Stanford & the U.S. College Experience
Stanford is a four-year university, which means after four years you graduate with a bachelor's degree in your field of study. Stanford is an expensive private school that does not give merit-based scholarships, so Sam probably got scholarships from other sources -- need-based grants, or loans through the school. Considering that his father is basically unemployed with zero income, Sam was a pretty good candidate for need-based financial aid. However, he would have been unable to get student loans for the same reason: they require an employed adult co-signer.
Most students live on campus in dorms (on-campus housing) in the first couple of years, and only juniors or seniors are likely to live in off-campus apartments.
The way most U.S. colleges work is that undergrads are required to take some number of classes in different fields -- a certain number of humanities classes, a certain number of science classes, etc. However, it is worth noting that this is not necessarily strictly the case for Stanford, as each school does it differently.
In addition to these required classes, sometime around their second year, students declare a major to make it official what they're going to study, but it's very typical for U.S. college students to change their major at least once without bureaucratic difficulty.
There generally isn't an actual major for pre-law, so Sam would probably have been majoring in something like political science, English, or economics, though he could have been majoring in anything and still been planning to go to law school. There are guidelines for areas of study for people who want to go to law school (pre-law programs or the like), but it's not usually something you officially declare.
You can find out about Stanford's semester dates here.
Level Ranks of Students
- 1st year - Freshman
- 2nd year - Sophomore
- 3rd year - Junior
- 4th year - Senior