Essay About Love for Costco Wins Student Admission to Five Ivies

Brittany Stinson got accepted to five Ivies plus Stanford after writing her college essay about Costco.

A college essay about one teen's drive to explore life — as well as her deep and abiding love for Costco — has won over admissions counselors at six of the most prestigious schools in the U.S.

Brittany Stinson, an 18-year-old senior at Concord High School in Wilmington, Delaware, found out last week that she got into five Ivy League universities — Yale, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, and Cornell — as well as the similarly competitive Stanford.

Stinson, the only child of Terry and Joe Stinson, neither of whom are Ivy League nor Stanford graduates themselves, wants to be a doctor, and her mother says she has always been a strong student.

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“She’s always gotten straight As, takes the most rigorous courses she can, and is first in her class,” Terry Stinson, a Brazilian immigrant who became an American citizen only a few years ago, told NBC News.

Aside from her academics, Stinson's unusual essay made her college application stand out.

In response to the essay question, which asks students to share a "background, identity, interest or talent that is so meaningful," their application would be incomplete without it, Stinson described her admiration for America's largest wholesale warehouse — and how "the kingdom of Costco" was symbolic of so much more in her life.

“Just as I sampled buffalo ­chicken 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,” she wrote. “I sampled calculus, cross-­country 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.”

Writing about Costco felt natural to her, she told NBC News.

“I had always gone to Costco while growing up. It was a constant part of my childhood. I Iooked forward to trips on the weekends, and I had always treated it as a Disneyland of sorts. I was always curious about the place. The same attitude carried over to everything I tried in life,” she said.

While it was risky to write about something so outlandish, Stinson felt like she needed something to stand out amid other applicants with similar grades, extracurriculars, and SAT scores.

“I couldn’t afford to go via the traditional route. I would actually be more worried about taking a traditional route at the risk of blending in with other applicants,” Stinson said. “I knew that writing about my experiences at Costco would at least make for a memorable essay, whether [admissions committees] loved or hated it. On another hand, I felt that the essay ended up being such an accurate representation of me and my personality.”

Related: After Bouncing Between Foster Homes, Golf Caddie Gets Full Ride to College

Stinson’s father, Joe, said he believes his daughter’s greatest strengths are “her fortitude and tenacity, to choose among many.” Her English teacher for the past two years, Leslie Wagner of Concord High School, says writing is one of those strengths too.

“Brittany has always had a knack for finding just the right phrase. She has a quiet demeanor overall, but in her writing her wit and her skill with language is quite apparent,” Wagner told NBC News.

Now, Stinson has a tough choice ahead of her. She said she has “no clue” which of the universities that admitted her she will choose.

“Admitted student day visits are going to be so vital. We’ll also be comparing financial aid packages,” she said.

Read Brittany Stinson's full essay below, reprinted with her permission:

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 cinnamon­-sugar 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 dollar-­fifty 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 weight-­loss supplements. Perusing the aisles gave me time to ponder. Who needs three pounds of sour cream? Was cultured yogurt any more well­-mannered 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 thirty-­three 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 buffalo­-chicken 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, cross­-country 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.

Costco College Essay: An Analysis

Costco Hot Dog

Yep, that’s right: it’s the famous Costco college essay that got Brittany Stinson into five Ivy League schools. Said schools include Columbia, Yale, UPenn, Cornell, and Dartmouth.

Now, this application essay was considered one of the “quintessential college essays” that every student was expected to strive for. It had a lot of positive attributes to it, notably its creativity, that made the college essay so strong in the application.

But here’s the thing: there are also mistakes in this essay that future applicants should be wary of.

It’s okay though. Here at PenningPapers, we try not to be a Negative Nancy. In fact, we just want to provide the most value from our admissions advice so that our clients and readers get the most useful analysis.

It just so happens that the Costco College essay covers a wide range of topics that could be useful for our readers to know.

We want our readers to be well-equipped to face their own college applications; thusly so, we have compiled a list of both the primary positive and negative attributes of the Costco college essay.

The Costco College Essay

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.

The Costco College Essay: Critique

Unique Topic: This seems to be an underrated one. There are plenty of essays about serving as a camp counselor, and plenty more about playing the violin. The value of a unique topic like Costco is that it provides admissions officers with something different to read from the hundreds of thousands of similar essays. Having a unique topic in your college essay will make admissions officers love your story more than others who have less special ones.

Interesting Narrative: a strong narrative is arguably one of the most vital parts of the college admissions process. If you can capture the attention of the admissions officers with your words, you can put yourself in a much more positive light than the rest of the competition. Take this one for example: “. I contemplated the philosophical: If there exists a thirty­three ounce jar of Nutella, do we really have free will?”

Now, we do want to clarify that writing this well correctly and effectively so that the admissions officers DON’T find your essay ostentatious and overbearing is hard. There is a fine line between having capturing language and having pretentious language.

We recommend that if you feel uncomfortable with writing in this style but would still like to beat out the rest of the competition in the admissions pool, you should speak to our admissions experts to talk about how you can get your college essay edited.

Outdated subject: Whichever subject you talk about, make sure that it is not too far from your current year. The farther away your experience is from high school, the more irrelevant it becomes. It is very hard for people to believe that a child’s characteristics have transferred to their adult selves.

More importantly, admissions officers would like to know more about how you changed in the current time; there is little use in knowing what positive changes or character traits you’ve had in the past.

Cliché “thirst for knowledge”: There’s not much else to say about this section other than the fact that writing that you have a “thirst for knowledge” has been overdone. There are plenty of students who write that they are curious and are always learning. Unfortunately, this has become so saturated that it is sometimes even mocked in not just the admissions process but in job applications too. Even business gurus have been mocked for it: take Tai Lopez and his regrettable “knowledge” video.  

Corny ending: Here at Penningpapers, the intro paragraph is the most important paragraph of all, but that doesn’t mean the ending paragraph should be neglected. A bad ending paragraph will still leave a bad taste in the admissions officer’s mouth. So, what’s wrong with the ending? Well, it’s the mention of the “whys” “hows” and the “in essence.” These are famous lines that parallel Nietzsche’s quote “He who has a why can bear any how”. The “whys” and “hows” have been overplayed, and in STEM related college essays, we’ve found that the words “in essense” more times than we could count. The essay in all wasn’t particularly bad, but hearing the last paragraph made us want to puke.

In short, Brittany Stinson’s Costco college essay wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly a piece that stood out amongst the rest of the admissions essays. Perhaps you, dear reader, would like to make your admissions essay perfect. Perhaps you would like to make it as good as possible to remove any doubt of college acceptance, or even make up for poor scores. Perhaps it is too difficult to compete in the admissions process because your dream school is far too prestigious and competitive.

For that, we recommend you shoot us a call or send us a message so we can take a look at your application because remember: even the best application essays have critical flaws without editing!    

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A high school senior who got into 5 Ivy League schools and Stanford reveals how she chose her essay topic

Editor's note: A high school senior named Brittany Stinson earned the education world's attention in April 2016 with a unique college application essay set at Costco.

With early admission deadlines looming, Business Insider decided to republish her timeless advice below.

High-school senior Brittany Stinson learned on Tuesday that she was accepted into five Ivy League schools: Yale, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, and Cornell.

She also got into Stanford, which has an acceptance rate of 4.69% — a lower rate than any of the Ivy League schools.

Stinson shared her Common Application essay with Business Insider at the time, which we published  in full here .

