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According to a recent study conducted by Adobe on the college admission process titled, The Decided Factor, the average student spends 14,000 hours in school from kindergarten to twelfth grade, 26,000 hours on homework and extracurricular activities, and 29 hours preparing college applications, while admissions officers reported spending only 11 minutes per student application.

“We used to get over 20,000 applications, probably more now, and there were not a lot of admissions officers,” former Howard Admissions Officer Dejah Greene told MadameNoire. “So it was really hard to treat each student the same and make sure that you’re giving every essay your undivided attention because all of those students deserve to be looked at and evaluated equally.”

Behind GPA and interviews, student creativity was ranked as the third most important factor by college admission decision-makers as it helps students stand out. But exactly how does one go about showing creativity when applying to college? Here are four practical tips.

Use the Common Application

First, Green recommends using the Common Application, which is a standard college application that students can use to apply to up to 800 participating colleges.

“Students utilizing the Common App gives students more range to advocate for themselves and kind of show off their skills,” said Greene.

Write the supplemental essay

Another perk of the Common Application is that for many schools, it provides an option to write a supplemental essay in addition to the standard admissions essay.

“Having a supplemental essay is really helpful because I think students kind of already have this perspective of how they want their regular essay to go so when they write it, some of them are very general or generic and you could tell it was like something they may have regurgitated from like an English class from last year or something,” shared Greene. “The Common App — offering a supplemental essay or even offering a range of essay prompts- it’s great. If you have a student who doesn’t feel that they are a great writer, the supplemental essays give them another opportunity to show that they are worthy of being accepted into that school. I’ve seen some really great supplemental essays.’

Send other supplemental materials

“We’ve definitely have had students send in videos, personal booklets, folder albums, and other interesting materials as a way for them to just really try to stand out. So I thought it was great when I saw students that were sending a folder or sending a little packet about themselves by snail mail because while we didn’t encourage it, the delivery and presentation helped them to stand out,” Greene advised. “I think the students that do have the chance to use their creative side, it should be encouraged. Maybe they can do a video or maybe they have a blog that they want to share or something that’s relevant to their application or that s relevant to their educational goals or future. I think that should definitely be supported.”

Be true to yourself

“Please just be honest with yourself and be true to yourself when you are applying to these colleges. You never know who is going to be reading your application,” Greene said in closing. “Please be appropriate when you apply. There are so many students who think being super radical or doing things for shock value is gonna get them in and make them interesting. Not so much  I just really want students to know that they should be completely honest and true to themselves.”

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