When I was applying to colleges, two of the three colleges I applied to gave students the option of submitting a video essay alongside their application, and I immediately decided that I was going to include a video essay with college applications. Unlike a video portfolio which is required for certain majors, a college video essay is an optional 2-5 minute video that allows students to highlight their creativity and demonstrate why they want to attend the college. The videos themselves are as serious or as funny as the student wants them to be and can be a great tool for helping admissions put a face to the name on the application, as well as a fantastic way for students to express themselves. Here are my tips for submitting a video essay with college applications, based on my own experiences.
Example prompts for video essays
Often times, the college video essay prompts are very open-ended so that students can find a way to respond to the prompt in a way that works best for them. The two different prompts for the video essays I received were:
- Why is College Name the perfect fit for you?
- Introduce yourself to Admissions and tell us why you want to be a part of this graduating class
Some of these prompts may seem overwhelming or difficult to answer, so here are a few more specific prompts that can help students brainstorm ideas for a video:
- What are the top 5 reasons you want to attend this college?
- Can you show Admissions something they have never seen before?
- Why are you choosing a certain major?
- How do you plan to make an impact at this college in the next four years?
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Creating an outline for college video essays
When I received the prompts for my college video essays, I immediately got to work creating an outline for what I wanted to include. College video essays are not necessarily meant to be a video adaptation of the student’s college admission essay but can and often do include information that is mentioned in the student’s essay, resume, or other included information. When brainstorming ideas for what to include in my college video essay, I came up with the following items that made it into the final cut of the video:
- Talking about a high school program that inspired me to study a unique major/minor combination
- Mentioning my favorite extracurricular activity, which was the subject of my college essay
- Sharing my personal connection to the college- my mom and one of my best friends had attended the college and encouraged me to apply
- Telling the audience about how I want to use the skills from my major/minor to help make technology better for people- something I was and still am extremely passionate about
Once I figured out what I wanted to include, I started to map out where I wanted to film. I chose to film in various locations outside/inside of my house, with a family member present so they could be an extra pair of hands and help me with props or adjusting the camera. It was important to me that there wasn’t much background noise or other people around, so I chose to film in the middle of the day during a school free period- it’s worth noting that schools may prevent students from filming videos on the premises because of a potential exposure risk for sensitive student information.
What to wear in college video essays
When I told one of my best friends that I would be filming a college video essay for my application to their college, they sent me a t-shirt from the bookstore with words of encouragement, telling me that they couldn’t wait for me to join them at college. I ended up pairing that t-shirt with a pair of black pants and adjusted the camera so that nothing was visible below my waist, since I had broken my ankle not long before shooting and didn’t necessarily want to show that in the video. For the other video essay, I wore a t-shirt from the college’s baseball team (which my dad is a huge fan of) and paired it with jeans and sneakers. Showing school spirit is always a great idea!
For students who do not want to wear a college t-shirt for their video essays, I recommend choosing a dressy-casual outfit similar to what is used in college interviews. Examples of this can include:
- Jeans with a simple top and fun accessories such as a scarf, earrings, or necklace
- Knee-length or longer dresses or skirts with flat shoes
- Button-down shirts and nice-fitting jeans or slacks with nice shoes or solid-color tennis shoes
My biggest advice is to dress in clothing that feels comfortable to wear, and to find a way to incorporate personal style- when I was in high school, this meant including colorful clothing, cute earrings that made me feel happy, or a patterned scarf. Bonus points if the outfit incorporates school colors!
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Should I disclose my disability?
I’ll be answering this question from the perspective of someone with an invisible disability that has this option- I recognize many people have visible disabilities that cannot be hidden. I have low vision and a neurological condition called Chiari Malformation, though at the time of filming I did not know if my low vision condition was going to progress, I did not use a blindness cane yet, and I did not have a confirmed diagnosis for Chiari Malformation either. The goal of a college video essay is to allow students to talk about things that they are passionate about, and it’s okay if disability is not one of those things. I personally chose to disclose my low vision, but not my Chiari Malformation since it wouldn’t be particularly exciting for people to watch seventeen-year-old me talk about chronic migraines (though I linked a far more exciting talk below that I gave six years later!)
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- Why Everyone Should Design For Chiari Malformation: My Talk At ID24 2020
How I disclosed my disability
Even though I wasn’t very comfortable with people knowing I have low vision at the time of filming for my college video essays, my disability played a huge role in selecting my major/minor combination- I wanted to study computer science and assistive technology so that I could design better tools for people with disabilities and address inequities for disabled students in the classroom. I knew that the college I was applying to was also very inclusive of people with disabilities, so I chose to make my vision loss the “theme” of my college video essay. This included the following elements:
- Disclosing my disability early in the video- the exact quote I used was “Hi, my name is Veronica, and I want to be part of the class of 2019. While my vision isn’t 20/20, even with glasses, that hasn’t stopped me from accomplishing a lot in my school and my community.”
- I created a series of visual gags where I would talk about something from my video outline while standing next to a random object. For example, when talking about my family and friend connections to the college, I pretended I was standing next to a person when it was a tree, and turned to the tree to say something like “don’t you love this college?”
- In addition to the visual gags, I filmed a few serious scenes where I would talk about my major/minor and the experiences that led me to choose this program
- When mentioning my therapy dog work, I held my cat the entire time- this was what inspired me to disclose my disability because my therapy dog was unable to appear on camera and I had to find an alternative
- Ending the video with a disclaimer- “Okay, my vision isn’t actually as bad as I made it look, but I wanted to make Admissions laugh. I hope you’ll consider me for the class of 2019, even if my vision isn’t 20/20!”
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Share what you are passionate about
While I did talk briefly about my disability in my college video essays, I based the script around talking about the things I was passionate about, including my time in band and other extracurricular activities, the fact I had been in the same volunteer group for ten years, and how I wanted to improve technology for disabled students. Some of my friends included video footage of themselves engaging in various extracurriculars, such as them playing an instrument, riding a surfboard, or giving people a tour of a local landmark.
I know that students with chronic illness may not be able to participate in as many extracurriculars, but it’s still important to talk about personal interests and enjoyable things. One of my friends talked about a book they were writing, another friend created a cartoon version of themselves for their essay so they didn’t have to appear on camera, and another friend showed off their beautiful digital art.
Connect interests to college programs/extracurriculars
Before writing the script for my college video essay, I researched campus clubs, majors, and extracurriculars ahead of time so that I would find ways to connect my interests back to things that were at the college, so that I could show that I would be an active student there. Some examples of ways to execute this include:
- Talking about continuing to play an instrument in a college music group
- Participating in a hackathon or other design event
- Taking classes in a specific field of interest that were not offered in high school (i.e classes on accessibility)
- Joining an organization to connect with other students
Other miscellaneous tips for submitting college video essays
- Take the time to edit the video so it flows smoothly
- Check if the video needs to be posted on a certain website and if it needs to be visible publicly
- Watch videos on the Admissions website for examples
- Have fun!