Five special things about the “Costco College Essay” for writers to study


With a well-written college admissions essay, high school senior Brittany Stinson has earned acceptance to six elite schools: Yale, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Cornell, and Stanford. Posted on the internet, her college essay has rapidly gained popularity. Five unique things about the “Costco College Essay” stand out: vocabulary, voice, action, creativity, and introspection.

Vocabulary.  Word choice is critical in college admissions essays. Stinson not only uses college-level vocabulary, but selects her words with precision. She didn’t throw her churro; she jettisoned the churro. She sprinted rather than ran. In her essay, Costco is not merely “known for” oversized portions; Costco is notorious.

Voice.  The first few paragraphs of Stinson’s essay are written from the perspective of a young child. She selected an unusual voice for a college admissions essay, but also created a memorable personality. The churro-chucking child makes an immediate impression and invites the reader to learn more.

Action.  Stinson’s essay is characterized by strong action verbs. Her minimal use of passive verbs keeps the narrative moving and the reader engaged. Whether in childhood recollections or adult musings, Stinson shows us herself in action: rampaging through Costco, sprinting down the aisles, scaling a mountain of toys, filling a shopping cart, enjoying a hot dog, purchasing a ham, sampling chocolate truffles.

Vocabulary, voice, and action are key elements of all good writing, no matter the purpose or format. Stinson uses the first three elements well, then adds two more elements that are specifically important in college admissions essays – creativity and introspection.

Creativity. The College Board, a non-profit organization that connects students to colleges, offers this tip for crafting the best college essay: “Find a creative angle.” Creativity is the ingredient that will gain the attention of admissions officers. Stinson used the creative technique of linking a trip to Costco to her lifelong quest for knowledge.

Introspection. No college essay is complete without a personal statement.  Rob Franek, writing for The Princeton Review, has this to say about recounting versus reflection, “Anyone can write about how they won the big game or the summer they spent in Rome. When recalling these events, you need to give more than the play-by-play or itinerary. Describe what you learned from the experience and how it changed you.” Stinson expertly transitions from recounting her childhood adventures at Costco to her adult experiences and concludes, “My intense desire to know, to explore beyond the bounds of rational thought; this is what defines meIn essence, I subsist on discovery.”

4 Tips to Start Writing Your Novel

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So you want to write a novel? The only way to see this dream come to life is to commence with the writing. The following tips are a great starting point to begin writing your novel, and will help you see your novel through to its nail-biting conclusion.

1. Begin With Your Character 

  • Every great novel tells the story of a character and the events that take place in his/her life. Make your character flawed and believable. Imagine this character as a real person, and let their journey influence your writing. Allow the character to surprise you and delight you. A flat character will leave your reader’s lacking interest in the character’s story, so make your character a person you would want to meet.

2. Give the Character a Compelling Problem

  • The key to creative writing is bringing a fresh take to a topic that has been written about before. The problem you present to your character has to challenge, torment, and drive them to action. The character must face a conflict in order to grow, so allow your writing to address the conflict in a way that will engage your reader’s, and keep them turning pages to see how the conflict does or does not get resolved.

3. Make Things Happen and Make Them Believable

  • The only way to get your novel to flow is creating a plot that continuously moves. Create scenes that have action, and disperse them between scenes that are a bit more stagnant. Keep your characters busy so the readers maintain their engagement. It is also important to make the story believable. If you choose to write about fantasy, give the back story and explain why the mythical creatures in your novel exist. Force your main character to resolve their own problems, without random help showing up at the end of the book. Readers want to relate to the story you are trying to tell; help them reach this point by telling them an honest and compelling story.

4. Write the Story You Want to Read

  • This is the most important step in beginning your novel. Think about your favorite novel or short story. What about it interests you? How does the language of the book speak to your heart? What genre is it? List out all the things you love and pursue a subject that excites you.

No matter how you begin the process of writing a novel, these 4 tips are the perfect starting point to help you with your outline. The best tip for starting a novel, however, is to sit down, start writing, and don’t stop!

Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Memorable College Admissions Essay

Writing an admissions essay that will stand out is a daunting task. This personal statement has to speak for you when the college application is being reviewed. Most people will write about what they think the college’s admissions board will want to hear and that is where they go wrong. The way to stand out is to create a college level essay that speaks about you without covering a topic that is already overdone. Below are some Dos and Don’ts about the process of writing your personal statement and some topic suggestions.