It was a lighthearted reflection of her inquisitive personality, told against a backdrop of her childhood trips to Costco.

Related stories

Stinson explained how she chose her topic.

"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," she said. "I used that to help guide me."

Stinson also acknowledged the difficulty of expressing herself in fewer than 1,000 words.

With that in mind, Stinson said, "I really tried to think of my defining qualities, and narrowed it down to one or two qualities I wanted to convey to admissions officers."

In the end, Stinson used a playful tone to convey those qualities. At one point, she said that her purchase of a hickory-smoked ham at Costco spurred a conversation between her and her father about the controversial nature of former US President Andrew Jackson — aka "Old Hickory."

This humorous approach likely distinguished her essay from the thousands of others Yale and other schools received.

"I knew I was capable of weaving in humor into the essay," she said, "and I knew that with kids that have similar extracurriculars and scores, you need to stand out when it comes to the essay."

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A high schooler was accepted to five Ivy League colleges with an essay about Costco

Choices choices.

It took just a few short hours on Apr. 1 for Concord High School senior Brittany Stinson to go viral. Not because she staged an epic prank—though more than a few skeptics assumed that her sudden notoriety was an April Fool’s Day fakeout—but for her very real, decidedly eccentric college applications essay that helped garner her admission to five Ivy League colleges and Stanford University.

The essay isn’t your typical exercise in academic humblebragging or lofty save-the-world aspiration: It’s a nostalgic, free-form musing on the  joys of shopping at Costco with her mom . And while it shows a young essayist’s tendency to overwrite (the Achilles heel of some of us older wordsmiths as well), it also provides insight into a mind that takes creative risks and thinks with expansive originality.

Coming as it does in the thick of a heated debate over  “holistic” evaluation standards  at elite colleges—admissions practices that extend beyond comparing grades and scores to include assessments of character and the impact of background and cultural identity on a student’s academic journey—Stinson’s essay has generated a whirling array of reactions. After being posted on Business Insider last week, her essay was read over a million times and shared many thousands more on social media.

Brittany Stinson, in the store that started it all.

Many have found it charming and compelling, while others have attacked it as an example of the antics holistic admissions practices encourage among applicants hoping to stand out. The truth is, these two opinions aren’t mutually exclusive. Stinson’s SAT scores were in the high 90-something percentile (she wouldn’t say exactly her score) and she’s on track to graduate as her class’s valedictorian. Meanwhile, she participated in highly competitive STEM programs, loaded up on AP classes, was a competitive cross-country runner, and an active participant in her local community.

“I’d definitely fit in with the nerds, although the kids at our school would probably categorize us as the overachievers, instead,” Stinson says. “I’d like to study neuroscience in college. I volunteered in a research lab working on a genetics project at the University of Delaware. This was one of my favorite extracurriculars. I’m definitely pursuing research in college.”

All of these factors mark her as a strong candidate for an elite university. Of course, tens of thousands of other applicants had similarly outstanding academic and extracurricular profiles this year. Stinson’s essay, however, must have suggested to schools that she would bring with her a unique and interesting point of view.

Stinson acknowledges that her status as the daughter of a Brazilian immigrant mother who identifies as black, and a white US-born father, likely gave her admissions case a boost.

“I did declare my race and ethnicity on my applications. I think my background likely made my application stand out and impacted it positively,” she says, noting that she is also a proponent of affirmative action policies. “Many who criticize affirmative action think that nearly all minority admitted students are somehow less qualified, undeserving, or that ‘they took a spot’ from a more deserving non-minority student. I think that affirmative action makes a well-qualified minority student stand out, but it will never cause an unqualified student to be admitted. Non-minorities are still benefiting from a system built in their favor.”

At the same time, as clearly evidenced by Stinson, striving for diversity isn’t just about redress for past and present inequities. It’s also about bringing together a group of people with different ways of looking at the world—people who will spend four or more years side by side, learning from and being shaped by fresh and unique perspectives.

”College is a place where we learn just as much outside the classroom as we do inside,” says Stinson. “By being exposed to people of different races, socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures, and religions, we can learn from their experiences. Diversity enriches an education.”

While surprised that her essay has received so much attention, Stinson said she thinks it may have resonated because of the universality of its thesis.

“I’ve seen negative comments online from people who weren’t familiar with the literary devices I was trying to use. I’ve seen people say that it’s ‘ridiculous’ that my essay involved Costco, but I don’t think they’ve even scratched the surface,” she says. “They think that in order for an essay to have depth, it needs to involve tragedy, inspiration, or overcoming adversity. I don’t know if many applicants usually explore the mundane in their essays—that seems to have taken a lot of people by surprise. I thought that this essay was a genuine representation of myself: I’m a sarcastic, dorky weirdo with a passion for science and I tried to demonstrate that I’m the kind of person who finds meaning in seemingly ordinary things.”

Which might well be the perfect summary of the college experience: It’s a chapter in life during which young people go off to find meaning in seemingly ordinary things—most particularly, in other people.

For universities, this means recruiting student bodies that represent the best and brightest of a world of worlds: Diversity of heritage and faith, of nationality and culture, of class and familial background, and yes, of race and ethnicity.

Evaluating students by scores and grades alone can’t deliver on that promise. Only by understanding the person behind the scholarly achievements, and the context in which they were earned, can universities build a student body that reflects the kaleidoscopic array of ideas, traditions, and perspectives of our increasingly global society. Which means that those who  attack holistic admissions  fail to recognize that diversity isn’t an irrelevant factor in the making of an elite college education—it is, as Stinson points out, the very thing that makes these schools worth attending.

Here is Stinson’s essay, republished below with her permission:

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 cinnamon-­sugar 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 industrial­ sized 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 dollar-­fifty 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 weight­-loss 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 thirty-­three 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-inch 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 likable–and tender. I adopted my exploratory skills, fine-tuned by Costco, towards my intellectual endeavors. Just as I sampled buffalo­-chicken 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, cross­-country 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.

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Why The Costco Essay Is Crucial Reading for Future College Applicants (And Also Why It's Not)

Stacey Brook

Founder and Chief Advisor at College Essay Advisors and Creator of College Essay Academy

A backlit shopping trolley. 3D render with HDRI lighting and raytraced textures.

By now you have probably heard about or read the college essay by high schooler Brittany Stinson detailing how her routine trips to Costco shaped her life and world. In the piece, now officially at viral status , Stinson paints a vivid picture of how wandering up and down the aisles at her favorite big box store inspired her to ponder the addictive nature of Nutella, imagine physics experiments involving 3-pound tubs of sour cream and converse with her father about historical figures who share their aliases with giant hams . The essay is clever, warm and highly observant and introspective. If Costco is a kingdom, as Brittany claims, she is currently its reigning Queen.

Every year around acceptance time college essays of successful applicants are published (and then shared and reshared) for both the admiration and dissection of students, parents, journalists and admissions experts. Publications like USA Today , Refinery29 and even People latched onto this year's acceptance story, most of them acknowledging Stinson's writing prowess, and many focusing even more on the accomplishments purportedly made possible by such a stellar submission .

The Business Insider piece that originally introduced Stinson's essay to the world framed her success in their title: "This Essay Got a High School Senior Into 5 Ivy League Schools and Stanford." As a college essay expert and advisor, I would love to be able to tell you that a college essay can get you into the school of your dreams. But the truth is, a wide array of factors are considered in admissions decisions and the essay is just one of them. And media attention that focuses exclusively on students who gain admission to multiple Ivy League Institutions sends the wrong message to students (and parents) about what is important and why they should pay attention to Stinson's writing.

