Table of Contents

My Common App Essay

Olivia Gallucci with Dean Kamen at the FIRST Robotics World Championship. Used on a post about my Common App essay.

The Common Application

The Common Application (Common App) essay is one of the most important pieces of writing you will undertake in high school. It’s your chance to introduce yourself to college admissions officers and showcase your personality, interests, and accomplishments in a unique and compelling way. Crafting the perfect Common App essay can be a daunting task. At the same time, it’s an opportunity to share your story and stand out from the thousands of other applicants. My interests concerned open source software!

🌸👋🏻 Let’s take this to your inbox. You’ll receive occasional emails about whatever’s on my mind—offensive security, open source, academics, boats, software freedom, you get the idea.

My Common App essay

It’s okay if my robotics teacher doesn’t know that I still have her purple folder. The purple folder was given to me at the end of my sophomore year, and it contains life altering-information: The Beginner’s Guide to Programming in Java.

As soon as I finished the activities in the purple folder, I felt a continuous drive, a new thrill of excitability, and motivation I had never experienced before. I was catching on fast, getting a dopamine boost from every edit I made – save, compile, execute. I was ready to advance, so I enrolled in several free online courses.

Soon my love of the Linux operating system took over. I had been learning about Linux a bit before I read the purple folder. I took notes on Linux-related livestreams and experimented with Linux programs using virtual machines on my old windows computer. I became immersed in a community with other Linux lovers and fully embraced the Linux-is-best ideology.

At first, I wondered if I could make a meaningful contribution to the Linux community. I posted my code anonymously and received constructive criticism for it. I liked knowing that I could make mistakes without permanent judgement because I could learn and improve at my own pace. I spent hours consumed in online forums, tutorials, and books. I realized that I had succeeded when I began posting my own edits of open-source programs online and received positive comments and helpful feedback from other programmers. 

Linux and GPLv3

As I gained confidence in my ability to offer meaningful contributions, I gave myself a username so I could build an online reputation. I began to share my programming adventures in blog posts and forums. I started following developer emailing lists, and I reached out to prominent developers in open-source projects. I reviewed many programs, suggested edits, and hoped that my comments would help with the program’s development. I tried to be as thorough, respectful, and resourceful as possible by including example changes, in-line citations, and links from tutorial sites. I was particularly proud when my reviews and comments were cited by others and were linked to other forums. 

From writing beautiful system-managers in Lua to displaying my beliefs by creating Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) with the GNU General Public License, I can do everything with programming. FOSS has become the reason why I wake up in the morning. I was accepted by a community who valued my input from the start. My ideas were given value by the fact that FOSS developers decided to allow me to change their code. I remember that thousands of people work to create the programs and resources I use daily.  

Richard M. Stallman Portrait

Portrait of Richard M. Stallman (RMS), founder of the Free and Open Source Software movement, by LÆMEUR. Glitter styling done by Olivia A. Gallucci. After RMS' numerous controversies, I find it difficult to support him now. However, at the time I wrote this essay, I was inspired by him, which is why I chose to leave this image here. Used on a post about my Common App essay.
Portrait of Richard M. Stallman (RMS), founder of the Free and Open Source Software movement, by LÆMEUR. Glitter styling done by Olivia A. Gallucci. After RMS’ numerous controversies, I find it difficult to support him now. However, at the time I wrote this essay, I was inspired by him, which is why I chose to leave this image here.

Through FOSS programming I have found my purpose. Through the internet, I developed my talents and was given thousands of resources and opportunities.  I want to help others learn as the Linux and FOSS community so generously helped me learn. The purple folder, with its basic introduction to Java, led me to this passion. Since tenth grade, my life has changed completely. I transformed from an unguided student to a student with purpose. I love the ideals and camaraderie of the Linux and FOSS communities. I am incredibly grateful for that purple folder because I would have missed out on everything I love so much today. 

That purple folder led me to this love for programming. Since that moment at the end of tenth grade, I have transformed from an unguided student to one with purpose. My love of the intellectual puzzles of programming and of the Linux and FOSS communities will guide my academic and career choices so that I can most fully apply these passions. When I pass down the purple folder, I hope that whoever receives it will experience their first glimpse of the treasures I found inside, enjoying learning, benefiting from those skills, and maybe even feeling the same spark I did.

Common App

I hope you enjoyed reading my Common App essay. The Common App essay can be a daunting task. Concurrently, it is an incredible opportunity to showcase your personality and what you can bring to a university. The essay should tell a great story, while demonstrating your character and potential for growth. When I wrote my essay, my contributions and potential in open source was my strongest asset. Writing my own Common App essay allowed me to reflect on my beginning in open source and computing.

Although the essay is just one part of the college application process, it can make a huge difference in admissions outcomes. So, take your time, be true to yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ultimately, your Common App essay should be a reflection of your unique voice and aspirations. Additionally, it should be an invitation for colleges to see the potential you have to offer.

If you want to read more about my college journey, checkout The College Search: Using Time and Spreadsheets to Assess Colleges.

Portrait of Olivia Gallucci in garden, used in LNP article.

Written by Olivia Gallucci

Olivia is an honors student at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She writes about security, open source software, and professional development.