  • Tell. When writing your essay, you want to show the reader what your life is like. Don’t just tell, write something detailed and interesting utilizing your own writing style.
  • Write overly technical if that is not your style.
  • Write something just to have it done. Your college admissions essay should grab their attention and make them want to read it.


  • Present yourself as a real person, not just an anonymous bystander. Make your essay personable and full of your voice.
  • Check spelling and grammar.
  • Use a readable font.
  • Balance the essay with paragraph breaks and consistency.
  • Find your own angle, especially if you think your theme is common.
  • Have someone else proofread it before you send it in. Sometimes another set of eyes will catch the mistakes you might miss.

Topics to Avoid:

Travel, winning, a parent’s divorce — these are ideas that the college admissions board has already seen. While it may be exciting to travel, and you learned a life lesson, the admissions reviewer would rather see what happens in your everyday life. Winning anything — a student election, a championship game, a bet — can make a fun story to tell friends and family, but is best represented in the extracurricular section of your application. If your parent’s are divorced, you manage to become part of a statistical group. Instead of talking about what a hardship it was or how your parents not getting along changed your life, you could mention the result. For example, after the divorce, you may have been forced to find a new home in a one bedroom apartment with your mother and sister which hindered your abilities to sleep and study.

Make your essay your own, be confident in your ability to create, and leave the reader with a good impression. If you find yourself struggling, look to your family and friends for advice and inspiration. Your admissions essay will have a word count limit, encouraging you to be concise but heartfelt. Remember, you are the only you — write your personal statement with that knowledge.

How to Write a Blog: Helpful Do’s and Don’ts

Writing an informative and interesting blog is fun and worthwhile. However, if you are starting out, consider these tips on how to write a blog: helpful do’s and don’ts.


Find your focus, determine your target readers and create a niche. Do you love technology, dancing or winemaking? If you do and write about it, your readers will want to read about it, too.

  • Write attention-grabbing blog titles and you’ll have your readers’ eager to read your posts.
  • Try using these handy templates if you need help organizing your content. Organizing your copy into digestible, understandable blocks of info keeps your readers engaged. Templates let you set up different types of blogs, including advice, suggestions and tips pertaining to your niche.
  • Be yourself. Your followers are reading your blog because they like your content. Let them enjoy your voice and the personality behind it.
  • Keep your copy fresh by using action verbs to begin sentences as often as possible. Keep your sentences short and paragraphs shorter. Format your copy in bulleted lists, use subheadings or insert tables and infographics.
  • Insert images, but be careful when doing so from internet sources. There are some rules and these suggestions can keep you on track and out of trouble.
  • Set realistic goals for posting your blog. Posting every day may become a burden if you’re not prepared, so start slowly and work up to realistic capabilities that fit your lifestyle.


  • Limit your word count, but make every word count. In other words, while blogs of 500 words or more are attractive to search engines and readers, filling your important thoughts with fluffy or awkward language just to meet a certain word count is not.
  • Make spelling or grammatical mistakes. Web readers are more lenient than say, an English professor, but silly mistakes can detract from what you have to say. Check a reliable online dictionary when in doubt. Reading your copy out loud before hitting “submit” helps you recognize clunky sentence structure and other errors.

Once you’ve found your niche and gathered readers, step out of your comfort zone occasionally and share an infographic about your topic, solicit personal stories or invite a guest blogger. The most important points of blogging are:

  1. It is something you look forward to doing;
  2. You enjoy writing about a subject about which you are passionate;
  3. You want to present a blog that is informative, personable and entertaining.

What other Do’s and Don’ts do you keep in mind when you write your blog?

5 Reasons to Write an eBook


When it comes to progressing your career as a writer, it’s not exactly easy to identify and decide which opportunities to take. Sometimes you want to stop jumping from odd-job to odd-job and put together something bigger. The process of getting a physical book published and available to a mass market is rigorous, but the ebook alternative is more approachable than you think. Here’s five reasons to write an ebook as your next outing.

1. You Can do it on Your Own

No need to strike up publishing deals beforehand or establish mutual interests in content with sellers, you have both creative and logistic freedom. You can start writing your ebook whenever you want, about whatever you want. And once you’re ready to release it:

2. There Are Plenty of Markets to Sell At

You have a ton of options for selling your ebook. The biggest marketplace is of course Amazon, where you’ll get a pretty large cut of royalties from sales. Another site is PayLoadz, which has a monthly fee, and if you’re looking for alternative ways of getting your content out, Free-Ebooks will host your book for free and you can ask for donations from readers.