Stinson's essay was not her ticket to admission. It was a thoughtfully crafted, brilliantly executed piece of a very complex puzzle. Still, the college essay is a highly significant piece of the puzzle in that it is one of the only opportunities students have to speak to admissions officers in their own voices and highlight something about their personalities or passions that allows them to stand our from other, similarly qualified candidates.

So what should students and parents take away from the Costco essay? Here are a few things Stinson did right that you want to try and emulate in your own essay:

Be specific . The lively scene Stinson paints is so compelling because of the incredible number of details she includes about her Costco experience. She contemplates other patrons' selections, describing "carts piled with frozen burritos, cheese puffs, tubs of ice cream, and weight ¬loss supplements." She recounts the tale of a shopper "losing control until the cart escaped her and went crashing into a concrete column, 52" plasma screen TV and all." Even the opening portrait of Stinson as a two year-old losing her churro (it "gracefully sliced its way through the air while I continued my spree") in her race to explore the aisles piques the reader's interest and establishes Stinson as an energized explorer of an exciting world we might have once viewed as mundane. The inclusion of these observations also substantiates the claims the writer ultimately makes about herself. They're the key component of the "show, don't tell" approach and are much more powerful, concrete demonstrations of her character than a sentence that simply says, "I have always been curious." Connect your topic to your larger personality qualities and characteristics. This essay about Costco is not really about Costco. It is about Stinson's intellectual curiosity, her untamable imagination and her ability to link these qualities back to one place in her life where those qualities revealed themselves. She writes:

"Just as I sampled buffalo¬ chicken 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, cross¬ country running, scientific research, all of which are now household favorites."

Stinson's desire to taste all life had to offer is clearly not relegated to formerly-frozen food served up in tiny Solo cups.

Lean into your voice. Just like a seventeen year-old leans into a fully-stacked Costco shopping cart. By the time admissions reads your essay they know many things about you, but they don't know what it would be like to sit in a room and have a conversation with you. Reading Stinson's essay, you get a sense of her lightness and humor. She isn't stiff or fake. She seems both genuine and genuinely like a person you want to be around. This is accomplished by trusting your instincts and writing in a way that feels natural to you. Maybe the following lines, amusing as they are, do not sound like things you would say or write: "Perusing the aisles gave me time to ponder. Who needs three pounds of sour cream? Was cultured yogurt any more well ¬mannered than its uncultured counterpart?"

Fret not and trust yourself. You will find the words that sound like you.

Notice how none of this advice suggests you "write in metaphors" or "search for weird topics." For all the good that can come out of combing through Stinson's carefully crafted words, there is a danger in leaning too heavily on essay examples of former applicants.

Students can be easily spooked by stellar admissions essays, especially when these applicants are in the vulnerable position of trying to get their own personal perspectives out of their subconscious and onto the page. It can be discouraging to compare your earliest ideas and drafts to final, edited masterpieces. "What if I'm boring?" they tend to ask themselves. "What if I can't figure out how to write about why I am just like a toaster oven or how my trips to Costco changed my life and worldview?"

This is why it is crucial to internalize that this Costco essay represents just one example of an approach that might work in a winning admissions essay. It worked for Stinson because this style allowed her to honestly and creatively represent her passions, thought processes, quick wit and blooming imagination. Put the strategies in your shopping cart and keep moving down the aisles. After a lot of brainstorming, some careful contemplation, and maybe even a Costco ice cream cone or two (to fuel brainpower, obviously), you'll know when you've found the right combination of topic, voice and style, be they oversized or a bit more subdued. Then it's time to hit the checkout counter and bring it all home.

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From our partner, more in college.

college admissions essay costco

  • Free Consultation

Ok Fine. I’ll Write About the Awe-inspiring Costco Essay

  • by Mattie Culkin

First thoughts:  It’s aight. I see why she got in places. My biggest negative towards the whole thing was actually how  calculated  and  polished the piece was. Yes, it’s a wacky Costco essay. But to a trained eye, it’s the work of a professional writer expertly crafting a work that will make a student come off well. One of the greatest magic tricks we as consultants play is making it seem like we were never there at all. The much rougher version of this type of essay is the essay I can tell a parent wrote. Those tend to be calculated as hell but never polished and usually really bad. This is a much higher level of touch-up.

Or maybe it wasn’t! I don’t know; perhaps she’s just both extraordinarily talented and knows how to professionally craft college work. And hey, she got in. Maybe I should take this as a bit of advice for myself.

Because of that, I’m less interested in giving this piece a grade (8.5. Needs more believable substance in the middle. See notes.) and more diving into what kind of thought process went into making the piece in the first place. I also start doing that editor thing halfway through where I say an essay is good only to then tear it to shreds line by line. Sorry. The doctor says it’s incurable.

Take this as an analysis of what I think goes into a top-tier college essay. As well as the type of feedback and advice I tend to give when doing my editing. Spoiler: It’s a lot more about strategy than talent.

https://www.businessinsider.com/high-school-senior-who-got-into-5-ivy-league-schools-shares-her-admissions-essay-2016-4

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.

This, students, is what we call a “hook.” A hook is a way of starting a piece of writing by presenting ongoing events immediately, live, as if the reader were an onlooker in the store themselves. The goal is to create intrigue and excitement by jumping right into the action before explaining the context. In a more general sense, the concept being used here is “en media res.”

I tend not to like hooks because everyone does hooks. College essays aren’t a zero-sum game, and it’s essential to realize that your essay will be read alongside hundreds of others. By using “best practices” to a tee, you end up with a problem that your “excellent” writing is excellent in the same way as everyone else’s. Gotta be two steps ahead, ya know?

I also don’t like hooks because they’re hard and I’m bad at them. I’m bad at intros in general. I will say that for a hook, this one is good. You want your reader to be intrigued by your info: not confused. There’s not too much going on here before the story opens up. Girl is excited about something. Oh, hey, I like Costco, too.

My mother’s eyes widened in horror as I jettisoned my churro; the cinnamon-sugar 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 industrial-sized 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.

OK, shoutout to this girl. I’d pretty much been coming to this conclusion on my own, but this is an excellent paragraph to explain what “show don’t tell means.” Reread this paragraph, but this time, focus less on the content and more on  what you learn about the author through what she writes.  Make a list. Here’s mine:

– She’s high-energy and a bit impulsive

– She emphasizes tangible experiences. She wants to see, taste, smell everything life has to offer

– She has an eye for gravitas and seeks wonder in everything she does

– She’s imaginative and likes to fancy her situation as more important than it probably is

– She can be extra

Even if you’re not trying to psychoanalyze her, anyone reading this paragraph will get a sense of this girl’s personality. Excitable and adventurous. Because this is well written, it doesn’t feel forced.

The “tell” version of this paragraph would be like, “I’ve always seen places I’ve gone to as fairytale lands to explore. When I’m in Cosco, I’m the queen of the market, and every overstocked shelf is my liege.”

I did the thing again, where I wrote an example trying to make it sound bad, only for it also to be fine. This is why I don’t think telling is necessarily that bad. But she did show, and she did it well.

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.

I wouldn’t have kept the “apex of consumerism” line. Like, it is. But that’s not what this Costco essay is about. That implies her favorite thing about Costco is supporting free-market capitalism.

I think I would have cut this entire paragraph. It doesn’t add much, and I think we as readers already know what Costco is and why someone might like it. It’s not bad on its own, but there’s space lower where I’d like something more tangible, and cutting this would have saved 77 words for later.

