Why Compete in Future Problem Solving (FPS)

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a professor in front of his class

Why Compete in Future Problem Solving (FPS)

The Future Problem Solving program is a renowned program that allows students from all around the globe to come together, solve critical problems, and develop meaningful solutions in preparation for scenarios that they may face as adults. Also known as “FPS” for short, the Future Problem Solving Program has become a widely known competition where students have the opportunity to put their skills in various different divisions to the test and compete globally to find the best solutions to the problems at hand.

Future Problem Solvers is known as one of the more acclaimed extra-curricular when it comes to college admissions and proves to be a great way for students to improve their leadership, time management, commitment, and most importantly their decision-making skills.

What is the Future Problem Solving (FPS) Program?

The FPS program was founded in 1974 by Dr. E Paul Torrance, who is also known as ‘The Father of Creativity’ for his life’s devotion to researching and teaching creativity. Torrance originally Founded The Future Problem Solving Program to teach students a Six-Step model in which they would use in both an individual and team setting to respond to a hypothetical scenario to a rising Global Issue.

The Six-Step Method is critical to the Future Problem Solving process and encourages students to develop skills that they can use to adapt to an ever0changing world.

The Six-Step Method is as follows:

  1. Identify challenges/ problems that exist in a given situation.
  2. Select an Underlying Problem (UP).
  3. Produce ideas to solve the UP.
  4. Develop criteria to evaluate potential solutions in Step 3.
  5. Apply criteria for potential solutions in Step 3.
  6. Develop an action plan based on the highest-ranking solution.

While the six-step method shown above is a rather simplified version of the original method created by Torrance, this model is essentially the backbone of Future Problem Solving.

Since the Future Problem Solving Program was founded, it has since evolved to incorporate more models and ways of thinking to test students’ problem-solving skills in other ways too. The programs that The Future Problem Solving International has to offer as of today are:

Global Issues Problem Solving (GIPS) – The original program, based on the Six-Step model and tackles future global scenarios.

Community Problem Solving (CMPS) – Students examine problems from their community over the course of a year using the Six-Step process.

Scenario Performance (SCP) – Students develop an oral presentation up to 5 minutes on their future projections of one of the annual topics

Scenario Writing (SW) – Students write an original price of fictional writing up to 1500 words on their future projections of one of the annual topics.

Action-Based Problem Solving (ABPS) – Designed for a classroom setting, AbPS allows students to work together in a non-competitive, hands-on, creative manner.

three medals dangling

Who can participate in Future Problem Solving?

FPS was designed for students of all ages and encourages them to get involved in a creative way and further sharpen their problem-solving skills. There are multiple divisions for students to participate in Future Problem Solving, ranging from grades 4-12 in competitive decisions and as young as Kindergarten for the rest. Students have the option to join either individually or as a team in each division with the first being Junior (grades 4-6), Middle (grades 7-9), and Senior (grades 10-12).

The divisions allowed for each program are as follows:

  • Global Issues Problem Solving – Individual, (teams up to 4), Junior – Middle – Senior
  • Community Problem Solving – Individual, (of any size), Junior – Middle – Senior
  • Scenario Performance – Individual, Junior – Middle – Senior
  • Scenario Writing – Individual, Junior – Middle – Senior
  • Action-Based Problem Solving – Team (of any size) Primary (K-4) – Junior – Middle – Senior

The Structure

The original Global Issues Problem Solving program is the most well-known of the bunch and students who choose to participate in it, either individually or as a team, start by being given a competition topic – which varies from year to year (for example “Social Isolation” 2013-2014 or “Sports Medicine”2002-2003).

Students are then given suggested readings and 1-2 months to research and prepare with future problems/ solutions on that topic in mind. Once the competition begins, students gather in their respected program and division that they chose (either state, regional or national) and are given a 1-2 page future scenario.

They then have 2 hours to utilize the Six-Step process and come up with the best solution that they can, which is then graded on citations and level of creativity. The competition then proceeds to the “Presentation of Action Plan” in which they prepare and perform their action plan in a skit.

In the Community Problem Solving scenario, students are graded on how well they apply the six-step process to current problems that their community is facing. The Scenario Writing problem solving involves students writing a short story, set 20-year in the future, based on one of the GIPS Topics, and the Scenario Performance problem is similar except students tell their story via an oral presentation. The Action-Based- Problem Solving scenario incorporates the six-step method into a classroom setting.

How to get involved?

