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Example Common App Essay #4

Common App 4: Problem-Solving

The Prompt

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.

The Essay

Intro

I have a scar above my left eyebrow from when I fell from a tree when I was five years old. I landed face-first on a particularly pointy rock. Now, you're probably thinking, "Where were this kid's parents?!"

Oh, my dad was nearby, sipping on a Corona in a lawn chair (as he does). Once I saw the blood, I bawled my eyes out. My dad, on the other hand, calmly walked over, examined my wound, and told me it was just a small cut, which it absolutely was (the branch I fell from was only five feet high). To make me feel like I wasn't overreacting, my dad butterfly-stitched my bloody face with two Band-Aids.

If my five-year-old had fallen from a tree onto their face, I would have rushed them to a hospital. I would have dramatically held them in my arms in the waiting room while quietly sobbing about the oh-so-real possibility of a concussion, infection, or brain tumor.

You know, I probably wouldn't have let them climb the tree in the first place.

My dad's the complete opposite. He hardly ever stresses out. He's cool, calm, and collected. And in my junior year, he had to spend a few nights in the hospital due to high blood pressure.

Body

They said the cause was most likely stress. Stress from what? I thought to myself. He was a stay-at-home dad. For the most part, he takes it easy, eats healthy, exercises regularly, and doesn't have anger issues. There really wasn't a reason for him to be stressed out, let alone have high blood pressure due to stress, but he did.

I was very distracted when he spent those couple of days in the hospital. I struggled with my homework, I was distant, and I wasn't eating very well. The medical issue my father had was so common. It could also kill him. How could we not know the cause of the stress? I thought about this extensively. It felt completely hopeless.

I snapped out of it once I figured out what I could do about it. In the face of adversity, the worst a person can do is dwell. I was stuck on the hopelessness of the situation. The solution? Become a doctor, of course.

Okay, easier said than done. That goes without saying. Still, I couldn't help but feel that there was something I could do about it, so at that moment, I decided I wanted to be a doctor. I enrolled in a few extra classes at my community college. Now, if all goes according to plan, I could get a Bachelor's in pre-med in as little as two years.

Conclusion

I still have no clue how my dad has high blood pressure due to stress. My general classes didn't teach me any of that. What I do know is that I'm my father's daughter, and I'll most likely have the same medical issues. If I stress so much about stressing out, I know I'll be dead before my dad, who I'm sure will live to be a hundred at least.

That's why I'm writing this personal statement.

Why This Essay Works

The key to making this personal statement work is focus. It's all about spending enough time talking about the right things, not leaving anything out, and not getting too far off track.

In the introduction, we meet the writer's father. He's basically her foil. He's calm and laidback, she's neurotic and controlling. This lays the foundation for her to answer the prompt. The thesis comes a bit later than expected, and the conclusion ends rather abruptly, but what else is there to say?

The body paragraphs tell the story introduces what exactly the problem is: her father has high blood pressure due to stress and doesn't know why. This essay's all about how the writer coped with that problem and what solution they came up with.

It's a personal statement, so while focusing on solving a problem to answer the prompt is important, what's more important is the writer talking about herself and her personal development.

In the beginning, the essay discusses her dad. In the end, it's about her.

Are you a budding scientist with research ideas? Do you have an idea for a product that solves a problem? Have you figured out a way to make everyday life a little easier?

Then Common Application essay prompt #4 may be for you.

This is the fourth of my seven-part series on how to write the Common Application essay prompts.

You’ll learn about the question, the keywords, and the dos and don’ts of answering, I’ll also give you successful Common Application essay topic examples.

Ready for number 4? Let’s do it!

Common Application Essay Prompt #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.

Is this Prompt for You? Look at the Keywords:

“Problem you’ve solved or would like to solve”“Personal importance”“No matter the scale”

Do the Keywords Apply to You?

Answer yes IF:

  • You’ve identified a problem with meaning and importance to you.
  • You’ve actively worked on a solution OR have an idea about what steps you’d take to work toward a solution.

What Can Colleges Learn About You From This Question?

