What’s a video essay anyway?

It’s a brief one or two minute video which, like a college essay, reveals something about you – your interests, experiences or talent.

“You mean now I have to make a video to get into college?”

No! Only a few colleges specifically invite them, and even with those, it’s not a requirement. Making a video is strictly an option. Make a video only if you want to, and if you feel it will help give colleges a better sense of who are and what makes you a great applicant.

“My guidance counselor says some schools don’t want videos.”

The Common App’s one-essay-fits-all and click-to apply buttons have helped unleash a biblical storm of applications, and schools are overwhelmed. It’s no surprise that some won’t embrace the video trend. Imagine the exhausted admissions officer, his office forested with piles of folders, thinking, “You mean now I have to deal with e-stacks of videos too?!”

If you hear a school doesn’t want video submissions, check the information source. Is it hearsay or official policy, stated clearly in online admissions guidelines? Most schools take an agnostic view, neither soliciting nor disallowing video essays,

Whatever schools say publically, their real decisions will surely be made case by case, depending on their interest in an applicant. If a student is being seriously considered, an admissions officer may be delighted to click on a link to a short video. At worst, she’ll skip over it. But more likely, she’ll spend an extra minute or two to get to know you better. College application help is something that we all need, and a little extra effort can go a long way.

In the long run, we expect video essays to become more common, because they can efficiently and effectively communicate useful information about applicants. They benefit students and schools.

“Aren’t videos just another unfair advantage for kids who are already advantaged?”

Actually, we think the admissions video helps level the playing field. You can make one for little or nothing. You don’t need any fancy equipment to display talent, personality and passion. What matters most is content and creativity.

“How do I get an idea?”

Start by watching videos other students have made. Put on your “filmmaker’s cap” and look at yourself and your world with fresh eyes. Trust you own creativity and don’t get hung up on any “rules,” except for one: keep your video within the two-minute time limit.

“What if I’m not good looking?”

College admissions is not a beauty pageant. Admissions officers are not looking for the next cover model for Vogue or GQ. Your goal is to show them what’s inside you, not outside. As you will see, some of the strongest videos are by kids who probably won’t get voted “hottest” or “most popular.”

“Videos are for extroverts. I’m shy. Can I make a video without appearing in it?”

Absolutely. Lots of kids have made videos in which they don’t appear. You can see some examples in our video section.

Some people have naturally vivacious, outgoing personalities and are completely comfortable on camera. Yes, this is an advantage, and if you’re that type, great. But shyness need not be an obstacle. With a video, you’re in control. Two shy-proofing choices:

1) Don’t appear on camera. You don’t have to. Let your voice (or text) and the images you assemble tell your story. In some sample videos the applicant barely appears, or doesn’t at all.

2) Appear on camera – just keep shooting until you are happy with the footage. Don’t like what you just said, or how you said it? Choke, flub or fail? Do it again. Then edit. Don’t like watching your talking head? Cut away to some other image as your voice continues.

“But I’m not interesting.”

Bison manure! Everyone has passions, stories, skills and interests which reveal who they are. Your task is to find, finesse and flaunt them.

“How do I submit my video essay to colleges?”

First post it to Youtube, making  it either public or private. Then, on the Common App there’s an “anything else?” prompt at the end of the writing section. Past in something like, “If you’d like to learn a little more about me and my passion for falconry, you can watch a one minute video here: YOUTUBE LINK.”  What’s the worst that can happen? They won’t click.  (But we think that if they’re seriously considering you, they will.)

“I’ve never made a video. How do I learn how to make one?”

Have you taken photos, left a voice message, played with fonts, faced a camera and Skyped? Add these up, and you’ve already done most of what you need to do to make a video. Read College Video 101, watch videos on this site and YouTube, and if you want go deeper, take a look at our .

With a little effort, anyone can make a first rate video.

How-to books can feel necessary, like eat your vegetables necessary, but Max Kiefer and Rosa Wolfe have created a fun balance between laugh-out-loud turns of phrase, practical advice about equipment, sound, and lighting, and an encouraging "you can do this" tone. The book is, as a result, an actual pleasure to read. They also provide links to all kinds of great videos to "show" you what they mean instead of only "telling" you.

Videos are becoming more and more commonplace in the world of college applications; this book will give you the tools and the confidence to create one of your own. I strongly suspect you'll have a good time doing it.

Lesley Q.