How A Humorous Essay Helped One Girl Get Into 5 Ivy League Schools and Stanford

In April of this year, senior in high school, Brittany Stinson learned she was accepted into top US universities including U Penn, Dartmouth, Columbia, Cornell, Yale and Stanford, with a lower-4.69%- acceptance rate than any of the Ivies. 

Of course, Stinson boasts an incredible academic and extracurricular record. However, her story became a viral sensation when Business Insider published her winning essay- which combined a dose of humor and enthusiasm to lay out her character as unique from thousands of other applicants. How did she begin this quest to distinguish herself? 

She says: "Before I even started writing an essay, I read a quote from an admissions officer that said if your essay is on the ground and there is no name on it and one of your friends picks it up, they should know that you wrote it. I used that to help guide me."

Stinson also explained that with only 1,000 words, you really can't say too many different things about yourself, so it's best to focus on one or two personal qualities and stick to that. What I personally like about this example is that there is nothing inherently beyond normal daily living here, it's based in a mundane and very relatable experience-- going to Costco, but takes on Stinson's own unique worldview. 

Five former Ivy League admissions officers later presented their own take of Stinson's winning essay. See below their comments on her essay, and some key highlights:

From the undergraduate committee perspective, students who stood out only had one thing in common: likability. -Hirschfeld Legatt
"In this paragraph, Brittany shares that she is someone who isn't afraid to try new things and has a genuine love of learning, which is exactly what all schools- not just the highly selective ones- are looking for in an applicant. -Marisa Zepeda

Before trying to go and create your own version of Stinson's essay, prior AO's were not without criticism as well. Lamin Kamara, who previously worked in admissions offices of Columbia Business School, NYU and Hamilton College, said "I do think there was an opportunity missed here to tell us much more about herself. I can only assume the rest of her application is truly stellar, because based on this essay alone, I do not see anything that screams admit." Indeed, Stinson was the valedictorian of her class, was first in her class every year in high school, and the previous summer attended a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program and took courses in astrophysics and science writing.


Read the full essay below

Prompt 1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Managing to break free from my mother’s grasp, I charged. With arms flailing and chubby legs fluttering beneath me, I was the ferocious two­ year old rampaging through Costco on a Saturday morning. My mother’s eyes widened in horror as I jettisoned my churro; the cinnamon­sugar rocket gracefully sliced its way through the air while I continued my spree. I sprinted through the aisles, looking up in awe at the massive bulk products that towered over me. Overcome with wonder, I wanted to touch and taste, to stick my head into industrial­sized freezers, to explore every crevice. I was a conquistador, but rather than searching the land for El Dorado, I scoured aisles for free samples. Before inevitably being whisked away into a shopping cart, I scaled a mountain of plush toys and surveyed the expanse that lay before me: the kingdom of Costco. 

Notorious for its oversized portions and dollar­fifty hot dog combo, Costco is the apex of consumerism. From the days spent being toted around in a shopping cart to when I was finally tall enough to reach lofty sample trays, Costco has endured a steady presence throughout my life. As a veteran Costco shopper, I navigate the aisles of foodstuffs, thrusting the majority of my weight upon a generously filled shopping cart whose enormity juxtaposes my small frame. Over time, I’ve developed a habit of observing fellow patrons tote their carts piled with frozen burritos, cheese puffs, tubs of ice cream, and weight­loss supplements. Perusing the aisles gave me time to ponder. Who needs three pounds of sour cream? Was cultured yogurt any more well­mannered than its uncultured counterpart? Costco gave birth to my unfettered curiosity. 

While enjoying an obligatory hot dog, I did not find myself thinking about the ‘all beef’ goodness that Costco boasted. I instead considered finitudes and infinitudes, unimagined uses for tubs of sour cream, the projectile motion of said tub when launched from an eighty foot shelf or maybe when pushed from a speedy cart by a scrawny seventeen year old. I contemplated the philosophical: If there exists a thirty­three ounce jar of Nutella, do we really have free will? I experienced a harsh physics lesson while observing a shopper who had no evident familiarity of inertia's workings. With a cart filled to overflowing, she made her way towards the sloped exit, continuing to push and push while steadily losing control until the cart escaped her and went crashing into a concrete column, 52” plasma screen TV and all. Purchasing the yuletide hickory smoked ham inevitably led to a conversation between my father and me about Andrew Jackson’s controversiality. There was no questioning Old Hickory’s dedication; he was steadfast in his beliefs and pursuits – qualities I am compelled to admire, yet his morals were crooked. We both found the ham to be more likeable–and tender.

I adopted my exploratory skills, fine tuned by Costco, towards my intellectual endeavors. Just as I sampled buffalo­chicken dip or chocolate truffles, I probed the realms of history, dance and biology, all in pursuit of the ideal cart–one overflowing with theoretical situations and notions both silly and serious. I sampled calculus, cross­country running, scientific research, all of which are now household favorites. With cart in hand, I do what scares me; I absorb the warehouse that is the world. Whether it be through attempting aerial yoga, learning how to chart blackbody radiation using astronomical software, or dancing in front of hundreds of people, I am compelled to try any activity that interests me in the slightest. 

My intense desire to know, to explore beyond the bounds of rational thought; this is what defines me. Costco fuels my insatiability and cultivates curiosity within me at a cellular level. Encoded to immerse myself in the unknown, I find it difficult to complacently accept the “what”; I want to hunt for the “whys” and dissect the “hows”. In essence, I subsist on discovery.