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.
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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.”
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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.