WASHINGTON -- Chelsea Clinton has chosen to attend Stanford University in California next fall, selecting a sunny, palm tree-lined campus about as far from Washington as one can get and still remain within the continental United States.
Ending months of speculation that rivaled the guessing games over top Cabinet appointments, the first lady's office released the news yesterday in a deliberately terse statement in keeping with efforts to protect Chelsea's privacy.
President Clinton dismissed the distance -- about 3,000 miles -- that will separate him from his 17-year-old daughter, saying: "Planes run out there and phones work out there. E-mail works out there, so we'll be all right."
Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking at a ceremony honoring Peace Corps volunteers, said of her daughter's decision: "I'm just grateful that this day has come. I think she wanted to branch out and be her own person make her own mark in the world."
Last fall, the first lady suggested she would be less than thrilled if Chelsea decided to go as far away as Stanford, nestled in the foothills south of San Francisco in Palo Alto, Calif. Chatting with reporters in Portland, Maine, Mrs. Clinton said that when she toured the California campus with Chelsea in September, her stomach was in her throat much of the time at the thought of her daughter being so far away.
The Clintons' only child -- a National Merit semifinalist -- had her pick of nearly every top-flight college, and was said to have considered Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown and Northwestern as well as her mother's alma mater, Wellesley College, and her father's, Georgetown University.
Chelsea, who is interested in going into medicine, took one final visit last weekend to the sprawling California campus that features Spanish-style architecture, eucalyptus trees and students zipping to class on in-line skates.
She stayed with Stanford sophomore Jenny Abramson, a good friend who was Chelsea's guest at this year's inauguration.
Terry Shepard, director of communications at Stanford, issued a brief statement saying the university was pleased that Chelsea would be attending.
"And because she will be, from our point of view and in every way possible, a regular Stanford student," the statement said, "we now will refrain from any further comment."
A senior at Washington's private Sidwell Friends school, Chelsea, said to be an excellent student, will be among 1,600 freshmen entering Stanford next September. The college received 16,844 applications for 1997 and offered admission to 2,604, or fewer than 1 in 6.
Tuition, room and board cost about $28,000 a year. Chelsea, who will live in a dorm, is unlikely to receive any financial aid; most Stanford scholarships go to students who can show financial need.
Although he would not discuss security arrangements, Shepard said the school is used to accommodating prominent students including actors (and the children of Hollywood stars) and athletes.
Carolyn Sleeth, a Stanford junior, said students were excited yesterday to hear about their new schoolmate. "Everyone was talking about it at lunch," said Sleeth, a history major.
She said she thought the college had much to offer Chelsea. "It combines a really friendly, relaxed atmosphere with super strong academics."
The White House was mum on Chelsea's decision-making process. But some close to the first family suggested that Stanford was a logical choice, offering not only a superior academic program, but a refuge from the glare of the Washington media spotlight.
"Being far away from Washington, the chance of her being able to lead a life outside a fishbowl is greater," said Brooke Shearer, a longtime friend of the Clintons (and a Stanford alumna who swears she did not influence Chelsea's decision).
Shearer, an Interior Department official, said she was with Chelsea in San Francisco during the 1992 presidential campaign and noticed that the teen-ager seemed taken with the city's beauty and attractions.
Chelsea is said to be close to both parents, but with a strong independent streak. Her parents have gone to great pains to keep her off-limits to the press, but she has recently become more visible.
Accompanying her mother to Africa in March, she spoke to a group of young women about some of the problems that American youth face today.
Her college decision had been the source of great speculation, rumor and nearly daily questioning by the press.
Author Carl Anthony, who has written about the families of presidents, said that not since William H. Taft's daughter Helen went to Bryn Mawr has a child living in the White House, and not at a boarding school, gone off to college to live on campus. "In many respects this is a unique situation to this century," he said.
Pub Date: 5/01/97