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 well mannered than its uncultured counterpart? Costco gave birth to my unfettered curiosity.

This is a fun college admissions essay. Unfettered curiosity is probably my favorite line in this Costco essay. I will be stealing that.

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 don’t like “Finitudes and infinitudes.” Finitudes and infinitudes of what? She goes on to address individual ones, but the clause as a whole means absolutely nothing without context. I would probably want something as verbose. “Finitudes and infinitudes of the wholesale galaxy but a foodcourt away.” I’ll write someday about using big-kid writer words and phrasing. I’m not the guy to tell you to put down the thesaurus. But I will tell you only to use words that make sense and enhance the sentence. When you use big words just to use them, they tend to come off as forced or inauthentic. I discourage forced or inauthentic writing.

This is probably the right place to ask a question I have with the piece: is she ironic? My answer is “no.” But maybe? I would want to ask her and get a straight answer. Then we lean harder into one direction or the other. This essay reads like 80% legit power fantasy and 20% “lol Costco am I right?” I feel like the former is the right angle and why this piece popped as it did instead of falling into “le quirky teen” camp. But I would have wanted to make it 100% sincere.

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 would have shortened the part about the lady crashing into one sentence. Too much content, not about her. I might have her change it entirely to a third story just about her. I think there’s a clash where it goes story about her/nutella, a different person wiping out, her/father/ham. In trios like this, it helps to theme them, so the reader doesn’t have to reorient their understanding for each story.

I get to this more in my final notes, but this paragraph ain’t it. One hundred thirty-four words, and I just don’t like it that much.

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.

This section is what I like to call the “getting my shit in” paragraph. I laughed because I’ve done paragraphs precisely like it in essays precisely like this one. And those paragraphs always fall in this exact spot: right before the big dramatic ending.

There are two types of common apps essay:

  • A cool thing you did
  • What makes you tick

I’m sure you’ll be able to find me ones that are out of those realms, but I’ve done a lot of these, and those are the two themes that get hit 95% of the time. More and more, “what makes you tick” seems to make for a more powerful essay.  That’s what those third UC essays I wrote about last time tended to focus on.

The problem with those types of essays is it’s hard to then also get your shit in. College essays serve a lot of masters, and one of those is making sure the reader knows you’ve worked your ass off and have a damn good reason to have done so. The quick fix is this exact paragraph:

“Yes, I love Costco. JUST AS I LOVE YOGA AND DEVELOPING SOFTWARE IN MY SPARE TIME.”

I think I’m inching closer and closer to just dropping this paragraph from my student’s works. Seeing someone else do the same thing makes me realize how forced it feels. But I also want them to get their shit in…

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.

Do you know what my actual takeaway is after reading through this whole thing again? This essay didn’t need to be about Costco. There is another, near-identical essay in which this girl is at an amusement park, or playground, or ice cream shop, or anywhere else with lots of exciting things that you can interact with. Finding wonderment in the only somewhat-extraordinary is a thematic device that extends well past a particular big-box store.

It could also be set at a Walmart or Sams Club. But she went with Costco. And that’s why it worked, and she became a meme. Everyone likes Costco. Everyone  knows what Costco is . But no one likes Costco as much as this girl. Or at least that’s what she wants you to think.

All Costco is in this essay is a vehicle for her to explain how she thinks and feels. I covered it in the “Show don’t tell” section after the second paragraph. And that is by far the most compelling paragraph in the essay. I found myself less enamored with what came after, simply because I don’t think I got that same sense of discovery or interest about either the store or her.

If I were to touch this draft up, I would want her to talk more about why this sense of wonderment is only possible at Costco and/or connect Costco to herself more directly. I think too much of her work was based upon “Costco has a lot of stuff.” And it does! But that’s only a part of what makes Costco Costco. Walmart has giant TVs and people watching galore, too.

Where were the free samples? The frozen meat room to hang out in on a hot day? The guy spending seven seconds at the exit to make sure all $543 worth of stuff you bought you paid for?  Where were the free samples?

Then I would have wanted those free samples to link back to her life in more believable, more explanatory ways. I mention that the piece started to wander into parody territory for me, and that was because her rationales stopped being believable for what she was describing. I’m fine suspending my disbelief that Costco is her mecca. Totally cool. But if I start getting confused or losing the logic behind what she says, it all turns into word soup.

She also could have bailed on Costco sooner and opened things up more naturally. Instead of the “getting my shit in” section, the entire second half could have been a more natural explanation of how her wonderment at Costco matches her wonderment in life. I just didn’t find what she wrote in the final third credible.

(I FOUND THE FREE SAMPLES! THEY WERE IN THE PARAGRAPH I LIKED!)

But they’re mentioned briefly and then tossed aside. I think that was a huge mistake. That stuff is the gold in this essay. I would have had her cut a couple of lines from paragraph two and bring them back in as their own paragraphs. “ I was a conquistador, but rather than searching the land for El Dorado, I scoured aisles for free samples.”  has way more juice in it than just that one line. It’s such a good line, tho.

I legit think what happened is she got 300 words into this piece and went, “wait, what else does Costco have?” That’s why she started to have to reach for more generic and less important stuff to her.

That second paragraph is fantastic. And it’s why I liked the essay so much more the first time I read it then when I delved deeper. That paragraph was so good that my takeaway was “PRO WRITER DID IT.” I’m not so sure anymore. I think a pro would have guided her better to hit a lot of the same notes I wanted to see in the second half.

I figure a lot of people will like that second paragraph and then kind of skim the rest. Maybe that works. Reminds me of those 80-classic-rock-hits collections you can buy where the first song is  Freebird  and you’re like  Oh shit Freebird  but then you buy it and there’s also  Life in the Fastlane  and that’s not bad but then songs 3-80 you’ve never heard of except for  Whiskey in the Jar  which you only know because you got really into Thin Lizzy when you were 14.

I still give it like a 7.5. It seems a lot of people are split between  new paradigm  and  actually bad.  I see a good essay with an ingenious framing device that overshoots its load early and could have used structural changes to make it truly pop.

What do you think?

Want more?  Check out my FREE strategy guide on the “Why College” essay.

Like this? You might also like:

(This piece won the 2020  r/applyingtocollege  acorn award for most helpful post! It’s probably the most important thing I’ve ever written. Half-ideas is such fire omg.)

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Student Accepted To 5 Ivies With Costco Essay

This teen got into 5 ivy league schools with a college essay about costco.

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.

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Read the College Essay About Costco That Got This Senior Into 5 Ivy League Schools

From Cosmopolitan

Meet Brittany Stinson, an 18-year-old senior at Concord High School in Wilmington, Delaware, who just last week found out she got into Yale, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia, and Stanford. What is so special about Stinson, you might ask? Besides the fact she's undoubtedly an excellent student, she wrote her college essay on Costco. Yes, Costco.

"I'm sort of still in shock. I don't think I've processed everything yet," she told Business Insider , with whom she shared the entire essay.

The Common Application prompt was: "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." Stinson felt her background as a "Costco veteran" was meaningful enough to share and she was right.

Her essay begins:

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 cinnamon ­sugar 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 industrial­-sized 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 dollar-­fifty 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 weight-­loss supplements. Perusing the aisles gave me time to ponder. Who needs three pounds of sour cream? Was cultured yogurt any more well­-mannered than its uncultured counterpart? Costco gave birth to my unfettered curiosity.

