Stanford Law Dream

Question: I am a high school sophomore. My dream is to attend Stanford Law school. However, both my parents are sick; my mother has cancer. It's been really hard to deal with all this and still do my studies. I work hard but I worry that I can't maintain my grades. I also worry about paying for college. What would be wise to do?

First the bad news: Stanford is one of the most selective colleges in the country--actually, in the whole world. Each year, the Stanford office of admission turns away thousands of highly qualified applicants with top grades and SAT scores. So even if you do everything right, you may not be admitted. With your parents' illness and the inevitable pressures upon you, you'll have an even tougher time that most students maintaining the academic and extracurricular record you'll need to receive serious consideration from Stanford.

Now the good news: The top colleges in the country offer excellent financial aid and are determined that no qualified student is turned away due to lack of funds. So, if Stanford accepts you, they'll make it possible for you to attend, regardless of your financial need.

More good news: If you aim high and do well, you certainly have a shot at Stanford. If, however, you do well in school but don't quite attain Stanford standards (or you do, but Stanford turns you down anyway--which happens all the time) then you will still be eligible for equally good financial aid at many other excellent colleges and universities. If you attend one of them and continue to do well, you can then apply to Stanford Law School. Law schools are eager to attract a diverse student body and thus Stanford will seek students who did their undergraduate work at a range of institutions.

So what's wise for you to do for now is to:

1. Select the most challenging classes you can handle that are offered at your school: Honors, AP, etc.

2. Engage in meaningful activities outside of class. (This can include taking care of your ill parents. It doesn't just mean school clubs. A job counts, too.) Places like Stanford are looking for applicants who have done a range of things besides studying. The typical school organizations aren't as interesting to them as more unusual endeavors are.

3. Tell you guidance counselor and teachers about your goals and ask them to support you.

4. Try to do fun things to distract yourself from the pressures you must encounter. Set high standards but don't be too hard on yourself either. You have greater obstacles to overcome than many of your peers do.

5. Start investigating other colleges and universities. You may find yourself getting excited about them, too. Their Web sites are one place to begin, but also check out guidebooks that offer more anecdotal information that can help you get something of a "feel" for different campuses. These include:

-The Fiske Guide to Colleges

-The Unofficial Biased Guide to the 328 Most Interesting Colleges

-The Princeton Review's Best 345 Colleges

-The Insider's Guide to Colleges

Good luck to you. We hope you reach your goals, but remember that there are many routes to happiness and success. Be persistent!