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The Savvy Applicant Blog

College Admissions: The Costco Essay Deconstructed

Article updated on November 15, 2019

Students searching for exemplary examples of college admissions essays to increase your chances of getting into college, may already be familiar with what has come to be known as The Costco Essay, but it is worth digging a little deeper to understand how this essay that “got a high school senior in to 5 Ivy League colleges” actually works.

Many people have noted that the essay alone did not get the student, Brittany Stinson, admitted to all these schools, rather it was the totality of her application. This is of course true! We have ourselves written extensively about the 11 distinct criteria colleges use to evaluate applicants, but the fact remains that when so many students have great grades and test scores, your college essays are clearly an important opportunity to stand out.

I caution all my students not to read an excessive amount of examples, because it can become overwhelming to compare too many glowing finished essays to one’s own blank page or early draft in progress.  But if you read in the right spirit, I believe a few examples can be both instructive and inspiring. Far from universally loved, I have tried to explain just some of what I find most compelling about the Costco Essay first published in Business Insider.

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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.

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Whether you like this essay or not, the truth is that now more than ever, colleges are affirming the weight given to a student’s character as it comes through across all elements of an application. So have no illusions that grades and test scores make one applicant more qualified or deserving of admission to college than another. For Brittany, we are not looking at the whole application. In addition to being well written, this essay is full of the kind of character that Ivy League and all colleges want on their campus. 

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