An Essay About Costco Hot Dogs Got This Girl Into 5 Ivy League Schools

By  | 

640px-Stanford_University_Quad_Memorial_ChurchCollege admissions are a fraught, opaque process. No one really knows what admissions officers are looking for. They want grades, but not just grades. They want test scores, but not just test scores. One of my friends who works as a college counselor said that what schools want are “intellectual weirdos,” and I think she has a point, because 17-year-old Brittany Stinson just got into five Ivy League schools and Stanford with a very clever essay about Costco hotdogs.

According to Business Insider, Stinson found out Thursday that she was accepted into Yale, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Cornell, and Stanford. (Stanford is not in the Ivy League–the Ivy League is actually just an athletic conference that happens to have a lot of elite schools in it–but it is a top-tier school that is more difficult to get into than any of the Ivies.)

“I’m sort of still in shock. I don’t think I’ve processed everything yet,” she said.

Stinson of course had good grades and test scores, but what really set her apart from other applicants seems to have been her essay, which is really quite funny. The whole thing was published on Business Insider, and in it she describes how Costco, “the apex of consumerism” engendered her 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,” she wrote. “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.”

Stinson is obviously clever as heck. I laughed out loud at the line, “If there exists a thirty-three-ounce jar of Nutella, do we really have free will?” and I bet a lot of college admissions officers did, too.

High school juniors all over the country are probably printing this essay out and committing it to memory for next year, and they’re right to do so, because it’s a really good college application essay. It’s clever and funny while also making a point of showing off Stinson’s expansive vocabulary and range of knowledge on subjects from history to philosophy to physics.

When I was applying to colleges, all my advisers were adamant that the essay was going to be the most important part of my application. The essay is where a kid can try to show that they are unique, and demonstrate that they are different than the thousands of other kids who otherwise look just like them on paper. For me, that was probably true. My test scores were good, but enough kids get perfect scores on the SAT that any Ivy could fill its entire freshman class with only kids who got 1600s if it wanted to. My grades were good, but not perfect, and plenty of applicants’ grades are perfect. I showed horses but was not any kind of nationally ranked champion, and I tried really, really hard at theater and never got cast in any plays. I was good, but elite universities are not hurting for obedient private school girls who like horses.

My own essay, which served me well back in the day, was about why I liked comic books, and also about my attempts to sell a self-published comic book at Comicon. (The first day, my comic cost a dollar. The second day, it cost 50 cents. The third day my comics were free, and I was selling muffins.) My applications went well, and I have to assume that it was because the admissions officers liked my “intellectual weirdo” essay.

Thousands of exceptional kids apply to college every year, and admissions officers have to read all those applications, so one of the main things an applicant has to do is stand out and make the admissions officers remember them, which is why a stand-out essay is important. It might be difficult for an admissions officer to keep track of all the students who write about the important life lessons they learned from doing a two-week volunteer trip to an impoverished country, but everyone in the office is going to remember “Costco girl.”

(Photo: Jawed Karim/Wikimedia Commons)