3. You Can Sell it Yourself

Of course you can always just sell the book on your own in addition to the larger marketplaces. This can be right off of your own website or blog, and this helps to draw readers to the rest of your work.

4. Low Investment Means Low Risk

The writing is free and only takes your time. Your only real expenses will be towards getting your book on marketplaces, and they’ll be minimal. With less financial investment making a profit is easier, and there’s less risk towards losing money.

5. It’s a Simple, Cheap Way to Get Your Work Seen (And Sold)

You understand how easy and cheap it is to get your ebook written and sold. It should come as no surprise that this is one of the best ways to get work out quickly and efficiently. This doesn’t just mean more people will see your work, it means more people will pay for your work.

Make sure you always keep the ebook option on your mind. It’s a great stepping stone towards larger publishing deals, or a good and quick project during dead times.

What do you think? What are some other reasons to write and publish an ebook?


8 Things you MUST do before publishing a blog post

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Writing blog posts sounds straightforward enough. Write your post, do a quick proofread, and publish it to your blog. That’s fine for an amateur who isn’t concerned about discoverability and engagement, but a professional whose job or reputation relies on maintaining a great blog will need to do a little more work before hitting publish. The key to great content lies in the details. The next time you update your blog, remember these 8 Things you MUST do before publishing a blog post.

  1. Write a catchy title. The best way to draw readers to your blog is to have a title they can’t resist. Two ways to capture people’s attention are to start your headline with a number and include an adjective.
  2. Make it conversational. Most people don’t want to read a dry, formal blog post. Write your post as if you’re talking directly to your audience. Don’t be afraid to use “you” and “I” to make it friendlier. You want people talking about your content. The best ways to do that are to use a good hook to draw readers in and include a fact or pose a question to start the discussion you hope to have in the comments section.
  3. Develop a strong tone of voice. Readers expect your blog posts to sound like you. That means you need a strong tone in your writing that conveys your personality and the overall message of your blog.
  4. Make your blog SEO friendly. Good SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the Holy Grail of getting your blog highly ranked by search engines such as Google. Keywords are the best way to make your blog SEO friendly. Include them in the title of your post, as well as in the sub-heads and paragraphs. Remember not to overdo it. If your posts are too keyword heavy, you can actually harm your SEO.
  5. Link out to authoritative sites in your domain. Linking your content to authoritative sites adds credibility to your post. It shows you’ve done the research and helps prove your expertise.
  6. Add relevant images. Internet users tend to have short attention spans, but images grab attention. They also break up long blocks of text to help give the mind a rest and keep the reader focused on your message.
  7. Give your post relevant tags and/or categories. Most blogging platforms offer the ability to categorize posts in some way. Many use tags, which are similar to keywords. These categories and tags allow you to keep your content organized. They can also help potential readers find your content.
  8. End with a question. One of the best ways to get comments is to include a question at the end of your post. Think about what you would ask someone to start a dialogue about the post’s topic then end your post with that question.

Doing these 8 things before publishing a blog post will increase your chances of becoming a blogging success.

What is your favorite tip to increase discoverability and engagement?

How to Write an Ebook – Quickly and Easily


There’s no mistaking the fact that ebooks, especially self-published ones, are a big part of business these days. Creating a book that you can sell or give away to your clients is an excellent way to establish yourself as an authority in your niche. Learning how to write an ebook is surprisingly simple, especially if you use ebook software and/or an ebook template to help you out.

What is an Ebook?

Before we get into how to write an ebook, it’s a good idea to understand what it is. At its most basic form, it is an electronic version of a book. Since it is to be read on a computer, tablet or even a telephone, it’s a good idea to keep it easy to read and in a font that works on multiple platforms.

Getting Started: Your Idea

The very first thing you need when it comes to writing any kind of book is an idea. This can be anything, really, but if you are aiming to establish yourself as an authority and gain interest in your business, look to resolve problems.

Does your ideal client have a specific issue that you can solve? What do people ask you about most? These are the topics that will be most likely to help your readers. Once you have an idea, you can start building your outline.

