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How to Common App 2020-21 - Prompt #4

APR 18, 2020 • 5 min read

Welcome back to Crimson’s 9 part series on this year’s Common Application Essay prompts and how to tackle them. This blog talks about prompt #4, which asks you to share a problem you solved and your processes used to solve the problem.

If you haven’t already, check out our first, second, third and fourth blogs in this series.

The prompt reads: 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 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.

This question is similar to prompt #3 — the admissions officers want insight into the questions that have preoccupied you. The prompt gives you suggestions of either an intellectual challenge, a research query, or an ethical dilemma. While you could talk about other things, these should stimulate a ton of ideas and meaningful discussion. Make sure however that it is a true problem, and not something pretentious like ‘why am I so good at something?’

The key is to remember that this essay is personal, so it should tell us about how you navigated one specific dilemma. It can be an emotional one, such as when your parents divorced, which one did you choose to live with? It could be an intellectual one, such as when you recognized that somebody on your sports team was cheating, how did you confront them without breaking apart the group?

Crimson’s holistic approach provides support across all areas of the US university application process. We assist you to find your best-fit university, create a personalised roadmap, ace your standardised tests, craft the perfect essay, build candidacy through extracurriculars, and more.

Only consider writing about a question or issue that you have honestly spent a lot of time learning or thinking about. Don’t write about topics that you do not actually know about but you think will make you sound intelligent or profound; it often shows when you are being inauthentic. If you once spent a week at a shelter for homeless kids, that does not mean that you have figured out the nutrition programs necessary to deal with world hunger, or have the solutions to economic injustice!

Also, if you write about a question you solved quickly and without struggle, that does not tell readers much about you! This is again because admissions officers want to know about your problem solving processes, which often take a long time to happen. Again, don’t be afraid to talk about something that could be personal or controversial; overall this will make the essay more meaningful and lift it above the many thousands sitting in the admissions officers’ pile!

Read Part 6 of the Common App series.

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