It takes a brilliant creature to elevate stuffing your face with free samples to a metaphor about having an appetite for life and approaching obstacles with curiosity instead of fear, but that's exactly what she did. You can read her essay in full over on Business Insider ... and spend the rest of the day thinking about what you plan to accomplish with the rest of your life.

Follow Tess on Twitter .

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This High School Student Got Into 5 Ivy Leagues With a Brilliant Essay About . . . Costco?

Updated on 5/16/2016 at 8:00 PM

college admissions essay costco

The popular saying-turned-cliché "write what you know" has long been used as the steadfast rule for high school students and novelists alike. Well, for her college admissions essay, one high school senior did just that — and it turns out that she knows Costco . She knows Costco really well.

A current senior at Concord High School in Wilmington, DE, Brittany Stinson has garnered attention for her brilliant essay (since shared with Business Insider ) about the beloved wholesale store that ended up getting her into five Ivy League universities: Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania. Stinson was also admitted to Stanford — which is known for its notoriously low acceptance rate.

In her essay, Stinson recognized Costco as the invariable "apex of consumerism" that it is but also as the sprawling space that nurtured her curiosity at a young age. Below, you can read her full essay, which continues to delight readers and prove that those acceptance letters were well-deserved.

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 cinnamon sugar 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 industrial-sized 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 well-mannered 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 thirty-three 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 buffalo chicken 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, cross country 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.

Essay makes Concord valedictorian momentarily famous

18 year-old Brittany Stinson, a senior at Concord High School, gives an oral presentation about Islam during her honors English class. Stinson recently blew up social media with her college entrance application essay about Costco and has been accepted to eleven colleges so far.

The valedictorian at Concord High School has become a minor Internet sensation in the last few weeks.

"At first I was like, 'oh, cool,'" said Brittany Stinson, an 18-year-old who has glasses and an unusual amount of poise. Now it's dragging on a little, she said.

It started when she got acceptance letters from a total of 11 schools, including five in the Ivy League, and, "being a teenager, I took to Twitter," she said last week.

A reporter saw her tweet a couple of weeks ago and contacted her, which set off a spate of stories in publications from Business Insider to Cosmopolitan .

Stinson had written one of her college application essays with Costco – the wholesale membership warehouse famous for deep discounts on industrial-scale quantities of groceries and home supplies – as the backdrop.

"Notorious for its oversized portions and dollar-­fifty hot dog combo, Costco is the apex of consumerism," Stinson said in her essay, using the vastness of the mega store to illustrate her own intellectual curiosity.

"Perusing the aisles gave me time to ponder. Who needs three pounds of sour cream? Was cultured yogurt any more well­-mannered than its uncultured counterpart? Costco gave birth to my unfettered curiosity," she wrote.

Stinson has built an interesting background with her varied interests, which include dance, running, writing, reading, and, most of all, science.

Sometimes those interests overlap and inform each other. Taking advanced-placement physics, for example, changed the way she saw the world, Stinson said. After that class, her focus grew from maintaining the proper form in a pirouette – one leg straight to turn on – to the movement of her arms in order to maintain her momentum.

Stinson plans to study neuroscience – she's interested in genetics – and, ultimately, she wants to be a doctor.

She's developed a high regard for her family doctor over the years of going in for shots and check-ups and the pair often end up talking about books – they have a similar reading list, said her mother, Terry Stinson.

When she does become a doctor, Stinson said, she'd like to offer free health care one day a week because she's seen how hard it can be for some people to get access to care.

"I'm getting this great education," she said. "I should share it."

Stinson has her college choice narrowed down to Stanford or Yale – she doesn't want to be somewhere comfortable where she'll plateau, she wants to be pushed.

The essays she wrote – one of which described her as a burrito: "beneath my chewy tortilla facade I'm stuffed with complexities and beans" – might have set her apart from the thousands of other high-achieving students who applied to some of the country's top colleges because they were a little different.

College entrance essays are often tragic or inspirational, she said, but, "I find meaning in the mundane things."

Contact Saranac Hale Spencer at (302) 324-2909,  [email protected]   or on Twitter @SSpencerTNJ.

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Elite College Admissions Have Turned Students Into Brands

An illustration of a doll in a box attired in a country-western outfit and surrounded by musical accessories and a laptop. The doll wears a distressed expression and is pushing against the front of the box, which is emblazoned with the words “Environmentally Conscious Musician” and “Awesome Applicant.” The backdrop is a range of pink with three twinkling lights surrounding the box.

By Sarah Bernstein

Ms. Bernstein is a playwright, a writing coach and an essayist in Brooklyn.

“I just can’t think of anything,” my student said.

After 10 years of teaching college essay writing, I was familiar with this reply. For some reason, when you’re asked to recount an important experience from your life, it is common to forget everything that has ever happened to you. It’s a long-form version of the anxiety that takes hold at a corporate retreat when you’re invited to say “one interesting thing about yourself,” and you suddenly believe that you are the most boring person in the entire world. Once during a version of this icebreaker, a man volunteered that he had only one kidney, and I remember feeling incredibly jealous of him.

I tried to jog this student’s memory. What about his love of music? Or his experience learning English? Or that time on a summer camping trip when he and his friends had nearly drowned? “I don’t know,” he sighed. “That all seems kind of cliché.”

Applying to college has always been about standing out. When I teach college essay workshops and coach applicants one on one, I see my role as helping students to capture their voice and their way of processing the world, things that are, by definition, unique to each individual. Still, many of my students (and their parents) worry that as getting into college becomes increasingly competitive, this won’t be enough to set them apart.

Their anxiety in understandable. On Thursday, in a tradition known as “Ivy Day,” all eight Ivy League schools released their regular admission decisions. Top colleges often issue statements about how impressive (and competitive) their applicant pools were this cycle. The intention is to flatter accepted students and assuage rejected ones, but for those who have not yet applied to college, these statements reinforce the fear that there is an ever-expanding cohort of applicants with straight A’s and perfect SATs and harrowing camping trip stories all competing with one another for a vanishingly small number of spots.

This scarcity has led to a boom in the college consulting industry, now estimated to be a $2.9 billion business. In recent years, many of these advisers and companies have begun to promote the idea of personal branding — a way for teenagers to distinguish themselves by becoming as clear and memorable as a good tagline.

While this approach often leads to a strong application, students who brand themselves too early or too definitively risk missing out on the kind of exploration that will prepare them for adult life.

Like a corporate brand, the personal brand is meant to distill everything you stand for (honesty, integrity, high quality, low prices) into a cohesive identity that can be grasped at a glance. On its website, a college prep and advising company called Dallas Admissions explains the benefits of branding this way: “Each person is complex, yet admissions officers only have a small amount of time to spend learning about each prospective student. The smart student boils down key aspects of himself or herself into their personal ‘brand’ and sells that to the college admissions officer.”

Identifying the key aspects of yourself may seem like a lifelong project, but unfortunately, college applicants don’t have that kind of time. Online, there are dozens of lesson plans and seminars promising to walk students through the process of branding themselves in five to 10 easy steps. The majority begin with questions I would have found panic-inducing as a teenager, such as, “What is the story you want people to tell about you when you’re not in the room?”

Where I hoped others would describe me as “normal” or, in my wildest dreams, “cool,” today’s teenagers are expected to leave this exercise with labels like, Committed Athlete and Compassionate Leader or Environmentally Conscious Musician. Once students have a draft of their ideal self, they’re offered instructions for manifesting it (or at least, the appearance of it) in person and online. These range from common-sense tips (not posting illegal activity on social media) to more drastic recommendations (getting different friends).

