Make a Strong College Application Video

Vice President of Programs, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation

More and more colleges and universities are either providing an option for applicants to submit a video essay with their admission application—or even requiring one. In fact, some schools are now allowing students to submit a video instead of a traditional application. While this last option isn’t recommended, there are a lot of reasons recording a video could really strengthen your application.

For students with unusual or perhaps less tangible qualifications, or just great on-camera charisma, a video can be a great way to enhance your candidacy. A video can also demonstrate creativity and initiative. Here’s how to make your video an asset to your college application.

  1. Prepare well in advance. Creating a solid video can be tricky and time consuming. Like any other part of your application, you should be brainstorming ideas and preparing long before the application is due, writing scripts and practicing ahead of time. You want to allow enough time for you to be able to put together a carefully organized, well-crafted video, and it’s likely you’ll have to record it several times before it’s perfect.
  2. Read any directions carefully, and make sure your video fully addresses any prompts. A focused video will help admission officers get to know you and how you meet their specific criteria, but indulging in unrelated content can seem superfluous and possibly even undermine your application. Of particular importance is the length of your video; if the application calls for a two-minute piece, don’t fall short of or exceed that time by more than a few seconds.
  3. Get help. Your video should be authentic, and admission officers are not looking for a professional-quality video (unless you’re going into an audio-visual field), but taking the time to edit your video conscientiously can really make a difference. So if you have a friend that is particularly adept at producing videos, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Also, have your friends and family serve as a test audience so you can receive helpful feedback.
  4. When possible, show rather than tell. Your video shouldn’t simply be your written essay read aloud; you want to take advantage of the medium. Include scenes of you scoring the big goal, your lead role in the school play, or volunteering in the community. Some students also use props or visual aids.
  5. Be concise. There’s no need for flowery language or overly long narratives. Everything you say or show should be purposeful. Sometimes less is more.
  6. Be dynamic and show your personality. The rest of your application probably provides your grades and test scores, so no need to repeat such information here. The precious few minutes you have should primarily serve to allow the admission officers to get to know you better. Share your opinions and interests about academic topics or current events, but avoid extremely controversial matters.
  7. But remember your audience. A little eccentricity or humor can be charming and help you stand out, which is good. But, ultimately, you don’t want to seem like anything other than a highly qualified, diligent student. Be professional: dress the part, speak with proper grammar, and be confident, just as you would in an interview. And don’t over share! While videos can be useful to describe some of the unique experiences you’ve had or challenges you’ve overcome, certain intimate details can be inappropriate. When in doubt, be conservative with your content.

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