Common App Admissions Essays

Evaluate a Significant Experience Essay - "Computer Wizardry"


Please write an essay (250 words minimum) on a topic of your choice or on one of the options listed below, and attach it to your application before submission. Please indicate your topic by checking the appropriate box. This personal essay helps us become acquainted with you as a person and student, apart from courses, grades, test scores, and other objective data. It will also demonstrate your ability to organize your thoughts and express yourself.

  1. Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
  2. Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.
  3. Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.
  4. Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.
  5. A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.
  6. Topic of your choice.

I never intended to hire anybody. In fact, I never sought to obtain employment myself. I was too busy having fun with computers to be bothered with any of that. But as soon as you know how to hit "ctrl-alt-delete," it seems everyone wants tech support, and one thing leads to another.

All I'd done was befriend the shy, thick-spectacled, computer wizard in my seventh grade multimedia class. He spent most of his time furiously typing cryptic symbols (like "preg_grep('/^[\.a-z0-9]+@/i',$r)") into his dinosaur workstation, bewitching it to run with blazing speed, perform complex calculations, and produce slick graphics. Boggled but intrigued, I asked him to teach me how to do this. He pointed me to a few tutorials on the programming language PHP and showed me how to host files on a server, and I was on my way.

It turned out to be a lot like magic: you typed commands in an arcane language and shazam! The computer would produce seemingly supernatural effects, like finding all the answers to your wordsearch homework. Amazing. Sure, it took more effort to write the programs than to just do the work by hand, but then again, exploring the frontiers of this miraculous world didn't seem anything like work to me. In the process of implementing new ideas, I would happily plunge into whatever labyrinths of logic I stumbled upon. By the time I'd worked my way out, I would know significantly more not only about the specifics of the programming principles I'd encountered but about the general process of independently guiding myself through mazes. Elated by every success and educated by every difficulty, I was launched into a loop of positive feedback and my knowledge grew exponentially.

Every time I grasped an interesting new concept, I would build something from it – a design, a tool, a tutorial that I could use and share. Soon, people began to ask me questions and I could answer them, or at least direct them to a solution. I felt honored that they valued my opinion. Apparently through this process word got around that I could design fairly complicated websites. Towards the end of seventh grade, a friend's father offered me a job developing the site for his biotech startup, Biomatrica; I was surprised, but I knew the material so I accepted. The site got investors interested, and since then, they've done pretty well for themselves (this year they made finals for the ABBY Award in Bio-Technology and their products are being used by major universities). Without intending to, I had entered the world of business.

One client led to another; my freelance work grew. With it, slowly came experience, slowly understanding; slowly heavy reality set in. The jobs were still fun, but in an intense and more serious way. As I worked, I learned that in business, there are no excuses for lacking backups; in business, deadlines are truly dead; in business, anything you don't do properly you will have to do over. I learned all this about business because I had to learn it, because I knew that if I did not, I would soon be out of business. Thus my thinking was optimized – streamlined – by the unyielding razor of reality.

Meanwhile, I continued learning more about programming, mostly by playing with it, and as a result, I was able to take the AP Computer Science AB test as a freshman in high school. This was great, but sadly, it meant that there were no more CS classes left for me, and hence no venue in which to fool around with computers. Fortunately, there were others who wanted more of the subject than our school had to offer. Often these young computer scientists were masters in certain specialized areas but lacked the complete technical and business skill-set necessary to enter the professional world. This gave me an idea. They wanted to learn what I had learned and I implicitly possessed a curriculum to teach it: I simply had to retrace the steps of my own self-education, minus the stumbling blocks. Moreover, I wanted to absorb their rich and diverse knowledge. So, sophomore year, a friend and I co-founded the Torrey Pines Programming Club, a venue in which we could both teach this material and learn from others, in an atmosphere that appeared suspiciously like a bunch of nerds (and non-nerds) having a blast fiddling with technology. By mid-second semester, we had achieved success in numerous computer science competitions, and our members were fluent in JavaScript, PHP, AJAX, XHTML, and CSS – some of the most important Web languages.

All that edu-tainment turned out to be a godsend when, later that year, my schedule began to overload because I had too many clients, an alphabet soup of competitions (ACSL, USNCO, AIME, UCSD Math, SAIC, Botball, etc…), my black belt test in Karate, and 4 AP classes. The programming club offered a natural solution. I sent out an e-mail to several select members, offering to hire them. They responded with a resounding: "I'm in!"

Things progressed quickly. I matched programmers to projects, touched up their training, and developed a scalable, modular, server-side framework that would allow everybody's code to cleanly interface. Over the following months, we delivered several high-end websites and applications for excellent prices. As a result of one project, I even became Chief Technical Officer of a client's company, It's a Beauty! Inc. At the same time, my workload again became reasonable, and my friends gained employment that they found more fulfilling and lucrative than their former grocery-bagging jobs. We do business together to this day, now as InSource Digital Development.

But this material success is not what matters most. It's that the people I work with are now creating astounding projects of their own, on their own. It's that the clients we work for are better off for having hired us. It's that I get to share the joy of my work – which still doesn't feel like work – with the freshman coders who walk into room 114 each week. As I retrace the exhilarating steps of my own learning in order to bring them forward, I realize how much I miss the awe and enchantment of being a beginner, and how ready I am to become a freshman again myself.

Comments: Though it could have been written more masterfully, especially towards the middle, this essay successfully conveyed several important facets of my personality, character, skill set, and life story. Perhaps more importantly, it harmonized with the rest of my application to create a fairly complete picture of me as an applicant. Specifically, it effectively used humor to explain achievements without sacrificing humility, but when appropriate, it naturally transitioned to more stylistic diction when it was appropriate and effective to do so. On the whole, while not particularly concise, it was an efficient use of words because it revealed who I was both through its content and structure/style.

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How to cite this essay (MLA)

Smith, John. "Evaluate a Significant Experience Essay - "Computer Wizardry"" Study Notes, LLC., 10 Oct. 2013. Web. 19 Jan. 2017. <>.