a two-room double where we have a common entrance and a door separating our rooms

How was transitioning from your hometown in India to Palo Alto, CA in terms of location?
I think Palo Alto is very quiet and dead compared to where I’m from. I’m from a big city where there’s traffic all the time so it’s very disorienting to walk down University Avenue at 9:00 PM at night and not see anybody. You’re in a very expensive suburban area. Also, getting to San Francisco is painful because the public transportation isn’t the best and taking an Uber is expensive. Palo Alto doesn’t have a college town vibe since it’s a lot of rich professionals living there.

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
I personally have felt pretty safe on and around campus. The campus is spread out and it can get pretty dark, so you will have times where you don’t see any people walking at night.

Pros and cons of being located in Palo Alto, CA?
Pros:
1) It’s in the heart of Silicon Valley, so the fact that so many people come and recruit at Stanford for big companies and also startups is a big pro.
2) It’s a quiet town, but then also pretty close to the other areas that are really fun to go to.
3) You can go hiking in areas like Half Moon Bay.
4) The students live on campus and people stay on campus, so it’s easy to meet people.

Cons:
1) You’re stuck in a bubble and, because it’s difficult to get out of Palo Alto, you’re stuck in a very privileged Stanford bubble and the incentive to leave campus isn’t as strong. Stanford students never usually interact with students from nearby colleges.
2) Because there’s not great connectivity with public transport, it’s hard to explore other areas.

Social Opportunities

What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you participate in at Stanford?
I really like to go out for brunch with my friends. I like to spend the days outdoors. I sail a lot, but don’t get to do that much while I’m in the U.S., and then going hiking is something that’s really easy to do. At night, it’s fun to go get drinks at a bar or go to a party. I’m also happy to just stay in and have a movie night with friends. It’s a full spectrum depending on what my mood is. If I’m going to go to a party, it’s usually on campus at a fraternity house or in a rowhouse.

What is the impact of Greek life on the weekend options at Stanford?
It’s very strong because they’re usually the few places that can host parties for college kids. There are no frats or sororities that restrict entrance to the parties. There are other student organizations that will throw smaller events, but even with those, I’ve never seen somebody turned away unless they are acting out or acting super intoxicated.

What have been some of your favorite times at Stanford?
I think my favorite memories are with close friends. A few weeks ago, a frat that I have a lot of friends in threw a party and just spending the night going there, hanging out, dancing, and then coming back with friends was really fun. Another time, my friends and I went to a beach nearby for a long weekend and explored Highway 1. Also, going out in San Francisco and staying with friends who have places in the city is really fun.

How happy are you with the weekend options at Stanford? Is there anything you would change if you could?
Over the years, I think the social options have definitely decreased at Stanford. I think they need to have more options for students socializing here. Stanford has Cardinal Nights, which is a way to socialize that not’s a frat party, but they’ve also cracked down on Greek life so now they don’t throw as many events. It’s just that working so hard to keep up with the quarter system, I want options to have some fun, and it’s hard to do things off-campus since it’s so expensive. That can also segment campus since people who are well-off can do things off-campus while those that are not cannot. [See The Stanford Daily article, “University to maintain 10 Greek houses, seek ‘fair’ expectations of Greek life.”]

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
A lot of them I met during international orientation and at the beginning of freshman year. Some other friends I got close with during study abroad with a cohort of students from Stanford. Nobody knew each other so we were all open to making friends and I got lucky with my cohort because everybody was really friendly. I’ve also met people through The Stanford Daily and BASES.

How would you describe the overall social scene?
Social life exists, but I don’t think there are very many options for people to socialize since there aren’t many places to hang out other than a frat party, like, there is no college bar here. I definitely think there’s a lot more that needs to be done in terms of improving the social scene because it’s pretty hard to go have drinks with someone or grab a late-night snack with someone that doesn’t involve eating mozzarella sticks. There’s also an expectation that working hard is a really good thing at Stanford, so people do not prioritize their social life, which, as a result, makes it harder to meet people. There’s something called the Stanford Social Project that is working to help that though.

To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
A solid amount of people mix across demographics as well as across different countries. It’s pretty common to be friends with people of very different backgrounds. That’s never played a negative role in any relationship I’ve had or seen.

How do you like the size of the Stanford in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How has it impacted your experience? [There are about 7,000 undergraduate students at Stanford.]
We don’t have a massive class size, but we are very spread out. Sometimes it can be hard to meet people because we’re so spread out, but, at the same time, because it’s a pretty small class size, you’ve encountered everyone in some way or form. Everyone talks, so you generally know what’s going on with people even if you don’t know them.

As an international student, were there any aspects of Stanford that surprised you when you arrived on campus?
I was surprised by how larger departments don’t take into the academic needs of international students. For example, within my department, there isn’t a single professor of South Asian history, which is something I’m studying at Stanford, who could advise me for my thesis as much as I would have wanted them to. So, I think, given how much Stanford advertises its diversity, it doesn’t always live up to that pledge.

How would you describe the international community at Stanford? How strong is it?
I know most of the international students in my year, but not as many in the year below. Either way, I usually know of them or have some connection to them. In that sense, we’re pretty decently connected.

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find any internships or jobs?
It has to a certain extent. I’ve tapped into the alumni of different organizations that I am a part of at Stanford and that’s been helpful. I haven’t used the Alumni Mentoring as much as some of my friends have, but that’s helpful and people are always willing to talk with you.

What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
The career office is really helpful. I’ve used them to write versions of my resume and do interview prep. They’ve also been helpful just by informing me of opportunities that are coming to campus. With [Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students (BASES)], we’ve used them for professional development events.

Have you learned any computer programs or languages that will be helpful to you professionally?
I’ve used Stata a little bit and R very briefly. I haven’t taken any programming classes so far.

Additional Services

Have you used any mental health or counseling services? If so, how easy are they to work with?
Yes, I’ve been to the campus counseling center. It’s sometimes hard to get an appointment because it’s underfunded and oversubscribed. [See The Stanford Daily article, “The mental health resources crisis at Stanford.”]

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something you wish you knew about Stanford before you entered as a freshman?
One thing I would have definitely wanted to know is how complicated and difficult it is as an international student to work in the U.S. and change degrees. I was not informed about that and I don’t think the International Center was the most helpful agency on campus. More generally, I wish it was reinforced a bit more to me that you don’t need to have your life sorted out from day one. Just because you’ve worked really hard to get into a top university doesn’t mean you have to have your life sorted out in the first three months of college.

Reasons to attend Stanford:
1) It’s a very collaborative environment. It’s very easy to work on projects and extracurriculars with other people.
2) The opportunities are accessible and amazing both within Stanford and outside in the Bay Area. When you say you go to Stanford, it opens doors.
3) A lot of majors at Stanford are very flexible, especially in humanities courses.
4) The study abroad programs.

Reasons to not attend Stanford:
1) Sometimes the housing cannot be the best. Where you’re placed can sometimes have a big impact on how your year is. [See The Stanford Daily article, “The view from the top: Recipient of No. 1 Draw spot reflects on Stanford housing.”]
2) If you want a more campus-like experience, Stanford is very fast-paced and it’s hard to keep up with people when you’re on campus.
3) Unless you really try, you’re not going to go off-campus very much since Stanford is a bubble.

Notice: Stanford University is a trademark. Induck uses it for descriptive purposes, not to imply affiliation with, endorsement from, or sponsorship by Stanford University.

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