Thursday, February 25, 2010

Orange and Apples: Stanford

What do a tree and a tiger have in common? Nothing. But orange and red are closely related colors. Which is the better metaphor? Yvon Wang '08, a history major at Princeton, compares Princeton and Stanford.

For me, deciding to attend Stanford for history graduate school was affected not merely by the department's outstanding faculty and good reputation, but also by the university's similarities, at least on paper, to Old Nassau. A suburban campus with architecture that drives tourists wild, close to a major city but remaining quietly suburban, I thought, would satisfy both my need to get actual work done and my occasional desire for liveliness.

Actually, the Cardinal bubble and its orange counterpart are more like cousins than twins. Yes, both student bodies have that private school attractiveness --- or bourgeois indolence, depending on how one looks at it --- and the prestigious names make some of their students worry about how to answer with aplomb the inevitable "So where do you go?" But, as I discovered when I arrived in Palo Alto last year and have come to appreciate increasingly since, Stanford offers a very different experience. Let me name the ways with conveniently bolded headings.

Student body
It became obvious that if, heaven forbid, a massive civil war between the undergrads and grads began on the Farm, the former wouldn't stand a chance. With well-known professional schools in law, business and medicine, the number of "shady" people (exempting present company, of course) on campus is pretty vast: about 2,000 more than baccalaureates. This is not to say that undergrads are totally disenfranchised; it's merely that they are outnumbered. By comparison, Princeton's focus on its undergrads is both numerical and substantive. Judging by the exuberance with which they cheer on the Cardinals, I'm sure that Stanfordites adore their alma mater, but I'm still convinced that Princeton delivers more opportunities for its undergraduates.

Disciplinary distributions
Speaking of statistics, in contrast to the decidedly liberal arts bent at Princeton, Stanford's strength, as is well-known, lies especially in its engineering. Some friends intimate that this perception may be a result of mostly hanging out with fellow grad students, but instead of a proudly masochistic minority making daily early-morning pilgrimages to the mythically distant E-Quad, Stanford engineers represent 25 percent of the total student population and are housed in relatively centrally located buildings.

Finally, the two campuses differ considerably in their, er, physiques. Stanford is unabashedly enormous, and a bicycle --- or a skateboard for those too cool to wear helmets, or a Segway for those who enjoy making others seethingly jealous --- is virtually mandatory. Additionally, Palo Alto is mild and almost disgustingly sunny year-round. Mind you, it's anything but searing-hot and sunny: It's perpetually between 60 and 75 degrees. The only relief from the horribly nice weather is provided by the so-called "rainy season," from December through March or so.

To be fair, I must note that Stanford doesn't do the "snow" thing. No hillsides to sled down on dining hall trays, no romantic evenings drinking cocoa and cozying up in a window seat, and definitely no chances to bring out the woolen scarves unless one had circulatory problems or were a humanities grad student. Precisely because of this lack of real seasons, Stanfordites display a shocking lack of gratitude for their luck. While Tigers rush outside in early spring to unfold their lawn chairs on the still-dormant lawns (and to catch nasty head colds), Stanford colleagues often shrug when I express horror at yet another day cooped up indoors, because "it'll be perfect again tomorrow."

In conclusion, choosing between these delightful places must be like all things: to each his own. Wherever I am in the future, though, my own soul will always have stripes.

If you're a former Tiger who is now pursuing graduate studies elsewhere or a Princeton grad student who attended undergrad outside the Orange Bubble and would like to contribute a comparison send an email to


Stanford UG, Princeton Grad said...

"Judging by the exuberance with which they cheer on the Cardinals, I'm sure that Stanfordites adore their alma mater, but I'm still convinced that Princeton delivers more opportunities for its undergraduates."

Med school? DING!
Law School? DING!
B School? DING!

Princeton is a glorified LAC without the same hands on research opportunities for undergrads as a real university. Spare me the quaint JPs and Senior papers. Those are jokes.

Anonymous said...

Cardinals?!!! At least check your facts lady. Looks like you don't know much about the goings on of an undergrad at Stanford. How can you even compare the two with no substantive evidence for the Stanford side?!

Anonymous said...

It's Cardinal, not Cardinals. Get it right.

Anonymous said...

First of all, I'd like to point out that the author is FAR from a true Stanford Cardinal. Perhaps you should start by learning what our mascot actually is, NOT a Tree and not "Cardinals." It's Cardinal, a color. The Tree is LSJUMB's mascot. This is all shit you might possibly know if you belonged to the true student body of Stanford. By the way, plenty of graduate students at Stanford went to Stanford for their undergraduate degree and, obviously, your hypothetical about civil war is ridiculous. We would destroy you. Welcome to the farm, History major.

Anonymous said...

Stanford is a real university: outstanding academic opportunities, faculty, and research, diverse student body, and nationally ranked athletics. Princeton is a country club.

Anonymous said...

Unless as an undergrad, you were to transfer schools you can't compare life as a grad student at one school to life as an undergrad at a COMPLETELY different school. Come on now.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, at least get your information straight. It shows how disconnected the author really was to life on the Farm (and perhaps life at Princeton as well).

Princeton UG, Stanford Grad said...

I recently attended a Stanford grad party on a Saturday night. Undergrads across the street called the cops because it was too loud. It was not very loud. It was Saturday night (and no, it wasn't during finals/midterms/anything that would make it any less of a Saturday).

This anecdote captures the larger point: while Stanford has plenty to recommend it, the Princeton undergrad social scene easily trumps Stanford's.

Edward M. Beaux said...

To "Princeton UG, Stanford Grad"

Having gone to Stanford for undergrad, I'm having a hard time imagining the scenario you describe since Graduate Students and Undergraduates live in housing that is nowhere near earshot of one another (with the possible, but unlikely exception of perhaps Mirrelees, which is an undergraduate apartment tower). I believe something like 98% of undergrads live on-campus, on the row in the heart of campus, in the west residences, or in the east residences a quarter of a mile from the nearest graduate housing.

In other words, I think you're full of crap.

Also, as for "the Princeton undergrad social scene easily trumps Stanford's," this is only true if you think having the social scene of the campus be concentrated in a row of 10 houses of dubious diversity (in kind of partying) at a school where drinking in public is forbidden. Stanford has an incredible variety of social scenes, from frats, to hippie co-ops, to LGBT happy hours at Terra, to indie rock nights at Enchanted Broccoli Forest, to regular dorm parties (with the dorm providing alcohol and food), to tailgating at football games, to the fall and spring Band Runs, and on and on.

Variety is the spice of life, and Princeton is lifeless.

PU'09 said...

I like how all 7 of the commenters so far have been from Stanford, and 6 of them are trolling "The Prox" to bash Princeton. I think that says everything you need to know right there.