It’s not just that these courses cut corners on self-discovery; it’s that they get the process backward. A personal brand is effective only if you can support it with action, so instead of finding their passion and values through experience, students are encouraged to select a passion as early as possible and then rack up the experience to substantiate it. Many college consultants suggest beginning to align your activities with your college ambitions by ninth grade, while the National Institute of Certified College Planners recommends students “talk with parents, guardians, and/or an academic adviser to create a clear plan for your education and career-related goals” in junior high.

The idea of a group of middle schoolers soberly mapping out their careers is both comical and depressing, but when I read student essays today, I can see that this advice is getting through. Over the past few years, I have been struck by how many high school seniors already have defined career goals as well as a C.V. of relevant extracurriculars to go with them. This widens the gap between wealthy students and those who lack the resources to secure a fancy research gig or start their own small business. (A shocking number of college applicants claim to have started a small business.) It also puts pressure on all students to define themselves at a moment when they are anxious to fit in and yet changing all the time.

In the world of branding, a word that appears again and again is “consistency.” If you are Charmin, that makes sense. People opening a roll of toilet paper do not want to be surprised. If you are a teenage human being, however, that is an unreasonable expectation. Changing one’s interests, opinions and presentation is a natural part of adolescence and an instructive one. I find that my students with scattershot résumés are often the most confident. They’re not afraid to push back against suggestions that ring false and will insist on revising their essay until it actually “feels like me.” On the other hand, many of my most accomplished students are so quick to accept feedback that I am wary of offering it, lest I become one more adult trying to shape them into an admission-worthy ideal.

I understand that for parents, prioritizing exploration can feel like a risky bet. Self-insight is hard to quantify and to communicate in a college application. When it comes to building a life, however, this kind of knowledge has more value than any accolade, and it cannot be generated through a brainstorming exercise in a six-step personal branding course online. To equip kids for the world, we need to provide them not just with opportunities for achievement, but with opportunities to fail, to learn, to wander and to change their minds.

In some ways, the college essay is a microcosm of modern adolescence. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either a forum for self-discovery or a high-stakes test you need to ace. I try to assure my students that it is the former. I tell them that it’s a chance to take stock of everything you’ve experienced and learned over the past 18 years and everything you have to offer as a result.

That can be a profound process. But to embark on it, students have to believe that colleges really want to see the person behind the brand. And they have to have the chance to know who that person is.

Sarah Bernstein is a playwright, a writing coach and an essayist.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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Should college essays touch on race? Some feel the affirmative action ruling leaves them no choice

Collin Binkley, Annie Ma And Noreen Nasir

Associated Press

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Hillary Amofa listens to others member of the Lincoln Park High School step team after school Friday, March 8, 2024, in Chicago. When she started writing her college essay, Amofa told the story she thought admissions offices wanted to hear. She wrote about being the daughter of immigrants from Ghana, about growing up in a small apartment in Chicago. She described hardship and struggle. Then she deleted it all. "I would just find myself kind of trauma-dumping," said the 18 year-old senior, "And I'm just like, this doesn't really say anything about me as a person." (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

CHICAGO – When she started writing her college essay, Hillary Amofa told the story she thought admissions offices wanted to hear. About being the daughter of immigrants from Ghana and growing up in a small apartment in Chicago. About hardship and struggle.

Then she deleted it all.

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“I would just find myself kind of trauma-dumping,” said the 18-year-old senior at Lincoln Park High School in Chicago. “And I’m just like, this doesn’t really say anything about me as a person.”

When the Supreme Court ended affirmative action in higher education, it left the college essay as one of few places where race can play a role in admissions decisions. For many students of color, instantly more was riding on the already high-stakes writing assignment. Some say they felt pressure to exploit their hardships as they competed for a spot on campus.

Amofa was just starting to think about her essay when the court issued its decision, and it left her with a wave of questions. Could she still write about her race? Could she be penalized for it? She wanted to tell colleges about her heritage but she didn’t want to be defined by it.

In English class, Amofa and her classmates read sample essays that all seemed to focus on some trauma or hardship. It left her with the impression she had to write about her life's hardest moments to show how far she'd come. But she and some of her classmates wondered if their lives had been hard enough to catch the attention of admissions offices.

“For a lot of students, there’s a feeling of, like, having to go through something so horrible to feel worthy of going to school, which is kind of sad,” said Amofa, the daughter of a hospital technician and an Uber driver.

This year’s senior class is the first in decades to navigate college admissions without affirmative action . The Supreme Court upheld the practice in decisions going back to the 1970s, but this court’s conservative supermajority found it is unconstitutional for colleges to give students extra weight because of their race alone.

Still, the decision left room for race to play an indirect role: Chief Justice John Roberts wrote universities can still consider how an applicant’s life was shaped by their race, “so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability.”

“A benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student’s courage and determination,” he wrote.

Scores of colleges responded with new essay prompts asking about students’ backgrounds. Brown University asked applicants how “an aspect of your growing up has inspired or challenged you.” Rice University asked students how their perspectives were shaped by their “background, experiences, upbringing, and/or racial identity.”

WONDERING IF SCHOOLS ‘EXPECT A SOB STORY’

When Darrian Merritt started writing his essay, he knew the stakes were higher than ever because of the court’s decision. His first instinct was to write about events that led to him going to live with his grandmother as a child.

Those were painful memories, but he thought they might play well at schools like Yale, Stanford and Vanderbilt.

“I feel like the admissions committee might expect a sob story or a tragic story,” said Merritt, a senior in Cleveland. “And if you don’t provide that, then maybe they’re not going to feel like you went through enough to deserve having a spot at the university. I wrestled with that a lot.”

He wrote drafts focusing on his childhood, but it never amounted to more than a collection of memories. Eventually he abandoned the idea and aimed for an essay that would stand out for its positivity.

Merritt wrote about a summer camp where he started to feel more comfortable in his own skin. He described embracing his personality and defying his tendency to please others. The essay had humor — it centered on a water gun fight where he had victory in sight but, in a comedic twist, slipped and fell. But the essay also reflects on his feelings of not being “Black enough” and getting made fun of for listening to “white people music."

“I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to write this for me, and we’re just going to see how it goes,’” he said. “It just felt real, and it felt like an honest story.”

The essay describes a breakthrough as he learned "to take ownership of myself and my future by sharing my true personality with the people I encounter. ... I realized that the first chapter of my own story had just been written.”

A RULING PROMPTS PIVOTS ON ESSAY TOPICS

Like many students, Max Decker of Portland, Oregon, had drafted a college essay on one topic, only to change direction after the Supreme Court ruling in June.

Decker initially wrote about his love for video games. In a childhood surrounded by constant change, navigating his parents’ divorce, the games he took from place to place on his Nintendo DS were a source of comfort.

But the essay he submitted to colleges focused on the community he found through Word is Bond, a leadership group for young Black men in Portland.

As the only biracial, Jewish kid with divorced parents in a predominantly white, Christian community, Decker wrote he constantly felt like the odd one out. On a trip with Word is Bond to Capitol Hill, he and friends who looked just like him shook hands with lawmakers. The experience, he wrote, changed how he saw himself.

“It’s because I’m different that I provide something precious to the world, not the other way around,” he wrote.

As a first-generation college student, Decker thought about the subtle ways his peers seemed to know more about navigating the admissions process . They made sure to get into advanced classes at the start of high school, and they knew how to secure glowing letters of recommendation.