The outline doesn’t have to be complicated. You just need to organize the ideas you want to convey in the book. For example, you might create each chapter as one step in the process you are teaching, or write a chapter on the history, present and future of your topic.

Using Ebook Software

While you can write in any word processor, the book will need to be properly formatted for distribution. Unless you know exactly how to do that, it can be quite the learning curve. For many people ebook software is the best option.

Ebook software offers a number of benefits, including easy use. Ideally, the software you choose will include an ebook template to make your job even simpler. The template will literally guide you through each chapter of the book until you have a complete ebook that is ready to sell.

Writing Your Book with an Ebook Template

Now that you have an idea and the software, it’s time to start filling in that template. Most will offer specific seed text that you can either alter or replace with your own words. You’ll want to map out the chapters ahead of time, to be sure your information flows.

Begin with an introduction to explain who you are to write the book and what people can expect to learn when they read it. From there, you’ll want to move steadily through the information you want to convey. The actual order of this will depend on your industry and what you want people to know.

Now that you understand how to write an ebook, it’s time to get started on your own. Come up with an idea and an outline and start writing.

What are some ways you’ve written an ebook efficiently?            


5 Types of Blogs that Fill the Blogosphere


Blogs are everywhere. Over 2 million blog posts are written everyday.  They’re one of the most popular ways to learn about anything, from cooking to construction to creating lighting for movies and videos. They’re a gateway to the mind of experts, and they give bloggers a chance to share their expertise to those willing to learn. Here are 5 types of  blogs that you’ll encounter most frequently:

1) List Blog

List blogs are super popular due to their eye catching headlines and short, brief points. People are busy and have a tendency to skip embellished articles for ones that are short and deliver the message to them quickly. “The 7 Things You Didn’t Know About the Heart” is a prime example, where a quick subheadline and an even quicker fact will inform readers in posts that are sometimes shorter than 500 words.

2) Opinion Blog

Opinions are hard to curb, especially on hot topics in politics and social reform. In lieu of a news blog, these can spread the word but from a personal point of view.

3) Story Blog

Storytelling is an art, and those blessed with it know how to display a story’s message to the world. A narrative blog may be a virtual book of sorts that includes videos, pictures, and archives of backstory to expand a reader’s knowledge of a fictional universe.

4) Press Releases

Almost every company has a blog online that is used to relay information to customers about recalls, new product releases, address incidents in stores, and discuss the growth of the business.

5) News Blog

These require a lot of work and a person with a nose for news. News blogs are a challenge, requiring writers to spit out the newest news as soon as it happens.

There are examples of each of these all across the Internet. If you’re looking to start a blog of your own, don’t be afraid to use your favorite as an example. Chances are if it’s successful, they’re doing something right to continue being so.

What are other types of blogs that you’ve seen or written?

How to Write an Essay: The Beginning, the Middle, and The End

Years ago, when I was in college studying composition in order to become an English teacher and teach others about composition, a teacher boiled down the rules of essay writing to this:

  •    Tell readers what you’re going to tell them
  •    Tell them
  •    Tell them what you just told them

In other words, provide an introduction, the body, and then the conclusion. It sounds simple, but when you sit down to write an essay in college or school, you may find yourself a bit overwhelmed.  That is when mastering the keys to each part of an essay will not only make the writing easier, but more fun.

The Beginning: How to Write an Introduction

Have you ever sat down to read the first chapter of a book or the first paragraph of an article and found you’re bored by the end of the first sentence? Chances are, you will put the book or newspaper down and, while you may think you will come back to it later, you probably won’t. When you’re reading, the first line or two is the introduction—and its main job is to make a really good first impression. When you’re  writing, the introduction needs to be engaging and intriguing enough to keep readers reading!

Along with being interesting, an introduction should state the topic of the essay and why it is important to read more about it. It says to the reader, here is what you are going to read about. In other words, this is what I am going to tell you.

How the introduction is styled largely depends on the type of essay being written. If you are writing an expository essay, for example, that introduction may include a statement such as, “Game systems have changed dramatically over the past few decades, which explains why the number of players has reached into the billions.” If you are writing an argumentative essay, a claim should be stated such as, “All experienced game players know that PlayStation game systems are far superior to the Xbox game systems.” If it is a narrative essay, the introduction will start with an engaging hook or story. “The day that I started playing ‘Halo’, my life changed for the better.”

