Transferring to Stanford Q&A – A student’s perspective

Hi! If you’re here because of this tweet, welcome!

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Feel free to read more about me in the About page but a brief intro:

I’m a senior at Stanford University majoring in CS in the AI track. I’m also a transfer student (transferred from a Cañada Community College). I’m Latinx, first-gen, and nontraditional (over 25) and a mom to three girls.

To start off PLEASE APPLY. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Every single one of us thought we wouldn’t get in because our year the acceptance rate was <2%. Pero aqui estoy!

To share information as much as possible I will list Q&A from DM’s resulting from the tweet above. While I wish everyone well, I am concentrating my efforts in increasing the number of Latinx, Black, Native American, first-gen / low income community college transfers. I respectfully ask that you not DM me on the process for grad school or frosh app (no idea). Follow me @susanabenavidez and DM me your questions.

Let’s begin! I will share the questions I’ve received and answers I provide. Please note that my answers do not in any way represent Stanford nor are legal advice nor are to be taken as official instructions of any kind. Names are removed and questions are edited for clarity.

Q. How do I event start the application process?

A. Here’s a checklist from Stanford detailing exactly what you need to submit for your application.

Q. Can I afford it?

A. I can’t answer this question for you but I can share that Stanford has been incredibly generous with me and many of the transfer students that I know. I got into UC Berkeley – you can read about that here and the financial package I got meant I had to pay several thousands of dollars even though I qualified for financial aid with a low family contribution. When I got into Stanford – you can read about that moment here I didn’t respond. It wasn’t until the transfer director contacted me to see what was going on. I told her I was waiting on financial aid because I couldn’t commit without knowing what I would owe. She checked and I got my FA letter almost immediately.

I almost screamed when I saw the generous $$$ scholarship they awarded me. It was like they made it so I couldn’t say no. My youngest was 4 months old when I started and they even provided me with a daycare stipend. It obviously doesn’t cover all of my expenses as I have a big family but it covers enough to give me peace of mind.

See here for official information from Stanford about cost / aid estimates.

Q. Do they accept transfer students out of California?

A. Yes! My transfer class had students from all over the US and an international student from Singapore.

Q. Hi Susana – I’m considering CS at Stanford!. I’m already a self-taught developer but I want to go back to school. My biggest obstacle is that I’m undocumented and low income. I’m not sure where I can find resource for my specific case. Any tips, would be much appreciated. 🙂

A. I emailed financial aid and will report back what they say (didn’t give any identifying information)

“Hi Susana, Stanford treats undocumented students as US domestic students in the undergraduate admission process, assessing their applications under the same need-blind admission policy it uses for citizens of the United States. Stanford will use institutional funds to meet the full demonstrated financial need of undocumented students who are admitted. Please share our Undocumented Student webpage with your friend and let him know that he is welcome to call our office if he has any concerns.

Our number is 650-723-3058.

Financial Aid Officer Montag Hall, 355 Galvez Street Stanford, CA 94305-6106 | T 650.723.3058”

Here is the link to the Undocumented Student webpage:

Q. I received several questions that asked for general advice. I mean many of us are first-gen students and didn’t receive the guidance on how to apply to schools or that Stanford even takes transfers.

“I’m a second year (first born and gen) student at —- college and I wasn’t planning on transferring anywhere until 2021 as a —— student. I honestly never considered Stanford until I came across your tweet! I need all the orientation I could get so I was wondering if you had some pointers that I could work on for during this next year! Thank you sm.”

A. What I did:

JOURNAL Your Accomplishments:

I kept notes of everything I was involved in and did outside of academic school work:
  • Approach professors to take their honors course – some offer a contract you sign and you just have to do extra work and a research paper – apply to symposiums at Berkeley and Stanford to present your research – your counselor should have this info
  • I was a single mom so I added everything I do as a parent on top of working full time and going to school
  • I volunteered at startup orgs showing that my interest in entrepreneurship was tangible
  • I started a social media group for parents that grew into a building a new school effort, served as advertising for the Chamber of Commerce to attract families, and resulted in networking that got me my first business development job
  • I worked up the ladder in business development and highlighted my leadership position at a prestigious firm
  • I had community organizing experience, freelance writing, and showed how much I grew and survived while thriving. It’s hard to remember everything if you don’t take notes in a journal.