If writing about race would give him a slight edge and show admissions officers a fuller picture of his achievements, he wanted to take that small advantage.

His first memory about race, Decker said, was when he went to get a haircut in elementary school and the barber made rude comments about his curly hair. Until recently, the insecurity that moment created led him to keep his hair buzzed short.

Through Word is Bond, Decker said he found a space to explore his identity as a Black man. It was one of the first times he was surrounded by Black peers and saw Black role models. It filled him with a sense of pride in his identity. No more buzzcut.

The pressure to write about race involved a tradeoff with other important things in his life, Decker said. That included his passion for journalism, like the piece he wrote on efforts to revive a once-thriving Black neighborhood in Portland. In the end, he squeezed in 100 characters about his journalism under the application’s activities section.

“My final essay, it felt true to myself. But the difference between that and my other essay was the fact that it wasn’t the truth that I necessarily wanted to share,” said Decker, whose top college choice is Tulane, in New Orleans, because of the region’s diversity. “It felt like I just had to limit the truth I was sharing to what I feel like the world is expecting of me.”

SPELLING OUT THE IMPACT OF RACE

Before the Supreme Court ruling, it seemed a given to Imani Laird that colleges would consider the ways that race had touched her life. But now, she felt like she had to spell it out.

As she started her essay, she reflected on how she had faced bias or felt overlooked as a Black student in predominantly white spaces.

There was the year in math class when the teacher kept calling her by the name of another Black student. There were the comments that she’d have an easier time getting into college because she was Black .

“I didn’t have it easier because of my race,” said Laird, a senior at Newton South High School in the Boston suburbs who was accepted at Wellesley and Howard University, and is waiting to hear from several Ivy League colleges. “I had stuff I had to overcome.”

In her final essays, she wrote about her grandfather, who served in the military but was denied access to GI Bill benefits because of his race.

She described how discrimination fueled her ambition to excel and pursue a career in public policy.

“So, I never settled for mediocrity,” she wrote. “Regardless of the subject, my goal in class was not just to participate but to excel. Beyond academics, I wanted to excel while remembering what started this motivation in the first place.”

WILL SCHOOLS LOSE RACIAL DIVERSITY?

Amofa used to think affirmative action was only a factor at schools like Harvard and Yale. After the court's ruling, she was surprised to find that race was taken into account even at some public universities she was applying to.

Now, without affirmative action, she wondered if mostly white schools will become even whiter.

It's been on her mind as she chooses between Indiana University and the University of Dayton, both of which have relatively few Black students. When she was one of the only Black students in her grade school, she could fall back on her family and Ghanaian friends at church. At college, she worries about loneliness.

“That’s what I’m nervous about,” she said. “Going and just feeling so isolated, even though I’m constantly around people.”

The first drafts of her essay focused on growing up in a low-income family, sharing a bedroom with her brother and grandmother. But it didn’t tell colleges about who she is now, she said.

Her final essay tells how she came to embrace her natural hair . She wrote about going to a mostly white grade school where classmates made jokes about her afro. When her grandmother sent her back with braids or cornrows, they made fun of those too.

Over time, she ignored their insults and found beauty in the styles worn by women in her life. She now runs a business doing braids and other hairstyles in her neighborhood.

“I stopped seeing myself through the lens of the European traditional beauty standards and started seeing myself through the lens that I created,” Amofa wrote.

“Criticism will persist, but it loses its power when you know there’s a crown on your head!"

Ma reported from Portland, Oregon.

The Associated Press’ education coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org .

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Should college essays touch on race? Some feel the affirmative action ruling leaves them no choice

When the supreme court ended affirmative action, it left the college essay as one of few places where race can play a role in admissions decisions.

Max Decker, a senior at Lincoln High School, sits for a portrait in the school library where he often worked on writing his college essays, in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, March 20, 2024.

Max Decker, a senior at Lincoln High School, sits for a portrait in the school library where he often worked on writing his college essays, in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, March 20, 2024.

Amanda Loman / AP

Like many students, Max Decker of Portland, Oregon, had drafted a college essay on one topic, only to change direction after the Supreme Court ruling in June.

Decker initially wrote about his love for video games. In a childhood surrounded by constant change, navigating his parents’ divorce, the games he took from place to place on his Nintendo DS were a source of comfort.

But the essay he submitted to colleges focused on the community he found through Word is Bond, a leadership group for young Black men in Portland.

As the only biracial, Jewish kid with divorced parents in a predominantly white, Christian community, Decker wrote he felt like the odd one out. On a trip with Word is Bond to Capitol Hill, he and friends who looked just like him shook hands with lawmakers. The experience, he wrote, changed how he saw himself.

“It’s because I’m different that I provide something precious to the world, not the other way around,” wrote Decker, whose top college choice is Tulane, in New Orleans, because of the region’s diversity.

This year’s senior class is the first in decades to navigate college admissions without affirmative action . The Supreme Court upheld the practice in decisions going back to the 1970s, but this court’s conservative supermajority found it is unconstitutional for colleges to give students extra weight because of their race alone.

Still, the decision left room for race to play an indirect role: Chief Justice John Roberts wrote universities can still consider how an applicant’s life was shaped by their race, “so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability.”

Scores of colleges responded with new essay prompts asking about students’ backgrounds.

FILE - Demonstrators protest outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, in this June 29, 2023 file photo, after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions, saying race cannot be a factor.

FILE - Demonstrators protest outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, in this June 29, 2023 file photo, after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions, saying race cannot be a factor.

Jose Luis Magana / AP

Writing about feeling more comfortable with being Black

When Darrian Merritt started writing his essay, his first instinct was to write about events that led to him going to live with his grandmother as a child. Those were painful memories, but he thought they might play well at schools like Yale, Stanford and Vanderbilt.

“I feel like the admissions committee might expect a sob story or a tragic story,” said Merritt, a senior in Cleveland. “I wrestled with that a lot.”

Eventually he abandoned the idea and aimed for an essay that would stand out for its positivity.

Merritt wrote about a summer camp where he started to feel more comfortable in his own skin. He described embracing his personality and defying his tendency to please others. But the essay also reflects on his feelings of not being “Black enough” and getting made fun of for listening to “white people music.”

Related: Oregon colleges, universities weigh potential outcomes of US Supreme Court decision on affirmative action

Essay about how to embrace natural hair

When Hillary Amofa started writing her college essay, she told the story she thought admissions offices wanted to hear. About being the daughter of immigrants from Ghana and growing up in a small apartment in Chicago. About hardship and struggle.

Then she deleted it all.

“I would just find myself kind of trauma-dumping,” said the 18-year-old senior at Lincoln Park High School in Chicago. “And I’m just like, this doesn’t really say anything about me as a person.”

Amofa was just starting to think about her essay when the court issued its decision, and it left her with a wave of questions. Could she still write about her race? Could she be penalized for it? She wanted to tell colleges about her heritage but she didn’t want to be defined by it.

In English class, Amofa and her classmates read sample essays that all seemed to focus on some trauma or hardship. It left her with the impression she had to write about her life’s hardest moments to show how far she’d come. But she and some classmates wondered if their lives had been hard enough to catch the attention of admissions offices.

Hillary Amofa, laughs as she participates in a team building game with members of the Lincoln Park High School step team after school Friday, March 8, 2024, in Chicago. When she started writing her college essay, Amofa told the story she thought admissions offices wanted to hear. She wrote about being the daughter of immigrants from Ghana, about growing up in a small apartment in Chicago. She described hardship and struggle. Then she deleted it all. "I would just find myself kind of trauma-dumping," said the 18 year-old senior, "And I'm just like, this doesn't really say anything about me as a person."

