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How a great essay got a high-school senior into 5 Ivy League schools and Stanford

Find out what kind of writing gets you into schools where acceptance rates are as low as 4.7%
BY Braingain Staff Writer |   12-04-2016

Brittany Stinson, a high-school senior in Wilmington, Delaware, had to choose one of five prompts for an essay for the Common Application, which goes out to hundreds of colleges in the US, Europe and the UK. The prompt she chose said, “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it.”

Above: With an acceptance rate of less than 5%, Stanford University, California, is tougher to get into than even Ivy League schools (photo by Oleg Alexandrov, used under CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

The University of Pennsylvania, or UPenn, got nearly 39,000 applications for the Class of 2020, which enters college this Fall. Yale received more than 31,000. And going by the acceptance rates this year, Stanford (4.69% of around 44,000 applicants) is even tougher to get into than Harvard (5.2% of around 39,000 applicants).  

Besides Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Stanford, UPenn and Yale, Brittany also got accepted to Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University, New York University, and Boston University.

So what did she write that helped her stand out among thousands of top-notch applicants? Her essay starts off by describing a Saturday morning with her mom when she was two. They went to the local Costco retail warehouse, where little Brittany “sprinted through the aisles, looking up in awe at the massive bulk products”.

Her essay continues: “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.”

Above: Sunday shoppers at a Costco warehouse (photo by Brewbooks, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license)

Coming to the present, she moves deftly to bigger ideas, layering them amid more mundane details, as things are in life. “Notorious for its oversized portions and dollar-fifty hot dog combo, Costco is the apex of consumerism… [it] has endured a steady presence throughout my life. As a veteran Costco shopper, I navigate the aisles… thrusting the majority of my weight upon a generously filled shopping cart whose enormity juxtaposes my small frame… 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.

“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.

“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… I subsist on discovery.”

Brittany, who studied at a public school, has an outstanding academic record, and is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. (In the US, public schools are generally run by a locally elected school board, with public money.) Last summer, she took courses in astrophysics and science writing in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Science, Technology Engineering, and Math (STEM) programme.

You can read her application essay here.

What are your thoughts on writing an outstanding application essay? Tell us in the comments below!


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