Your accomplishments don’t have to look like mine. The transfer class for my year was incredibly diverse and ran the gamut of life experiences. That’s the point. Stanford wants to attract a diverse community of students.

Q. How did you structure your personal statement?

A. My personal statement told a story that went something like this:

  • who I was + where I started
  • the trauma / struggles that defined my early ‘failure’
  • how I took that failure and let it motivate my next moves
  • my commitment to higher education + equality of education (my focus is edtech / CS + Social Good)
  • highlighted the turn from where I was to what I did to accomplish -> highlighted the biggest and most impressive accomplishments
  • how I would leverage my time at Stanford to reach my goals (for me, a startup in edtech / social good space)

That’s sort of the short story of how I approached my personal statement. I would share it except that my essay was deeply personable, emotionally raw, and describes trauma / abuse that I don’t want to share here quite yet.

But the higher level approach I took was – what do I have that others don’t? Why am I impressive? I took the little that life gave me as a start and turned it into mother effin magic.

Let me illustrate my point via a couple of pictures:



Highlight the Upward Trend of your Life that demonstrates sustained growth.

How do you respond to ‘failure’? I’ve had many challenges in my life. ‘Failure’ is hard, really hard. Most people give up, settle, crumble under failure. Others take that failure, learn from it, pivot and take off to their potential. Be the latter. 


In other words, I wasn’t the ‘perfect’ candidate given the early ‘failures’ in my life. But I definitely demonstrated resilience and the ability to not run away from my problems or the shame that comes with them. I owned what happened to me as well as the decisions I made. I spoke about the motivations in my life for a better life and Not Giving Up (for me my little girls). And I showed what a badass I am by letting them see the growth from where I started and what I accomplished with the little I had.

Q. Did you do any research as a community college student?

Q. What is campus life like?

A. I feel like you have to ask someone else on what it’s like as a 20 yo but from my very unique experience:

The first year was tough. It can feel incredibly isolating when you are a nontraditional student and don’t feel like you belong. I joined and took on leadership positions at Women in CS and Society of Latinx Engineers. This helped somewhat. I also took several creative writing courses and that was a great way to meet friends as the classes are tiny (~8 students v. the hundreds in my CS classes).

Eventually I worked through the belief and voice that told me I didn’t belong and worked on carving out spaces for me on campus.

Last year and this year have been incredible socially. I feel like I have friends wherever I go and I very much feel like Stanford is home.

I have done so much while on campus, the opportunities are incredible:

  • Did the Levinthal Tutorial, a 1:1 class with a Stegner Fellow and read one of my short stories to a large audience. I’ve never shared outside of small workshopping.
  • Was a Seeds of Change cohort leader where I went through Stanford’s Women’s Executive Leadership program and taught similar concepts to high school girls interested in STEM
  • Member of CS + Social Good where I took the incredible CS51/52 two quarter course where we ideated, prototyped, and then built a product as a solution posed by an edTech partner
  • Summer CS + Social Good Fellow where I interned at a tiny but powerful edTech startup. I grew so much as an engineer – I had to – I was the 2nd engineer on staff!
  • WiCS and SOLE: Met so many companies that I recruited to come speak to our members, including some very cool CEOs that I really admire
  • Moderated an event with Ellen Pao A Conversation with Ellen K. Pao, tech investor and advocate, the former CEO of reddit, and a cofounder of the award-winning diversity and inclusion nonprofit Project Include
  • Took the novel writing class and have a draft (very rough) of my first novel!
  • Presented my research at the Latinx in AI workshop at NeurIPS last month in Vancouver
  • Forged incredible relationships with CS professors that I deeply admire
  • Met my co-founder!
  • Interned at Y Combinator and Thunkable, a YC Company
  • El Centro for Friday Cafecito (Mexican sweet bread + hot chocolate / sometimes atole or champurrado YUM!)

