Video Killed the College Essay

When I applied to college, I took the standardized SAT test, filled out application after application and hoped that I had participated in enough extracurricular activities to make me stand out above my peers. While I strove to make my applications unique and interesting, the thought never crossed my mind to think outside the box with the actual format of my application. Today, high school seniors are almost required to be extra creative, especially if they want to get into some of the nation’s top schools. With tuition prices and competition increasing, it’s getting harder and harder to differentiate one 4.0 student from another. 

According to the Boston Globe, “Tufts University this year has become the first selective college in the nation to encourage applicants to submit videos about themselves.” While this supplement was optional to applicants, over 1,000 high school seniors chose to submit the one-minute videos, accounting for approximately 6 percent of all of the applications.

Lee Coffin, Tufts’ dean of admissions, explained that these videos give the students an opportunity to show their creativity, aside from standardized tests and writing assignments. She said that they help admissions answer the question, “What spark do they bring to the class [of 2014]?” Academic record, standardized tests and extracurricular activities will still play major role in the admissions process, but this supplement gives students the opportunity to show their true colors.

Coffin told the New York Times, “At heart, this is all about a conversation between a kid and an admissions officer. You see their floppy hair and their messy bedrooms and you get a sense of who they are. We have a lot of information about applicants, but the videos let them share their voice.”

James Fay, a fellow Greenough colleague’s younger brother, applied to Tufts this year and submitted the video below:

 

While it’s great that colleges are opting to incorporate social media elements into their admissions process, Brenna Ehrlich makes a few great points in her Mashable feature about Tufts’ new program. She asks, “Does this new option mean that competition will only get more intense? In addition to being able to write, score good grades and fill in the correct bubbles on a standardized test, will kids also have to master the mechanics of a truly rad jump cut?”

After reading that, I began to picture myself as an 18-year-old high school senior, whose dream school was Tufts University. And then I realized, even five years later, that I wouldn’t know where to begin. It was hard enough trying to choose an essay topic for college applications. How are these students, who have probably never created a video of themselves, supposed to figure out how to portray them to the admissions committee? What image are they looking for? And even though they claim to not judge on the quality of the video, how will they be able to look past the technologically-savvy videos to see the grade-A content in others?

It seems like yet another addition to the application process that is difficult to score. Ehrlich made a great point in her post: “Why not actually widen the options for college applicants, rather than adding one more “optional” element to the pot?”

How effective do you think this is? If video supplements are part of today’s application, what comes next? As always, comments are welcomed.

-Contributed by Katy Rohlicek.  Follow her @katyroll