This prompt also represents an opportunity to consider questions of personal identity, whether that takes the form of racial identity, sexual orientation, gender, or simply one’s place within a specific community (even communities as unique as, say, players of World of Warcraft).
Upon reviewing all the Common App questions to decide which to write about, astute applicants might realize that Common App prompts #2, #3, and #4 are all quite similar in that they ask students to identify some sort of conflict and how it was resolved. Whereas #2 specifically refers to a failure and #3 is asking for a situation where you were the odd one out amongst a larger group, #4 is best saved for essays where the focus is on your thought process in response to a problem you’ve encountered.
Thus, when answering this prompt, it is crucial that you explain in great detail how you solved/would solve the problem.
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.
You want to be careful to balance the severity of the failure with its recentness; in general, choose a failure from before high school so that it doesn’t color the admissions counselor’s view of your high school career.
Also, be sure that any failure you choose is within reason (so in general, avoid talking about any felonies you’ve left behind you). This prompt is a difficult one to answer because most high school students haven’t participated in the types of iconoclastic protests against societal ills that lend themselves to an excellent response.Before discussing the specific prompts for the Common Application, it’s important to note that there are some general principles for approaching the Common App essay.First and foremost, the essay is about telling colleges why you are unique and/or what matters to you.One final note: Even though the prompt allows you to explore more academic and intellectual topics, it is important not to get carried away with esoteric details.Save the intensely intricate discussion of particle physics for class — for your Common App essay, the reader should still recognize that your discussion of particle physics was really about yourself, your interests, and how you think about the world.Another (perhaps more powerful) tactic with this essay is to write about a more foundational failure and then assess its impact on your development thereafter.This allows you to tackle more meaty questions about ethics (perhaps you cheated on a test and felt horrible about it), morality (maybe you stole something, your parents berated you for it, and now you hate theft to such a degree that if you find money on the street, you turn it in), or the human condition (perhaps you made an insensitive comment or were close-minded in a particular instance).This essay prompt is difficult for many students who grapple with the type of challenge that they should write about.The prompt itself provides three specific suggestions, but it should be clarified that the phrase “anything that is of personal importance” gives you a lot of freedom, allowing you to center your essay around essentially anything that can be loosely called a “problem.” Our advice is to pick a problem that deeply concerns you and make it clear to your reader why that topic matters to you at all, either through an origin story of how you became interested in the query or through an explanation of the potential consequences of the dilemma (depending on your topic).This prompt lends itself to consideration of what facets of your personality allow you to overcome adversity, as well as display your self-awareness.It’s okay to choose a relatively mundane “failure” such as failing to win an award at a Model United Nations conference despite putting in hours of research into the topics of your committee (and learning that you should focus on how you project yourself and interacting more cordially, even when debating and competing against your peers).