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Palm Trees Over Ivy: Stanford's Prestige Rises on Both Coasts

By attracting more top students from the East like Chelsea Clinton, Stanford shows that it is on the rise.

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Mark Peters understands Chelsea Clinton. The Boston native could have stayed close to home and gotten a first-rate education at what is arguably the most prestigious university in the nation. He could have gone to Harvard. But as the senior industrial engineering major crouches over his laptop in the Stanford University student union, he is completely confident in his decision. And many believe that he has every reason to be.

Despite Stanford's status as the West's marquee private university, it has often been ranked behind the Ivy's big three: Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. Yet as the millennium approaches some see Stanford as the school of the future.

"As an institution, Harvard is the university of the 20th century," says Coit Blacker, former National Security advisor to President Clinton and a Stanford political scientist. "Stanford is the university of the 21st century."

Stanford can point to a rush of applicants that rivals any Ivy League school. Some 16,359 high school seniors applied for fall 1996, with 2,634 admitted. This year nearly half the students accepted maintained a straight A average in high school, and more than two-thirds scored at least 1400 out of a possible 1600 on their SATs. There are more than a handful of other celebrity students - Tiger Woods having recently abandoned stardom on the Stanford golf team for more prosaic rewards. Would-be engineer Peters, for one, is not surprised Chelsea chose to come here, too.

"The fact she came here instead of an Ivy League school is no big deal," pronounces Peters - who admits that his parents were dismayed by his selection. "Most of us made the same choice."

Founded in 1891 - ancient by California standards - Stanford first gained renown for its powerful engineering and science departments, and as the genesis of the electronics firms that began Silicon Valley. Today, Stanford's research labs continue to produce high technology start-ups and twenty-something techno-millionaires.

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