Streep spoke about the type of "stamina" it takes to be an actress in everything from her first film roles to her performances in Central Park.
"Not just physical, but spiritual, mental, character stamina," Streep said.
She earned a roar of laughter from the audience when she discussed her applications to different graduate schools.
"The admission fee to Yale was $15 while the admission fee to Julliard was $40," Streep said. "I wrote a snotty letter to Julliard saying that I wasn't going to go there because they only asked for a certain class of people -- I'm a girl from Jersey who wanted to keep it real."
Streep stressed the importance of "feeling" your characters and delving into their thought process. She took audience members on an expedition through her career as she described how she never judged a character's actions but rather sought to understand how the characters came to them.
When one enthused fan said Streep was the greatest actress of all time, Streep replied with a modest smile.
"I don't think of myself as the greatest anything -- cook, housekeeper, actor or developer of material. I don't think there's the best of anything," she said.
And when students asked about the "uncertainty of the job," Streep said that actors live the most certain life because "life is not certain, things can go right, things can go real wrong, and we need actors to help us know that."
As she walked off stage, the heralded actress shared her most valuable lesson of the day.
"You have to get your life right before you can get your art going," Streep said. "At least for me the things that matter most are peripheral to my awards or parts I've played, my life is what matters."
ABCNews.com contributor Ashley Jennings is a member of the ABC News on Campus program in Austin, Texas.