Common Application Prompts: Question 4
Question 4: Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma--anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. Showing college admissions officers your ability to think critically about a problem is a great way to demonstrate college-readiness. This prompt requires a certain level of self-analysis: you must describe a problem that you care about. But don’t be deceived: describing a problem you have actually solved does not necessarily give you a competitive edge. Writing about a larger issue that you want to solve can also become an outstanding essay. In fact, showing your unique standpoint on world issues might make you stand out among applicants. As you brainstorm problems to write about, consider these 3 tips:
Make sure your problem has personal importance. As always, make sure to thoroughly answer the prompt. Do not stop at describing a problem and solution: dive into its significance. Why does it matter to YOU? What makes you concerned about it? Answering these questions will reveal a lot about your character to college admission readers. Spend more time on this than just describing the problem.
Choose a complex issue. This prompt mentions an “intellectual challenge” or an “ethical dilemma”, implying that they are looking for applicants to wrestle with complex issues. It might not be the best time to write about your problem of buying shoes with abnormally large feet. While you may want to solve the problem by getting shoe companies to sell more size 15 shoes, this might go better with prompt #1. Consider discussing an issue that affects you or other people on multiple levels. Don’t be afraid to dive into a complex issue if you really care about it.
Solved the Problem? Give credit where credit is due. If you solved a problem with a friend or a team of people, it’s okay to mention them in your essay. Yes, the focus should always be about you and your qualities, but don’t make it sound like you solved the problem all on your own if you did it with others. In fact, demonstrating your ability to solve a problem with other people shows impressive collaboration and teamwork skills.
Want an example essay? This student wrote about a problem they are currently solving.