Episode 64: Leveraging Creativity

Episode 64: Leveraging Creativity

Date of Publication/发布日期
February 11, 2022
Curtis Westbay
Files & media
Volume 2 2021-2022
Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side. [UC application essay prompt #2]

This is one of the more well-known college essay prompts asking about creativity. Overbroad as it is, many colleges ask for essays like this. What’s a unique way you approached a problem? What have you made? How do you think differently? It’s worth considering.

If you think about application review, being unique is a tremendously valuable trait. Application readers will conduct an initial review of applications from the same region (i.e. the same counselor might be assigned to review all applications from southern China or from Guangdong province). For highly selective colleges, test scores and grades don’t help you stand out on their own. Besides, who wants a student who is great at conquering tests like the SAT, about which a great deal is publicly known, but who has nothing novel to say? If you have a mind like a steel trap and can regurgitate information, you’re just a computer, and you’ll never rival the efficiency of a real computer. Even the sort of set-piece rhetorical analysis and quantitative reasoning that students do on the SAT can be trained for. Showing creativity gives an application reader the confidence that a student can encounter and solve problems “out in the wild,” where there are no test prep books or tutors for the challenges that students will face.

Students tend to gravitate to essay topics that are school-centric. My greatest challenge? Definitely AP United States History. An example of a time when I solved a problem? Settling an argument during an in-class debate. What’s my creative side? I approached a class project in an interesting way. In part, we’ve set our students up to provide responses like this as parents and teachers, given the amount of pressure we place on academic success. While it is true that academic and standardized testing success are the bedrock of a strong college application, the sine qua non without which highly selective universities won’t give an application a second look, creativity is crucial to standing out. We need to encourage our students to be creative, and not just when there’s a grade involved.

After initial review, colleges will be done with consideration for students they don’t think can succeed at their school, those students they feel have nothing to offer academically who might not even make it to graduation day. They’ll also more often than not be done considering students who seem like flat characters, who are just there to take and pass classes, anonymously, trudging along and adding nothing to dialogues, to campus initiatives, to dorm communities. My advice is to consider this pivotal stage of applying to college, at which someone is making a gut decision about an applicant, and let your student spend some time creating. It may seem counterproductive, but it’s really not. At that moment, when a student’s application is given a yes or no, accolades and high marks fade away. Now, it’s all about the feeling that a reader gets, and that feeling hinges upon how creatively interesting a student seems.

Stop forcing your student to put all their time and work into theoretical exercises and let them spend time in practice. If they love math and engineering, let them build something. If they love history and literature, give them space to write something. If they love the arts, let them compose. If they love languages, let them learn and speak in one. Even with an initially positive response to an application, a green light from the initial application reader, the application will then go to committee. Here, several admission officers will be passionately stating their case for the applicants they like, arguing with their colleagues on behalf of those students. Creativity is such an admirable trait to fight for. So, for the benefit of our students college applications, they have to have creative experiences to speak of.