I know I’m forgetting a lot. But you get the point, if you leverage the resources there is so much to do!



  1. Victoria Espinoza-Helm says:


    Thank you for your willingness to help us all out. I am a LatinX community college student who is interested in applying to Stanford for transfer and major in chemistry. Do you have any advice on writing an effective personal statement? Is there a certain structure or are there any key components that you feel must be used/included in a successful personal statement? I know the essay portion of the application is super important. So, any help in this regard is greatly appreciated. Thank you again!

    1. UnDiaALaVez says:

      Hi Victoria! Thank you for your comment. I will add a section on how I approached my personal statement (it is not in any way a template or guarantee of increasing chances of entry). Let me know if my updated post doesn’t answer your questions!

      Please make sure your letters of recommendation are fire. They should be personalized and highlight different aspects of your strengths to show your different dimensions. When my recommenders accepted I sent them information / template of myself asking them to incorporate a certain aspect of me. For the recommender form my CC I focused on coursework, research, my passion at school and in edtech. For my recommender from work, I asked him to focus on how I had been able to impress hard to impress ppl, how I always strived to improve and knock it out of the park no matter what it was. Highlighted my industry passion in tech + startups. I applied w/ CS major. I wanted to impress my reader w/ my resourcefulness, balancing of all the responsibilities in my life, and my resilience + stubborn commitment to succeeding. Since I couldn’t take CS classes offered during the day, I had to make sure that Stanford saw that I did not back away from challenges and that I wanted to do CS to incorporate it into my future plans of having an edtech / social good startup.

      1. Anonymous says:


        Thank you so much for the update. Your personal statement outline is so helpful and gives me confidence to focus on my own story/challenges when writing my statement!

      2. Victoria Espinoza-Helm says:

        Hi Susana,

        I was wondering if you had to fill out College Report forms for every college you attended or just the current college you were at when applying to Stanford? Thank you!

        1. UnDiaALaVez says:

          Hi Victoria! I filled one out for all of the community colleges I attended (whether successfully or not). I believe if you successfully petition to clear your file for schools you attended x years ago you don’t have to report it but that’s only if you cleared your file. If you have some performance you aren’t happy with, just make sure you explain the circumstances. Not in a listing excuses format but just giving context to what occurred. I did this for my earlier failed attempts at attending community colleges in LA (e.g. pregnancy / lack of child care) and highlighted the very clear upward trend of my performance once I did have the stability to attend regularly.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hello Susana,

    In the last three years, while attending community college, I have been able to completely turn my life around in terms of my view on life and the possibilities that are available as I continue my journey in higher education. When I compared my achievements and statistics to other applicants and the student that attend Stanford. I feel that I don’t have the same activities, grades, internships, or awards. However, when I compared my current self to me when I graduated from high school, It’s quite amazing what I have been able to accomplish and continue to pursue. I know that applying to Stanford is a long shot and every aspect of the application is important. What advice would you give on answering the essay sections and if there is something specific we, as applicants, should reflect upon?

    Thank you,


    1. UnDiaALaVez says:

      Hi Jose!

      Thank you for your comment. I can relate to your experience. I had so many failed attempts in trying to go back to school so early on in my attempts I had a lot of Ws and Fs (when I couldn’t withdraw) because of lack of childcare for my kiddos.

      Once I had the stability and resources to go back to school at night / weekends I turned it around and killed it with my GPA.

      In the “would you like to add anything else” section I explained what happened early on and asked that they consider my upward trend and how the bad grades were not indicative of who I am but of my circumstances at the time (single mom).

