It is summertime in Palo Alto, and though the weather outside is a beautiful 75 degrees, high school students who once leisurely passed their summers lounging by the pool or skateboarding are instead sharpening their resumes by taking on activities likely to enhance their upcoming college applications.
For top students, summer is marked not as a time of leisure, but as the time to illustrate one’s unique passion to admissions officers. Every activity, every class and every test counts towards getting a leg up in the competitive world of admissions at top universities.
For those applying to Stanford, some Palo Alto students may have a leg up in the process.
Information obtained from two former admissions officers at Stanford University gives a deeper insight into who is eligible to receive preferential treatment, what that preferential treatment entails, and who has direct access to the decision makers.
Despite common perception, enrollment applications received at Stanford from children of alumni - known as ‘legacies’ – are treated differently than those received from children of faculty and donors. While all receive preferential treatment, legacy or even double legacy status does not put a student in the same category as children of faculty or children of top donors.
“It is important not to muddy the waters between these groups,” said Marci Reichelstein, a former Stanford Admissions Officer and owner of a college admissions consulting company.
While a legacy student gets extra points in the admission process, according to Reichelstein, children of faculty are given a “golden halo” and processed differently.
“There is a different evaluation mechanism and funnel,” said Reichelstein.
An advantage of this funnel includes a direct line to the Dean’s office, which allows faculty to get in direct touch with senior admissions officers to lobby on their children’s’ behalf.
Reichelstein stressed that this direct line was not a guarantee of an admission.
Stanford’s admission rate for the Class of 2016 was 6.6 percent, according to statistics released by the Office of Undergraduate Admission.
However, according to Reichelstein, the admission rate for children of faculty members is much higher.
“We’re not talking just a boost like a 6.6 percent to 15 percent, we’re talking a multiple or ‘x-factor boost,’” she said.
Reichelstein says she is aware of the specific admissions rate for these students but declined to reveal the number.
When asked for this information, Lisa Lapin, Stanford Assistant Vice President for Communications, denied that the university kept this data.
“This is not data that we have available,” said Lapin in an email, clarifying that by ‘we’, she meant “all of Stanford University.”
According to Irena Smith, another former Stanford Admissions Officer and College Admissions Consultant, influential professors can further leverage their influence to gain their student’s admission by threatening to move valuable research funding to another university.
“If it is well known that if a faculty member gets angry, he will go elsewhere, then that’s something that is considered,” said Smith.
Despite the ‘x-factor,’ both Reichelstein and Smith emphasized the fact that children of faculty members are still expected to perform up to Stanford’s academic standards and typically will have SAT scores and GPA in the normal range for the incoming freshman class.
The children of influential donors play by different rules. According to Reichelstein, not all donors are equal.
“The threshold to make a difference in admissions is very high given the incredible amount of money in this area,” she said.
In 2011, Stanford alumni gave 36 percent of the $709 million raised by endowment that year. That amounts to over $250 million raised in a single year from alumni contributions.
Reichelstein acknowledged the presence of an informal donation threshold to receive a spot at Stanford but again declined to state the specific amount.
At least two sources connected to the Stanford admissions process - who requested anonymity - told us the threshold for preferential treatment was $500,000. Stanford officials refused to give a specific figure for this article.
Smith and Reichelstein both stated that informal agreements are worked out between the admissions department and large donors, and those agreements consider both the amount the person has donated and their plans for future donations.
The assumptions for such applicants are shifted.
“With big donors, if a kid is theoretically admissible and contributes in other ways then that’s something that is worked out,” said Smith, referring to a financial donation as the ‘other way’ of contribution.
The impact of this preferential treatment can lead to a shortage of spaces available for Bay Area residents who do not have a faculty or donor relationship with Stanford.
Both Reichelstein and Smith stressed that Stanford is already oversaturated with Bay Area and particularly Palo Alto students.
“It definitely does not confer an advantage to be applying from an overrepresented area,” said Smith
Multiple calls were made to the Stanford Office of Undergraduate Admission seeking comment for this article. No spokesperson was made available during the course of the week to answer questions.