This will be my final post on The Issue of Concern or Problem Essay, which has been Prompt Two of the Common Application in recent years.
In this post, I will focus on writing about a local problem. I recommend that you read my three previous posts for in-depth discussion of other Prompt Two topic areas.
Let’s look again at the prompt: Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.
This topic lends itself more to narrative than do the the topics of national or international concern, though if you lived or traveled in a place with problems of hunger, for example, you could use a narrative strategy in addressing a problem of international importance.
This topic also lends itself more to humor than do the topics of national or international concern. I will handle the serious approach to this topic first, then deal with humor.
The famous advice given to fiction writers–write about what you know–applies here. I have had essays on a wide variety of topics which address this prompt in the last year, including essays on: teen suicide by a student involved with an outreach group and suicide hotline; restoration of a local creek by a student who had worked on the project; traffic safety and bicycle safety in a suburban setting by a student who was working on making his community more bike and pedestrian friendly; and an essay on urban forestry by a student who worked with an organization which planted and restored trees in human environments. You might think of this as the Eagle Scout Project topic.
Each of the essays above were successful because the writers were intimately familiar and involved with with the local problem which they addressed. Don’t expect to suddenly leap into a local issue now and come up with an essay next week.
On the other hand, I had a few very funny essays which were on topics such as Weeds in Local Lawns as a problem and Early Onset Senioritis as a problem. Being funny is great, but it is also a risky strategy. The weeds in lawns essay could made the writer sound like another suburban kid looking for a clue. However, the lad who wrote it presented it as a kind of quest and a scientific treatise and, instead of advocating the application of massive amounts of herbicide, he argued that our ideas about perfection were dangerous. He included good narrative and descriptions of weeds and of himself battling weeds under the hot sun for low pay–a very funny paragraph of description, which was followed by a seemingly ironic proposal that we let (many) weeds grow. The irony slowly receded as this student made his argument that weeds are a class we create in order to destroy things we don’t like, often for misguided aesthetic reasons. The essay succeeded in being funny but serious at the same time.
Beware, however, of casting yourself in a negative light while attempting to get laughs, and use caution if writing what I call a metaessay, a college ap essay which is about writing the college app essay and which is usually tongue-in-cheek. More about metaessays later.