In order to get involved in a Future Problem Solving program, you must find an affiliate in your local area. These affiliate programs are overseen by the Future Problem Solving International and hold the region or state competitions, prior to the national competition. Over 37 states and 14 different countries have participated in Future Problem Solving and if you don’t live near a current affiliate, you can also opt to participate in the individual competitions or even organize an affiliate for your local region.

a group of students smiling while using the laptop

Skills and Advantages Students Gain from Future Problem Solvers

Future Problem Solvers’ main objective, as put in their own words, is “to develop the ability of young people globally to design and achieve positive futures through problem solving using critical and creative thinking.” While participating with other students to tackle some of the most pressing issues, FPS gives students the chance to build crucial skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives. Here are a few of the skills that students can expect to learn from the FPS program:

  • Critical Thinking – A huge part of FPS is the researching and analysis phase, where students spend 2 months learning the topic of the year and brainstorm potential solutions. Students learn to look at problems from a variety of perspectives, which is crucial to developing good critical thinking.
  • Problem Solving – The last step of the six-step method is to create an “action plan” in which students create a tangible solution to the situation that they are presented with. Deciding which action to take and committing to it is a great way to improve problem-solving skills.
  • Community Service – One of the programs that FPS offers is Community Problem Solving, in which students get together with their local community, address future problems, and make actionable solutions. This can be a great way for students to help out and service their community, which has proven to be beneficial when applying to colleges.
  • Advice – Future Problem Solving also offers students mentors on both the individual level and the team level, which can be super helpful to students making decisions on choosing a relevant major and college.
  • Collaboration – While working on a team in the FPS program, it is crucial that students learn to collaborate, especially in the GIPS competition, where students are pressed to provide an actionable solution and present it in just a few hours. Students who participate in FPS leave with a better understanding of how to collaborate effectively and productively with their peers.

How can FPS help you get into the college of your dreams?

Now that we have a pretty good understanding of what Future Problem Solving is, how it works, and who can participate, the question is how can FPS help you get into the college of your dreams. Here at AdmissionSight, there’s a good chance that we wouldn’t be writing about FPS if it weren’t in fact, helpful toward getting you into a good college. We understand what it takes to get into an Ivy League School and while the Future Problem Solving Program in no way guarantees admission into any college, it can sure give you a leg up against other applicants. Here are a few ways that FPS can help you get into the best colleges.

View of students cheering on an event.

  1. Help you learn your strengths and weaknesses – A lot of students who get involved in Future Problem Solving end up participating in multiple different divisions, each with their own unique set of skills required. While some programs require a lot of research, some require a lot of writing and some require you to give a formal presentation, being exposed to a bunch of different kinds of skills allows students to discover what they’re good at doing and also where there’s an opportunity for improvement.
  2. Develop and Demonstrate Leadership Skills – It’s been proven that leadership is an area that college admissions officers look for in candidates. Often times, college applications even have a dedicated section for applicants to list any past leadership experience. FPS gives students a wonderful opportunity to become a leader in their community, state or even sometimes on a global stage and solve important, altruistic future problems while they’re at it.
  3. Commitment – Another key attribute that FPS can demonstrate to college admissions officers is a student’s ability to commit to a program. A lot of students participate in the Future Problem Solving program for many years and while developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, they are also demonstrating their capability to be committed to a meaningful program that aims to better their own personal development.
  4. Engagement with the Public Good – While getting a good GPA and staying focused on your academics while in school is very important to be considered by top colleges, in the past few years, college admissions officers have made a shift to start giving priority to students concerned with the public good. In a report in 2016 made by Harvard University, the number one area that they recommend students to get involved in involves meaningful contributions to others, community service, and engagement with the public good. Future Problem Solvers covers all these bases and allows students to solve critical future problems with benefits aimed to serve the public good.

There are numerous other benefits to participating in Future Problem Solving, but when it comes to applying to colleges, FPS can cover a lot of meaningful bases. With that being said, FPS is also a widely recognized program and many college admissions officers are familiar with the organization and hold it in high regard – and it looks especially good if you end up placing well in the competition as well.

There is also an FPS scholarship in which students who are dedicated to the program and show growth over the years are eligible. There are typically 1-3 students each year who are granted a scholarship, in which they can use to attend whatever college they wish.

Four students walking with their backs facing the camera.

What are you waiting for?

Future Problem Solvers is a great way for students of all ages to start thinking about the world and develop critical thinking skills that will serve them for their whole life. With the primary division starting as early as 4th grade, FPS allows students to really hone in on their reading, writing, and presentation skills and practice them in a competitive or non-competitive setting.

If you’re interested in learning more about the program, the best way to get started is to find the nearest FPS affiliate and ask them how to get involved in that year’s FPS program. The International Future Problem Solving conference typically happens shortly after the school year ends in June and your local affiliate can give you more information about this as well. FPS is also a super affordable extra-curricular with the cost of participating being only $100 for individual submission and $125 for an entire team.

If you’re looking to get into the top colleges in the country, you’re going to need to make a strong case to the admissions officers that you’re not only successful academically, but also successful in your commitment to your community. Here at AdmissionSight, our main goal is to set students up with the highest chance for success when it comes to college admissions.

Even if you have a GPA on the lower side, there’s still hope if you show active involvement in extra-curricular that let your dedication, commitment, and personal qualities shine through – and that’s exactly what the Future Problem Solvers (FPS) Program is for.


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