Colleges accept video essays to connect with students

Video essays are a growing trend in college applications.

As video cameras and editing equipment become more user friendly, many younger consumers are now using the technology in their college applications.

Several colleges, including Tufts University, George Mason University, and St. Mary’s College of Maryland, are accepting video essays in place of the traditional written personal statement.

Andrew Flagel, dean of admissions at George Mason, said the video essays let the admissions team get a better sense of the applicant.

“Over a decade ago we actually interviewed all of our candidates,” said Flagel. But as interest in the university grew, there was simply not enough time to accommodate the volume of applicants.

“While interviews were never a major decision maker in the process, we received an ongoing concern from some of our applicants [who] felt they weren’t able to personalize the process,” Flagel said. “Rather than trying to reintroduce an interview component, the idea was to leverage the technology to utilize the ease of submitting video by incorporating it into the application process.”

Flagel emphasized that although the video essays give admissions specialists a chance to see a student’s personality, they are not the most important part of college applications.

“I think all essays and interviews can give some insight on students, but I think it’s important that none of those items are nearly as important as a student’s academic record,” Flagel said.

The admissions office at George Mason posts dozens of the video essays on a university website, although the videos are taken down if the student isn’t admitted. Videos vary from musical performances to serious conversations and miniature movies.

“I think the videos that I’ve seen that have the largest influence on a students’ admission were very direct: students sharing information about themselves,” Flagel said. He noted that the most successful video essays are similar to the best written essays, in that both give sound reasons why the student belongs at the university.

Flagel said that while students can use video in place of a written essay, they are encouraged instead to use it as a supplement. George Mason has accepted videos as supplements to college applications for decades, and university officials expect that more students will take advantage of the medium in the future.

“The prevalence and availability of video, and students’ comfort levels with use of video and sharing things through video, will undoubtedly lead to this trend continuing to grow,” Flagel said.

He pointed out, though, that video essays aren’t new at George Mason.

“This is much more of an evolution than a revolution,” said Flagel. “We’ve had videos that students sent in with their [college applications] for over 30 years. The ease of sending video and the integration of video into the application itself is new, but not necessarily as novel as it may seem to many folks.”

The Common Application, a free online undergraduate college application form, has included a video portion in its arts supplement for an extended period of time, but recently took an active role in encouraging students to submit videos.

Several college application videos for each of these universities have appeared on YouTube, with some garnering hundreds of thousands of hits.

George Mason posts its own video essays on and asks visitors to comment on their favorites.

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