The College Application: Send A Video?

A  few colleges are accepting student-submitted videos to judge college applicants. Is video the new eye-candy in the admissions office? Are colleges going with the cultural flow that all information (read: learning) comes from a tube, as fictional TV commentator, Howard Beale, claimed in the movie, Network ?  What’s the downside and what’s the upside of college admissions videos?

The Downside: Video is the “strategy-de-jour” – a new flash-in-the-pan way of getting someone’s attention. Ok…I get why you have to stand out in the admissions process; it’s my professional focus. But let ‘s take a look at what can backfire on the student:

1. Cutesy but embarrassing moments. Here’s how a 17-yr-old defines a “cool” video: “Watch me swallow a keg of beer!”  Or, “Wanna see my version of a Jackass video?”  Immediately after an admissions officer views such juvenile behavior, if it’s early morning, he will blow breakfast.

2. Admissions people have a healthy sense of cynicism for anything that’s very different from the norm (read: what they require). Education is still about being competent to communicate in writing; college doesn’t teach you how to communicate by video with your boss, your friends, your dog, or your loved ones; maybe next year, but not this year.

With video the student is taking a risk with a college application. Is the risk worth it? Here’s…

The Upside: Video can give the colleges what they are genuinely looking for in an applicant. But it can’t be about how you kick a soccer ball, how you play a musical instrument, or how you sing. It’s about safety. Huh? Am I losing it here?

Since the Virginia Tech massacre, colleges are increasingly sensitive to safety  issues even when parents aren’t asking the questions they need to ask to help decide which college to attend.

How’s a personal video going to be a positive on a college application? Campus safety implies already that the college accepts freshmen who fulfill certain requirements, but they knowingly take chances on not knowing the student’s 4-letter world: HOME, an environment that can be captured easily on video.

Here’s what I suggest to my clients/students: Walk around your home with a video camera, narrating about what’s in front of you. No bedrooms or bathrooms, please. And, no appearance by the student. Why? The video is about the student’s daily environment, exposure to which answers the vital question of every admissions officer: “Is this the kind of student we want?”

Subliminally, you want the video to suggest strongly that because the student comes from a stable environment, the student is a “safe admit.”  No Rambo-gone-bad on his way to campus. This is one of many tactics my students use as part of  my proven strategy to get them admitted to their first-choice colleges.

By contrast, the video (or resume photo) cannot be meant to depict what the student looks like: it risks appearing shallow, superficial, and manipulative, particularly if the student is an attractive female (a sports photo can be the exception). Subliminally the video will be manipulative, but because of its subject matter, it will not appear so.

Videos are worth more than a thousand words. Watching a video which exposes the student’s environment says everything a college wants to know about the “safety” dynamic of the applicant. A perceived stable, safe and nurturing environment becomes a “fit” with a student body that is fully intended to be stable, safe and nurturing.

Sending a signal of safety to the colleges on video surely beats a student’s video of a bad joke, a dance routine, a rap noise, or a recitation of a Shakespearean soliloquy.

The objective? Make your student’s college application appear to be a “safe bet” instead of a gamble, whose gold-plated character may not be so obvious on a letter of recommendation.
For a series of strategies on making your student appear to be a right-fit for the college, click here.


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