An Overview of the Academic Program

Parents and guardians can be assured that Stanford students have access to academic advice from their first day of orientation. The publication Approaching Stanford, mailed in the summer, is a wonderful resource, as is the Undergraduate website.

Many new students are initially overwhelmed by the many choices at Stanford, the university’s academic requirements and the plethora of programs offered. But Stanford ensures that all students have access to the resources they need to make decisions with confidence. Particularly important will be their Stanford Newcomer Guide, who they will first meet at New Student Orientation, and the academic advising director in their residence hall.

Ten things parents should know about undergraduate education

Major decision
Stanford encourages undergraduates to intellectually explore in their first two years, delaying the choice of a major until the end of their sophomore year.
Faculty collaboration
Students are encouraged to develop close relationships with faculty members, especially through freshman seminars in their first year and through research collaboration.
Majors are not careers
Choosing a major is not the same thing as choosing a career. Stanford does not offer pre-medical, pre-law or pre-business school programs. However, Stanford does offer pre-professional advising for students interested in such careers.
Stanford has a set of General Education Requirements.
Undergraduate education is under the auspices of the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. Three schools offer undergraduate degrees–Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, Engineering, and Humanities and Sciences. Stanford offers three undergraduate degrees–bachelor of arts, bachelor of sciences and bachelor of arts and sciences–each designed to achieve balance between depth of knowledge acquired through specialization and breadth of knowledge gained through exploration.
Course load
The average undergraduate course load is 15 units—usually three to four courses per quarter. The undergraduate program is divided into 10-week quarters, providing more flexibility in choosing classes, but also resulting in a very accelerated pace.
Stanford offers students exceptional opportunities to do research.
The university awards letter grades for most courses on a quarterly basis. Students review their grades using Stanford’s web-based student information system, Axess, which also enables them to enroll in classes, request an official transcript, request enrollment certifications and monitor degree requirements. Approaching Stanford outlines how students establish an account in Axess. Faculty and staff are allowed to share students’ grades with parents only when the student has given permission to do so.
Leave of absence
Students are permitted to take a leave of absence for personal or educational reasons for up to one academic year. Students may request one additional year of leave. Students should first discuss taking a leave with their academic advisor, and they must consult with Academic Advising. International students should also consult with staff in the Bechtel International Center about whether their visa status will permit them to take a leave.
The Stanford objective
Jane and Leland Stanford founded Stanford in memory of their only child, Leland, Jr., who died at age 15. In their 1885 Founding Grant, they wrote that the objective of their university was to “qualify its students for personal success, and direct usefulness in life; And its purposes, to promote the public welfare by exercising an influence in behalf of humanity and civilization, teaching the blessings of liberty regulated by law, and inculcating love and reverence for the great principles of government as derived from the inalienable rights of man to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Those words continue to inform decision making at Stanford today.

What parents can do to help

Parents are encouraged to help their children become independent decision-makers, learn to explore Stanford’s intellectual life broadly and find the intellectual passion that will guide their studies. Recognize also that this ought to be a time of exploration. Encourage your children to try different subjects and to get involved in activities that will broaden their experiences.

Most parents have helped their Stanford children make academic decisions throughout their high school years. Parents can now best help by letting their children make their own academic decisions and take responsibility for their educational program. For instance, it is important that students themselves read Approaching Stanford and the Stanford Bulletin so they can make informed decisions and are prepared for the conversations they are expected to have with their advisors. Students, rather than their parents, should fill out required forms from Approaching Stanford.

In addition, Stanford students put a lot of pressure on themselves to excel and may often call home during their first weeks and months at Stanford, worried that their admission was an error. Many are encountering intellectual equals for the first time and fear they cannot measure up. Parents are encouraged to listen and reassure. Chances are that, in a day or two, the crisis will have passed. Be confident that Stanford has many resources available to new students as they adapt to campus life, including the residential housing staff, academic advisors, Stanford Newcomer Guides, tutors and Academic Advising. It is important that these offices hear directly from students.