Stanford University is consistently ranked one of the best universities in the US. For young people pursuing a career in tech, enrollment can be a golden ticket to Silicon Valley.
Over the years, Stanford has educated some of the biggest names in tech, including Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer. Given its stellar reputation and location in Silicon Valley, the school attracts top talent in computer science-related fields.
For the undergraduate students in the thick of it, such prestige comes with its faults. In May 2016, Business Insider spent a day at Stanford to see what it’s like. Many students told us that the pressure to perform when everyone around them is so driven can be exhausting.
Here’s a glimpse of what it’s like to attend Stanford.
Many members of today's tech elite attended classes and built startups in its hallowed halls. Some dropped out to pursue already promising careers.
In CoHo, a coffee house where I found many students sitting on couches with laptops in hand, portraits of alumni hung on the wall. It was intimidating to say the least.
Stanford has educated titans of tech including Yahoo's Marissa Mayer; Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin; cofounder of PayPal, Peter Thiel; former Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer; and cofounders of Hewlett-Packard, Bill Hewlett and David Packard.
There I met Priyanka Puram Sekhar, who started the school's first cybersecurity club. She didn't set out to study computer science. 'You come to Stanford and it just kinda happens,' Priyanka said.
Priyanka, then a junior, arrived at Stanford having been groomed by her parents to pursue a medical degree. During freshman year, an introduction to programming class got her hooked.
She began taking more classes in cybersecurity (she was the only woman in her class on Bitcoin computing) and learned that many people shy away from studying it because they think it's too hard. She cofounded the Applied Cybersecurity group to offer a safe space for exploration.
'IT isn't sexy in the way that creating the next Snapchat is hot at Stanford,' Priyanka said. But that doesn't make it any less important, she added.
Stanford stretches across 8,180 acres, making it one of the largest college campuses in the world. It could fit 96 Disneyland parks inside.
The residence halls sit on the outskirts of campus. Florence Moore Hall, or 'FloMo,' is one of the most coveted dorms for its proximity to academic buildings and huge windows.
An outdoor seating area, complete with a stone grill island, provides a relaxing oasis for social gatherings and homework sessions.
Housing costs just under $9,000 for each academic year. No dorm lounge is complete without lumpy furniture leftover from the '70s and an electronic whiteboard.
A trail of Solo cups and crushed Natty Light beer cans leads to 'The Row,' a strip of fraternities, themed houses, and co-ops. It's home to the best parties, and it's the launchpad of some now-famous startups.
Sigma Nu counted both Kevin Systrom, the cofounder of Instagram, and Lucas Duplan, founder of payment company Clinkle, as members. Clinkle raised $25 million, the largest seed round of financing in Silicon Valley history, when Duplan was just 21.
Up the street is Kappa Sigma, where Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, Snapchat CTO Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown, the friend they ousted who later sued, pledged.
After some campus touring, I was starving. I headed over to a Stanford institution, Thai Cafe, where large portions of pad thai and chicken curry are sold for just $6. Cash only.
A fellow customer warned me that I better know my order by the time I reach the counter. The cashier is a small, frowning woman who reminded me of The Soup Nazi from 'Seinfeld.'
By the time she placed my cash in the register, my meal had landed on the counter.
A pile of chicken, green onions, and rice noodles was doused in spicy peanut sauce and served on a bed of iceberg lettuce. It tasted like it costs $6, but it at least filled me.
Wandering around campus that afternoon, I saw it was the place to be if you're a wannabe tech guru. In response to demand, the university even outfitted the quad with WiFi routers.
An entrepreneurship center in the School of Engineering hosts a 'thought leaders' seminar series. A chalkboard advertised lectures from Astro Teller of Alphabet's X and William Perry, the former US Secretary of Defence.
Students craft prototypes, from a reinvented waffle iron to a folding desk, at The Product Realisation Lab. It offers classes in laser cutting, 3D scanning, woodworking, and more.
Just a short drive away, I visited a startup accelerator called StartX that aims to identify and nurture promising entrepreneurs in the school's network.
StartX companies have raised at least $1.5 billion in funding. Unlike most accelerators, StartX takes zero equity, meaning founders retain ownership of their companies.
In the afternoon, I headed to virtual reality class (a real thing), where I met Aashna Mago, a then-junior who is known as a rising star in Silicon Valley's virtual reality scene.
Shortly after she toured Stanford as a high school senior, Aashna (who was researching molecular biology at Princeton by age 15) attended a symposium where she discovered how virtual reality is being used to help with post traumatic stress disorder in veterans.
Realising how the technology could be used to help people, she set out to study computer science as an undergraduate at Stanford.
'I didn't know what a startup was until I got here,' Aashna said, half jokingly.
Her stacked resumé includes an internship with virtual reality expert Mark Bolas at USC's Mixed Reality Lab, a full-time gig launching an in-house production studio at Rothenberg Ventures, and the establishment of Stanford's first virtual reality club, Rabbit Hole VR.
Success didn't come easily. Aashna remembers walking out of VR class at the start of the semester and not feeling smart enough. She decided it was OK to feel that way.
'You're never going to understand everything,' Aashna said. 'The experience of being super lost, you just have to get really comfortable with it. It doesn't mean I'm stupid.'
Stanford's students are among the best and brightest. Such prestige sometimes creates an environment where people feel like they have to hide their weaknesses, according to multiple students I spoke to.
Realising that it's all right to fail freed Aashna to ask for help, be curious, and try new things. She launched Rabbit Hole VR in that spirit.
During a Rabbit Hole VR leadership meeting, I watched the group brainstorm industry experts to put on an upcoming panel. Members also tried on the Microsoft HoloLens, a helmet that projects 'holograms' into your field of view.
One student injected some malicious code into the workshop server, breaking the demo. 'This is why we can't have nice things,' a member said.
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