Stanford experience by Anna Vilén

Hi there! My name’s Anna Vilén and I’m a third-year student of energy and environmental engineering. I spent last summer at Stanford at their International Honors Program and can say that it was an experience I wouldn’t trade for another! In my blog post I’ll share some of my thoughts about the summer in general and practical tips to help out you future students.

Application Process

I know the application process may seem intimidating but I can assure you it’s really not as bad as it seems! I encourage you to apply even if you feel skeptical about being accepted and keep in mind that you really don’t need to have a GPA of 5. Just remember to bring out your own vision and how Stanford fits into that.


I know academics are the primary reason that we go to Stanford but I think it’s important to keep in mind that, even though you should definitely spend a good amount of time deciding on your courses, it can be difficult to find the absolute perfect courses. I recommend enrolling in a couple extra courses so that you can then during your first week see which ones you like the best. I encourage you to keep your mind open and expectations realistic even if it is Stanford. Something I realized during the summer is that the actual teaching quality in Stanford isn’t always that superior to here at Aalto.

That’s not of course to say that I didn’t enjoy my courses! The biggest difference that I saw compared to Aalto was the amount of time the teaching staff were able to dedicate to each individual student and the motivation that they clearly had towards their job. Do take the opportunity to talk to your teaching staff because you can learn a lot from the people at the top of their field.

I took 3 courses during the summer and I’ll tell you a little about each of them:

Environmental Entrepreneurship and Innovation

I had a bit of a convoluted reason for taking this course: I disagreed with the professor during the first lesson about the plausibility of doing environmental business so I decided to take the course to challenge my ideas. The professor as a venture capitalist was definitely an interesting character and his stories from his VC days were fascinating to listen to. I really enjoyed the group work at the end of the course. In general, however, I wasn’t impressed by the organization and quality of teaching. I would describe the course as a basic economics and entrepreneurship course with a few environmental ideas sprinkled in. The professor would often have us sit in class and watch low-quality youtube videos of basic economics concepts. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the course but I do have to give due credit that the group work really enabled interesting discussion on environmental topics.

Introduction to the Philosophy of Science

This was my favorite course during the summer! I really recommend taking a course on something you haven’t studied before as many of the undergraduate courses tend to be basic in level. The course concentrated on values, uncertainties, and developments in science. I love that I could leave Stanford knowing I had gained a very concrete new skill of being able to write a philosophy essay.

The professor and teaching assistant were some of the best teachers I’ve ever had! They had office hours every week where you could get individual help from them and just have really interesting conversations. The personal teaching was made possible by our small group size so do keep that in mind when choosing your courses.

Public Speaking: Romancing the Room

All the hype and praise surrounding this course was a decisive factor in choosing this course. The course didn’t quite live up to my expectations but I think others less used to public speaking may find it more useful. The professor was clearly made for his job as he was able to make a 3-hour lecture enjoyable and captivating. I thought the organization of the course was lacking and there was tedious homework each week that I didn’t see as useful in any way. But overall, if you want to get a lot of practice in speaking and gather a few tricks to have up your sleeve then this course could be a good pick for you!

Practical tips for Stanford

Keep in mind when going that your dorm room has basically nothing in it. I would recommend packing sheets, a towel, a plate, a set of eating utensils and hangers just to name a few things that may not be obvious. A lot of students just ended up buying them and then throwing them away at the end of the summer but that felt quite wasteful to me. A bike is super useful on campus and easy to get second-hand from SUPost or Craiglist.

The vegan food in the dining hall is generally really good for any vegans out there wondering! There’s a huge selection of food in general and lot of fresh veggies.

Stanford and San Francisco especially are surprisingly cold so do pack a warm sweater and jacket.

Places to visit in your free time

California is amazing so make sure to take everything out of your time there! The six Aalto students flew to California a few days earlier to leave time for sightseeing and I ended up staying for another few weeks after the summer session. You definitely don’t need to have all your plans set for post-Stanford: I ended up going on a bus trip to LA with friends made during the summer. In addition to traveling, I found some amazing gems near campus during the summer that I really recommend visiting in your free time:

Turbo 26

I absolutely loved this yoga studio that was a bike ride away from campus! The instructors were very welcoming and flow yoga was a great way to start the mornings.

Stanford Theatre

This was an endearing old movie theater in the Palo Alto center. They show old black and white movies in a 100-year-old theater that makes you feel like you’re in another decade.

Stanford Windhover

If you need a calm escape from hectic schoolwork this is the place to go! Windhover is a calming meditation building that is in the middle of campus but feels like another world.

Stanford Observatory

The best place for catching a beautiful sunset on campus!

Marshall/Baker Beach

My favorite spot in San Francisco was this beautiful beach with views that are picturesque, especially for being in such a big city as SF.

All in all, Stanford and my summer in California was amazing! To you future students, make sure to drink up the sunshine and enjoy American dorm life. Rarely do you get to live in a house with people from so many cultures and I’m grateful for all the new perspectives I gained during the summer. I encourage you all to apply as this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! If you have any questions or want any advice regarding the application process don’t hesitate to contact me, I’m more than happy to help!