  • An idea or experience you truly value
  • Your problem-solving skills
  • Your critical thinking skills
  • The course you plot when you have a goal

    Pitfalls to Avoid: 

  • Answer the Entire Question. The question has three parts: (1) Describe a problem; (2) Explain its significance to you; (3) Identify a solution and either how to get there or how to begin to get there. You must answer all three parts.
  • The Problem Isn’t Meaningful Enough to You. You could write about lobbying for longer lunch periods at school, but so what? Don’t be superficial. Your topic tells the colleges who you are and what you care about. 
  • Vague or Generic essays. The prompt says you can write about anything “no matter the scale.” But broad topics still need to be of personal significance, with the emphasis on personal. Sure, you can write about world peace—but can you demonstrate your passion and connection? Be specific about how a topic has touched you or meant something to you—and put your personality squarely on the page.

  • Don’t Skimp on the Solution. I’ve seen students devote most of their essays to the problem and only a couple of sentences to achieving a solution. Don’t skimp on this section—you’re showing colleges what kind of critical thinker and problem solver you’ll be at college—show them you’ll be a darn good one.

Hot Tips:You don’t need to fly solo. Problems can be complex and so can their solutions. So when you’re thinking about your solution, you don’t need to be the only one involved. You may require a team or teams of people with specific skills to achieve your goal.

You don’t need the perfect answer. The prompt gives you the chance to explain the steps you’d take to identify a solution. As long as you discuss the process—the way you’d get to a solution—that’s okay, even if you’re not quite sure what the exact solution might be.

Examples of Successful Essay Topics

Brain Farts

Kenny was driving home and missed the turn down his street. He was stumped. He couldn’t figure out why he’d missed doing something he had done a hundred times. Kenny wanted to know what caused his “brain fart,” so he found the scientific name (maladaptive change) and developed a two-part experiment to identify and predict when these changes would occur. Kenny hopes to conduct his experiment when he gets to college. With an interesting and personal essay topic, Kenny was able to demonstrate his scientific mind and problem-solving skills.

Water Pollution Detective

Last summer, during a school research project, Liz helped identify the source of pollution flowing into a local river. Helping her community meant a lot to her, and she wanted to do more. So now Liz plans to contact local authorities and work with them to set up a better monitoring system to prevent future spills. She hasn’t implemented the solution yet, but can explain the steps she’d take.

Saving the Crops

Lily, a student from China, witnessed locusts destroy her entire community’s harvest. Lily reasoned that if scientists could understand more about insect life cycles, they might be able to save crops and even combat hunger. To work on the problem, she plans to set up a research project in college. The project will use mathematical applications to more accurately predict the insects’ life cycle. Lily dreamed big, but at the same time her story was specific: She had a personal connection and a passion for solving a large-scale problem.

Interested in Common App essay #4? Include your decision-making process. Explain how you came up with (or would come up with) a possible solution (Research? Thought? Talking to people?). Make sure you explain why this topic is meaningful to you. And write a great problem-solving essay.

Next time: How to Write Common App prompt #5.

Read the entire series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: The Lessons We Take From Obstacles
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: An Accomplishment, Event, or Realization
Coming Soon:
How to Write Common App Prompt #6: Topic, Idea or Concept that Makes You Lose Track of Time
How to Write Common App Prompt #7: Topic of Your Choice

Related links:
Huffington Post: The Common App Prompts Are Changing
The Common Application Announces 2017-2018 Essay Prompts

For the entire list of 2017 Common Application essay prompts click here.
If you’re not familiar with the Common Application,click here for more info.


Sharon Epstein is owner ofFirst Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. She is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee. First Impressions College Consulting teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. Our tutors are award-winning writers and published authors who work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, video and email. Visit our website for more info. Connect onGoogle+, Pinterest and Twitter.

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Categories: College Essay - Planning, College Essay - Writing, College Essay Writing Don'ts, Common Application Essay Prompts, How to Choose a College Essay Topic | Tags: Common Application essay topic example, 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 s, How to write 2017 Common Application essay prompt 4 | Permalink.

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