The Middle: How to Write Body Paragraphs

The introduction makes it clear to the reader what the essay is going to be about. It is the body, however, that supports that statement, claim, or story. This is where you can use a variety of information to explain what has been stated in the introduction. For expository essays, common details to use in the body are facts, statistics, and research from books, websites, and other research.  For example, you might state that “Currently, the game Destiny has 20 million players, even though the game is only about a year old.”  For argumentative essays, evidence and facts are used to support your claim or thesis – “PlayStation games are much better than Xbox because they have superior animation due to its in-built graphic accelerator microprocessor (which is twice as powerful as the one Xbox has)”. Finally, for a narrative essay, personal stories are frequently used as support. “Playing ‘Halo’ has taught me more about teamwork and cooperation than anything else I’ve ever done.”   With the body, you have told readers what you said would tell them in the introduction.

The End: How to Write a Conclusion

The ending of an essay is often the hardest part for people to write.  It can be easy for you to think, hey, I’m done and rush through the ending. However, an essay’s conclusion is just as important as the introduction and body. This is the chance for the writer to leave a lasting impression on readers.  Just repeating the statement from the introduction is an easy out—and a mistake.  Instead, a conclusion should provide a closing to the idea put forth in the essay.

In expository essays, the conclusion should be a summary of the topic. “Clearly, playing video games is a popular hobby for millions of people, and as systems continue to change, that number is bound to grow.”

In argumentative essays, it should be a call for action on the part of the reader. “Investing in a PlayStation rather than an Xbox is bound to make gamers happier and busier for years.” In narratives, conclusions are often the end of the story. “Because of what I learned playing ‘Halo’, I excelled at team sports at summer camp and at school.”

Beginning, middle, and end—they are what make an essay complete and wonderfully readable!


How to Write a Personal Statement

You’re finally a senior! (or will be one soon!) While everyone will tell you this is the time of your life, you’re also probably too overwhelmed with the dreaded college application process to enjoy your newly minted status as big man on campus.

The pressure is on to craft a memorable, concise, knock-your-socks-off personal statement to go along with your college application. Depending on the requirements of the college you’re applying to, you’ll probably have to keep your college essay somewhere between 200 to 650 words. You’ll be tasked with using this short assignment to convey so much about you–all the information that your test scores and transcripts can’t convey. How are you different from the sea of other applicants?

Sound daunting? It should. But fear not! We’ve got your back. With a few tips from us and some mental elbow grease from you, your mailbox should be filling up with acceptance letters in no time. Here are some tips:

Stay on topic

Maybe your prompt is open-ended: “Tell us about yourself.” But it’s probably more narrow: “Why Stanford?” The Common Application or “Common App” (its more popular moniker) which is used by over 600 independent colleges nationwide, has five different prompts to choose from, but maybe your school of choice has only given you one essay prompt. Or maybe you’re faced with a doozy like one of these from the University of Chicago–known for provocative/kooky essay prompts. Whatever topic you’ve been given: be sure to specifically answer the prompt or question.

Think hard

No, really. That sounds silly, but do it. Listen, we know you worked hard, got good grades, and did all the right extracurricular activities–but frankly so did all the other applicants. You need to think long and hard about what sets you apart from the crowd. (This is the dreaded prewriting stage of course, which can often be more than half the battle when tackling any writing project.)

Start strong

Your personal statement will land on the desk of an admissions officer that will be sifting through stacks and stacks of essays, and you’ll want to grab his attention right away with a strong introduction. Here’s where you’ll dig back into all the great writing craft lessons your English teachers have shared with you throughout your high school career. Share an anecdote, moment, or memory that will grab your reader’s attention right off the bat.

Be yourself

Don’t go through mental gymnastics trying to decide what you think they want to read or want you to say. It may sound trite, but honesty really is the best policy. If you take the time to really dig deep and soul search for a personal topic that reflects who you really are, your essay should start to fall into place.

Keep it simple

This is a tough one. You have to inspire the reader of your essay to want to meet you with just a few hundred words–that’s not easy. Remember that admissions officer with stacks and stacks of college essays to read? You don’t want to stretch his patience with a rambling story about your childhood.

Proofread, proofread, proofread

And then proofread again. And finally, ask a family member or a teacher to proofread for you.

And finally, don’t do this.

Go on, write an amazing college essay!