      Stanford really values the dynamic of where you started -> what you accomplished relative to where you started. I would take the time to craft this as part of your story. What happened to cause the upward trend? When were you able to turn it around? What is impressive about what you accomplished (what responsibilities did you have beside your own while you did this)?

      Sometimes we forget that our experience is not the ‘norm’. It wasn’t until I went to a workshop offered by UC Berkeley where I thought to list the following as extracurriculars (when I hadn’t thought to), a few examples:
      – hours spend raising my two daughters, including everything I did as part of their PTA, board member of their after school arts program, activities that I took them to for their own growth
      – hours / $$$ spent helping my parents who were unemployed and not yet receiving disability benefits
      – hours at work (I regularly worked 60+ /week at a high stress firm)
      – hours spent at tutoring – both as a tutor and receiving it – to highlight that I leveraged resources available to me
      – classes I took online for my own improvement
      – all of my volunteer activities in tech (meetups, startup competitions, etc)
      – all of the hours spent serving at my firm’s committees (outside of my job responsibilities e.g. women’s committee, diversity committee, etc)

      What do you have going on in your life that highlights how committed you are to pursuing school (even when faced with challenges)?

      Let me know if you have additional questions! I wish you the best of luck!


  3. Victoria E Helm says:


    I was wondering if you have done any work with the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford. If so, how was your experience? Also, is it alright if our various short essays and personal statement overlap in subject matter? (Currently, my essays are all related to connected stories from my life but they each delve more deeply into a specific aspect/subject/event). Thank you so much for all of your help so far!

    1. UnDiaALaVez says:

      Hi! I worked as a Haas peer mentor last year following a Haas CS + Social Good summer fellowship the summer of 2018. I also took a class on community-based research which was stellar. I love the Haas center and recommend for everyone to apply to fellowships, grants, and programs provided by the center. Definitely recommend going to their info sessions and getting involved as a volunteer / student employee. The staff also happens to be some of the kindest people on campus. Coincidence? I think not. The center attracts community-engaged and empathetic people. Can’t speak highly enough of my experience there.

      1. Anonymous says:


        Thank you for your response. That sounds awesome! I’m personally interested in eventually developing more programs that help non-traditional and community college students access research/mentorship opportunities. Do you feel like Haas would be a good resource to leverage for this goal of mine? Thank you again!

        1. UnDiaALaVez says:

          I think you’ll find a supportive network at Haas to help you accomplish your goal. I hope I get to welcome you as an admit soon!

      2. Anonymous says:

        Thank you for all of your help throughout the application process, Susana. I just submitted my app! I have one last question…did you set up a separate application portal just through stanford?

        1. UnDiaALaVez says:

          Hi! I’m not sure what you mean. Did you submit via the common app? I don’t think you have to set up anything specifically through Stanford.

          And congrats on submitting the app!!! 🙌🏽🥳

          1. Victoria says:


            Sorry I missed your last reply…I forgot to activate email notifications. Luckily, I was able to resolve that last issue and I actually just learned I was waitlisted at Stanford! Do you have any advice for students on the waitlist (i.e. do you recommend we draft a letter to the admissions office)? Also, I was wondering what your experience was transferring your community college credits to Stanford…were you expected to retake a lot of courses and start as a freshman or sophomore? Thank you again for all of your help throughout this application process! It was so so helpful to have you as a resource. Hang in there with the online schooling too…I’ve been reading your Zoom University posts and am wishing you luck!

  4. Victoria says:

    Hello Susana (and everyone else following this post),
    I just recently learned that – after being waitlisted for quite some time – I’ve been accepted to Stanford as an undergraduate transfer student! This Q&A post was extremely helpful to me during the application process. Thank you, Susana for sharing this with public and advocating for transfers at Stanford! Best of luck to everyone with their education 🙂

    1. UnDiaALaVez says:

      I’m jumping up and down! You should be so proud of not only your accomplishments but for moving ahead through the app process. It’s a lot and so many points where you start to doubt yourself but YOU did it AND it paid off!! Congratulations!

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