Admissions officials: Students shouldn’t bank on application gimmicks

The University of Michigan admitted 42 out of 4,498 waitlisted students last year.

College applicants shouldn’t rely on a viral YouTube video to spring them from the confines of a university’s lengthy wait list, admissions officials say—despite the success of one high-profile applicant whose video plea went viral.

Campus admissions officials frown on gimmicks like tins of homemade cookies or phone calls from vaguely famous relatives. But for one college hopeful, a Motown love song did the trick: After posting a YouTube video of himself singing about his love for the University of Michigan (UM), Lawrence Yong was plucked from the waitlist and admitted to the school’s 2012 freshman class.

Students who receive waitlist letters in April typically must wait until late June to see if any spots remain after admitted students submit their enrollment deposits.

In the meantime, the admissions officers encourage waitlisted students to share news recent accomplishments or supply additional information that would increase their chances of getting in.

These supplemental letters can be helpful to admissions staff. Because the student applies in the fall and waits until spring to hear a decision, “the university isn’t always certain whether the student is still interested or not,” said Jim Miller, who served as president of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC).

Click below to watch Yong’s video:

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“But I would advise not to get too carried away with multimedia and technology, because some universities may have time and interest, and some might just set it aside,” he said. “At that point it’s just not very productive.”

While Miller credited Yong for showcasing his “character and personality in a very positive light,” he guessed that Yong “must have been a very strong candidate to begin with.”

“It was not that he was way down the list and [the video] catapulted [him] above 10,000 students,” Miller said.

Yong said he made the video instead of taking a more orthodox approach because he had already written an essay for his initial application, but “didn’t feel that it accurately conveyed who [he] was.”

The video was a way to “showcase some of my strengths and to give the school a face to go along with the application,” said Yong, who sang choir and a capella at his high school.

Yong reworked the lyrics to the Jackson 5 song “I Want You Back” to include his “dream to be a Wolverine” and to plead, “Oh Michigan, give me one more chance/to show you that I love you.”

Yong, who recently graduated from Grenada Hills Charter School in Los Angeles, appears in the video with a large Michigan ‘M’ taped to his collared shirt and skinny black tie.

The lyrics took about 15 minutes to write. Yong had his brother film him on a handheld camera.

In his last attempt to get off the waitlist, Yong sent UM the video, with no other, more traditional materials.

On June 6, Yong received an acceptance eMail from the university—no small feat considering reported that the school admitted just 42 out of 4,498 waitlisted students last year.

He posted a screenshot of the eMail to his Tumblr account and then left a comment on his video that received 185 thumbs-ups from his YouTube fans.

“I GOT IN YOU GUYS! Thank you SO much for all of your support, there’s no way this could have happened without you all!”

The video now has 54,675 views and 805 “likes.”

“I honestly did not know how to react. … I’m incredibly thankful and feel very fortunate because I know it wasn’t me who did it,” Yong said. “I’m overwhelmed and just very grateful.”

Yong had not expected to attract such widespread attention, and in fact, had originally posted his video in an unsearchable, “unlisted” setting.

He said he posted the video only on his Tumblr blog, on which he had a “small following of 60 to 70 people,” and his dad sent the link to a couple friends at work and church.

When Yong checked YouTube statistics on where and how often his video had been shared, he was surprised to find that the most views came through Facebook. The odd thing is, “I never even put it up on Facebook,” Yong said.

University of Michigan admissions officials did not respond to questions from eCampus News about Yong’s case.

NACAC board member Jim Miller said he did not see a move toward adding more multimedia to the college applications process—in fact, he said some schools will not review videos.

“We want to know the student’s story but we don’t want them to use extraordinary means. We want to give the fairest review to each person,” he said. “Generally, we do not encourage video presentations because there is some differential between those who have the contacts and ability to make such a presentation.”

Many colleges do not have the staffing to review videos from its applicants, and they feel that they receive enough material in the traditional application to reach a fair decision, Miller said.

Jeffrey Fuller, director of student recruitment at the University of Houston (UH), said prospective college students shouldn’t bank on the nontraditional approach in applying to schools.

“While demonstrated interest—like social media—are factors some colleges consider,” Fuller said. “Academic performance in college prep courses and test scores continue to be primary factors at showing student success.”

Despite the success of his multimedia approach, Yong acknowledged that the more traditional, text-based college application process is still “very much necessary.”

“For me, I was in more of a position [where] it’s not my intelligence I need to show, I need to go beyond that and show who I am as a person,” Yong said.

But Yong said other applicants should “definitely” consider a similar out-of-the-box approach because “it’s a lot of fun.”

“In the time we live in, video sharing is a big part and it’s good to use this current social medium to express yourself,” said Yong. “It’s easy to be hidden behind grades … [so it’s important] to display why you’re unique and why you’re not just a set of numbers or letters.”

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