Hillary Amofa, laughs as she participates in a team building game with members of the Lincoln Park High School step team after school Friday, March 8, 2024, in Chicago. When she started writing her college essay, Amofa told the story she thought admissions offices wanted to hear. She wrote about being the daughter of immigrants from Ghana, about growing up in a small apartment in Chicago. She described hardship and struggle. Then she deleted it all. "I would just find myself kind of trauma-dumping," said the 18 year-old senior, "And I'm just like, this doesn't really say anything about me as a person."

Charles Rex Arbogast / AP

Amofa used to think affirmative action was only a factor at schools like Harvard and Yale. After the court’s ruling, she was surprised to find that race was taken into account even at public universities she was applying to.

Now, without affirmative action, she wondered if mostly white schools will become even whiter.

It’s been on her mind as she chooses between Indiana University and the University of Dayton, both of which have relatively few Black students. When she was one of the only Black students in her grade school, she could fall back on her family and Ghanaian friends at church. At college, she worries about loneliness.

“That’s what I’m nervous about,” she said. “Going and just feeling so isolated, even though I’m constantly around people.”

Related: Some Oregon universities, politicians disappointed in Supreme Court decision on affirmative action

The first drafts of her essay didn’t tell colleges about who she is now, she said.

Her final essay describes how she came to embrace her natural hair. She wrote about going to a mostly white grade school where classmates made jokes about her afro.

Over time, she ignored their insults and found beauty in the styles worn by women in her life. She now runs a business doing braids and other hairstyles in her neighborhood.

“Criticism will persist,” she wrote “but it loses its power when you know there’s a crown on your head!”

Ma reported from Portland, Oregon.

The Associated Press’ education coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org .

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Opinion: How to skip the college admissions rat race and still get a degree

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College admissions in the United States have evolved into a rat race.

Seniors will be getting their acceptance and rejection notices in the next few weeks. They will have spent years cramming for grades, toiling at college-level courses, prepping for entrance exams and spreading themselves thin with clubs, sports, the arts and volunteer work, all for the singular goal of being admitted to their dream schools. At the same time, their equally anxious parents have been scrambling to figure out how to finance their children’s education if they are fortunate enough to be admitted.

This leaves many, including admissions consultants such as myself, to rightfully question whether our higher education system is broken.

San Gabriel, CA, Wednesday, March 13, 2024 - San Gabriel High School teacher Leah Ruiz teaches a statistics lesson determining the likelihood men or women will be victims in horror movies. The University of California is weighing what kind of data science classes can count as math for admission, a controversial issues many STEM faculty who want rigorous standards against equity advocates who say alternative pathways to the algebra-calculus track such as data science will benefit more diverse students. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

UC stirs furious debate over what high school math skills are needed to succeed in college

The University of California is weighing what kind of data science classes could count as math for admission, sparking debate over equity and access.

March 19, 2024

There is an alternative to the shockingly low acceptance rates and high-priced tuition that mark the college admissions sweepstakes in the United States: international universities. Studying abroad for a semester has long been a rite of passage for college students seeking to explore the world. But attending an international university to obtain an undergraduate degree is becoming increasingly popular as well.

Storied universities abroad offer strong preparation for postgraduate employment or graduate school, and their admissions process is often more straightforward, their acceptance rates higher and their tuition costs lower than comparable schools at home.

Let’s take Oxford University as an example. You might suspect it would be just as difficult to be admitted to and as expensive as, say, Harvard or Stanford. But depending on what a student wants to major in, acceptance rates can reach up to 17% , compared with 3% to 4% for equally highly regarded universities in the U.S. At Oxford, like most international schools, you can’t tap U.S.-style financial aid packages, but the cost is lower all around. Tuition for many programs starts at 33,000 pounds for international students. That’s about $42,000, significantly less than what many private universities in the United States charge.

Los Angeles, CA - May 17: Signage and people along Bruin Walk East, near Bruin Plaza, on the UCLA Campus in Los Angeles, CA, Wednesday, May 17, 2023. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

UC enrolls record number of California undergrads in fall 2023, cuts out-of-state students

The University of California enrolled a record number of California undergraduates in fall 2023 and cut out-of-state students to accommodate surging local demand for seats.

Jan. 19, 2024

The cost difference looks even better when you consider that most U.K. programs are completed in three years, not four. And for American high school students and their families, the process of applying is much less cumbersome and stressful.

Most British schools straightforwardly weigh applicants’ college entrance exams and their demonstrated interest in their intended fields. This holds true for well-regarded options in Canada, Ireland, France, Spain and other countries, where universities publish test score requirements , removing the guesswork about what it takes to be admitted. In addition to increased transparency, these universities do not obsess over personal essays and extraneous extracurricular activities.

You may wonder if attending college abroad will limit your job prospects at home after graduation. With few exceptions — primarily programs such as nursing or accounting, where students use their undergraduate education as part of a licensing process in the U.S. — the answer is no. Employers and graduate schools appreciate applicants with diverse perspectives and experiences that can help them navigate an increasingly global workforce and marketplace.

Irvine, CA - May 11: A view of students and faculty at the courtyard at the University of California-Irvine in Irvine Thursday, May 11, 2023. UC Irvine is boosting student housing construction amid a critical statewide shortage of affordable dorms, which has pushed some students to live in cars, tents or squeezed into cramped quarters with several roommates. UCI received a state housing construction grant, one of the few UC campuses to do so; the funds will help the university offer rents at 30% below market value. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

UC applications rise for fall 2024, with gains in diversity and transfer applicants

University of California applications rose to 250,000 for fall, driven by a rebound in transfer applicants and gains in racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity.

March 6, 2024

I speak from experience counseling students to ensure that their college choices will help them achieve their long-term goals. One student was passionate about motor-sports engineering, but he was not excited about pursuing a general mechanical engineering degree, which is typically offered in the United States. Instead, he was admitted to a program at Oxford Brookes University tailor-made for his interest in performance automotive engineering. When he graduated, he had job offers in the U.S., U.K. and other countries, including from Formula One teams that recruited at his university.

Regardless of what a student studies, many find developing foreign language skills and an international perspective to be invaluable when applying for jobs or grad schools. This matches my own experience. I applied for investment banking positions on Wall Street prior to graduating from college, and the only offer I received was from a bank that valued the semester abroad I spent in Argentina; it was looking for a Spanish-speaking analyst to assist with South American clients.

Going abroad for a college education is far from the norm among American students. But thinking outside the box is a skill that will serve them well in the admissions process wherever they decide to apply, not to mention for the rest of their lives. Why not employ it to escape the rat race of U.S. admissions?

Greg Kaplan heads a Newport Beach-based college admissions advising firm. His book “The Journey: How to Prepare Kids for a Competitive and Changing World” will be published in May.

More to Read

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COMMENTS

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  24. Elite College Admissions Have Turned Students Into Brands

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  25. 4 College Admissions Trends Shaping Top Schools' Decisions ...

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  26. Should college essays touch on race? Some feel the affirmative action

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  27. Race in college essays? Some feel ruling leaves them no choice

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  29. Opinion: How to skip the college admissions rat race and still get a

    The New College at Britain's Oxford University was established in 1379. Oxford offers an alternative to U.S. schools' low admission rates and high tuition.