Why This Ivy League Admissions Essay is Going Viral

Your parents may be asking if you heard about high-school senior Brittany Stinson, who is making the Internet rounds for her acceptance to not one, but FIVE Ivy League schools (Yale, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, and Cornell). Oh, and Stanford, which has an acceptance rate of 4.69%.

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The lucky overachiever spoke with Business Insider to explain how she came up with her winning essay topic about...Costco. Yup the wholesale giant suburban parents swear by. (You can read her full essay here). Here's what you can learn from her brilliant idea. 


We've already touched upon why the oversees philanthropy trip doesn't resonate with admissions officers because it's been so overdone. Whatever you write about can't seem forced or superficial: your essay has to represent a real passion for it to ring true. No one could've guessed a love letter to Costco would wow the committees, but in this case, it worked because it served as a clever, original way to show her curiosity. Of course, not everyone at age 17 knows their passion (or how to write about it), so I'm here to help.

Start by asking yourself: How would my friends describe me? What do my friends always make fun of me for? It's also helpful to envision writing your essay to your best friend, even literally in an email draft, so that your voice rings true to you.

"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."

Your essay should not be a laundry list of every accomplishment. They already see that in your application. Zero in on one or two characteristics that will be in the back of your mind while you write.

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."

Students often freeze up when it comes to the admissions essay. But if you can relax and inject humor into your piece, you're golden. But if you're not naturally a class clown, it will show. The best way of finding your voice is to try the email trick above so your brain will think, "Oh, just a casual email to my friend" and not "Holy crap, I'm so overwhelmed!"

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."