Common App Essay


This was my Common App essay that was sent as part of every college application.

In eighth grade, two friends and I found ourselves as Lords ruling over a new religion, Penguinism. Well, “found ourselves” might not be the right way to describe it — we had invented the religion ourselves, and saw it only fitting to put ourselves at the top.

That was one of the first projects I remember doing, and since then projects have punctuated most of my life. The ideas for them sometimes come out of things I see: my ninth-grade science teacher liked to forget to tell us about homework, so a phone number that texted my classmates whenever he updated his website; our high school switched to a new-and-confusing six-day rotating schedule, so an app that keeps track of which classes you have today; my dad’s students seemed to be more comfortable asking questions anonymously on Zoom’s whiteboard, so a website where they can ask anonymous questions during class.

Other times, the ideas come from other people: could you build an app for our club, for mental health awareness month? What if my friends and I joined Class Council and threw a game show night called Lex Vegas (unbelievably clever name, I know) to fundraise for prom?

What ties all these projects together is how much I enjoy working on them. They pop up on weekends, on empty evenings, in any spare moment. I remember friends poking fun at me for waking up before everyone else at a ninth-grade theater summer camp sleepover, and upon realizing that I was the only one awake, pulling out my laptop to work on my then-current project. It’s the feeling that you’ll happily forgo sleep just to finish an idea you had, and then you fall asleep bursting at the idea of telling your friends in the morning.

The other component of my projects is people. Sure, each project is born with a bit of air to breathe, but it needs other people in order to keep breathing life into it. There is nothing more motivating to me than coming home from dinner at Taipei Gourmet to find that over a thousand people at school are already using the school schedule app I made; or having complete strangers on the internet paying real money to use a web app I wrote over quarantine; or that a guy I’m freelancing for in Los Angeles loves the bit of animation I added. And there’s no bigger rush of adrenaline than when you realize that people actually loved Lex Vegas and it finished on schedule.

Project after project, they keep me sane. Everything I’ve learned about programming, designing things, or working with people has come from doing real projects that I chose. It’s easily the most motivating way I’ve found to learn.

On top of that, you never know where a project, and the people who receive it, will take you. Into meetings with the school’s scheduling committee, or meeting cool people who email you because they liked some code you posted for other people to use. Who knows, you might even find yourself as a high-ranking official in a religion that worships penguins.

This page is referenced in: Applying to College