Stanford could be described as half country club, half bucolic nature preserve. Most of its 8,180 acres aren’t even used for academic purposes, but remain open to “provide a rare opportunity for comprehensive land use and resource management,” according to the school’s website. The bike-riddled campus covers two ZIP codes and encompasses 49 miles of road, three water systems, more than 43,000 trees (not including the football mascot), and 800 plant species.
Despite this being the heartbeat of Silicon Valley, a surprising woodsiness abides. The vast, temperate stretches of rolling hills at the southern end of the San Francisco peninsula invite wildlife biologists and pleasure seekers alike. There’s a deep casualness to the culture here, and even during high-stakes meetings, Stanford denizens rarely wear anything fancier than jeans.
Make no mistake, though: This is a private school as elite as they come. The stellar academic lineup loops in much outdoor fieldwork—which can often be done right on campus. The geology department’s coursework, though, gets you into Death Valley or the White Mountains. And the strong hydrology program offers field study and research opportunities in wetlands, meadows, and developing countries.
Even if you’re more of an arts student, Stanford can get you outdoor-savvy: The phys-ed department’s many clubs and programs include canoeing, kayaking, surfing, windsurfing, alpining, and scuba certification. Participation can be pricey, but subsidies are available to those who need them. Rentals are affordable, though, and the thorough list includes headlamps ($2 per day), tents ($6), gaiters ($2), and avalanche probes ($3). There’s also an annual equipment swap during which students nab gear on the cheap—the swap is part of Stanford’s Climbers Rage Against Gravity (CRAG) event, which also involves a bouldering contest on Stanford’s 25-rope wall, slacklining, music, and film.
New students get to take a five-day pre-orientation trip ($500, with financial aid available), in either the eastern Sierra or on a sustainable farm. All other students can sign up for the outdoor-ed department’s adventure trips, a newish program that specializes mostly in ski busses to Tahoe but promises more options soon.
The Cardinal sports program, on the other hand, has a storied history: Stars who got their start here include John Elway, Tiger Woods, and Kerri Walsh. Stanford athletes have represented at the Summer Olympics every year since 1908. In 2008 alone, they came home from Beijing with 24 medals.
CONTACT: (650) 723-2300, stanford.edu
STUDENT BODY: 6,927 undergraduates, 8,796 graduates
TUITION: $40,569, room and board $12,291