Common App Essay Evaluate A Significant Experience

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.

Smith, John. "Evaluate a Significant Experience Essay - "Computer Wizardry"" Study Notes, LLC., 10 Oct. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2018. <>.

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, or risk that you have taken and its impact on you.

EssayEdge says: This question is actually a combination of two common questions: Describe a significant achievement and describe a time when you grew as a person.

Accomplishment questions show the admissions committee what you value, what makes you proud and what you are capable of accomplishing. A common mistake in answering this question is repeating information that can be found elsewhere in the application. You should not try to squeeze every achievement on your resume into the essay. If you do choose to write about an accomplishment that the committee can read about somewhere else on your application, be sure to bring that experience alive by demonstrating what it took to get there and how it affected you personally. Do not be afraid to show them that you feel proud. This is not the place for modesty. However do not fall to the other extreme either-you can toot your own horn, but do it without being snotty. You will not have to worry about either extreme if you spend the bulk of your essay simply telling the story.

If you feel like you have not done anything worth focusing on, then remind yourself that the best essays are often about modest accomplishments. It does not matter what you have accomplished as long as it was personally meaningful and you can make it come alive. Unless specified, the accomplishment can be professional, personal, or academic. Did you get a compliment from a notoriously tough boss? Did you lose the race but beat your own best time? Did you work around the clock to bring your C in physics up to an A. Do not think about what they want to hear-think about what has really made you proud.

For the second part of the question, they are asking you to open up about who you really are. Although you do want to show that you have matured, do not overplay what a terrible person you once were just to make the point of what a great person you are now. No one changes that much. Besides, the “before” portrait might be the one that sticks in the admissions officer’s head. Also, focus on your current personality rather than on the “old you” or on every last detail of the event. The reader wants to know what you are like now, not what you were like a long time ago. Finally, describe real events and scenarios to prove that your growth resulted from the decisions you made and actions you took. Significant events and people can serve as inspiration. Real change, though, always results from the work, effort, and initiative you have put into yourself. Take some credit.

For examples of and short critiques for the Influential Achievement Essay, click here.

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Discuss some issue of personal, local, national or international concern and its importance to you.

EssayEdge says: This question is among the hardest to answer. Even here you need to stay personal. If a cause is important to you or you have a strong opinion about it, relate it back to your life. What about you, your experiences, or your upbringing has made this issue resonate for you? Why do you care? Does the issue affect you personally in any way? Be sure to write about both sides of the issues to show that you can think objectively and logically. Showing that you are passionate is great; showing that you are one-sided or bull-headed is not. Finally, be sure to refrain from making sweeping generalizations about issues that would be out of your range of experience.

For examples of and short critiques for the Social/Political Concern Essay, click here.

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Indicate a person, character in fiction, an historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, etc.) who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

EssayEdge says: This type of question attempts to learn more about you through the forces that have shaped you. Many students make the mistake of believing that this is an essay about a person. They go on at length, describing the influential person in detail without making a connection between it and themselves. The school doesn’t care about your uncle, or some fictional heroine. They care about you. What about that person made an impression on you and how. What action did you take to turn this impression into personal development and change?

Colleges learn a lot about your values and standards through your description of your mentors. It is like getting to know a person by the people he chooses to hang out with. If you are skeptical, consider the different impression you would have of the candidate who admires a dynamic, colorful athlete compared to someone who looks up to an accomplished but soft-spoken academic. Neither is better nor worse-just different.

There are no wrong answers here. Far more important than whom you choose, though, is how you portray that person. In other words, do not choose someone because you think it will impress the committee. Name-dropping is not only very obvious, it is very ineffective. Heed this one word of caution, though. Applicants very commonly pick one of their parents. Describing your father gives you the advantage of knowing your subject well, however, it also means doing some extra work to make your essay stand out from the crowd.

For examples of and short critiques for the Influential Person Essay, click here.

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Why do you want to spend two to six years of your life at a particular college, graduate school, or professional school? How is the degree necessary to the fulfillment of your goals?

EssayEdge says: Knowing the schools to which you apply is an essential step in answering any essay, but questions such as these ask you to write about them directly. In answering these questions, mention specific factors that tie in with your area of interest. Doing this will help you to avoid the insincere, ingratiating tone that is a danger in this type of essay. Each point will be honest and well supported, thereby lending credibility to the essay and, in turn, to you.

Another challenge is finding a balanced yet truthful tone. Do not be cocky or self-effacing. Show a solid, well-researched knowledge of the school. Be honest and be thorough.

For examples of and short critiques for the Future Goals Essay, click here.

Move on to Lesson Two: Brainstorming a Topic

From ESSAYS THAT WILL GET YOU INTO COLLEGE, by Amy Burnham, Daniel Kaufman, and Chris Dowhan.  Copyright 1998 by Dan Kaufman.  Reprinted by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc., and


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