College Admissions 2.0: Video Essay on YouTube

A couple of weeks ago the Boston Globe reported that Tufts University, where I am employed as a career counselor, invited prospective students to include a 1-minute video essay with their application for admission to the class of 2014.  In “A Fresh Pitch on ‘U’ Tube” Globe Staffer Tracy Jan notes that of the 15,436 students who applied to Tufts this year, 6 percent, which is more than 1000 students, opted to submit a video.  Tufts Admissions office released the videos on YouTube, where they are being viewed by the world.


Amelia Downs, branded “math dance girl”, had approximately 6,000 views when the Boston Globe article broke on Feb. 21, 2010.  Two weeks later, Amelia’s supplemental admissions video has 93,058 views.  Talk about an experiment in personal branding and social media! I really enjoyed her video, and I think it is very good because it is quirky, authentic and understated.  She obviously didn’t spend lots of money producing it. I also enjoyed Amelia’s video because I can relate to it – I loved math in high school and I probably would have made up a few dances to go along with what I was learning in trigonometry.  Watch out American Idol contestants, Amelia Downs has 93,058 views and counting.

Gimic or game changer? 

I don’t think this is a gimic, in fact, I think it could be a game changer for some students and the colleges who admit them.  This is not just about Tufts inviting students to submit videos.  This is about taking admissions to the next level by appreciating the current generation, their learning and attention styles, and encouraging them to leverage their comfort with technology to access college.  Blogs, facebook, cell phones with video, twitter, instant messaging, Skype – Gen Y can navigate this world better than any generation before them. 


A legitimate concern is that students from low income backgrounds may not have the resources to create a video essay, which in fact could prove to be yet another disadvantage in accessing higher education.  When you view the essays on YouTube, you will find that some seem to be professionally produced.  Tufts dean of admissions Lee Coffin, interviewed in the Boston Globe article, insists that “production value” will not determine the admissions process.  ”Some of the best videos are rather crude or simple in terms of their production values but they feature an appealing narrative or clever conceit that introduces us, more deeply, to an individual student,” Coffin said.

The video essay could prove to be an advantage, and it’s very appropriate for admissions to a college of arts, science and engineering, where thinking outside of the box is encouraged.  I believe that the video essay is an incredible outlet for students whose grades are not a valid indicator of their abilities.  A student need not be an extrovert, an actor, or a highly trained videographer to make a successful video essay – they just need to be themselves.

Video essay as personal branding

If high school students are introduced to personal branding through the college admissions process (and I mean that the student is actively engaged in the process of creating  their own video - without a parent or a consultant writing the script and directing), it will give them a glimpse at what it takes to apply for internships and jobs.

My favorite video essays

By the way, while I enjoyed Amelia Downs’ video essay, I really liked the following two videos:

Michael Norton’s Optional Tufts University Supplemental Essay

Rachel Ison’s Tufts Supplement Video


Nicole Anderson is an Assistant Director/Career Counselor for Tufts University Career Services. With fourteen years of experience in college career services, Nicole’s expertise includes career counseling undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni from liberal arts, science, engineering, business, and education.

Related posts:

  1. Top 5 Items to List in Your Scholarship Essay
  2. Your Application Essay: From Standard to Stellar
  3. Setting yourself apart with video

One Response to “College Admissions 2.0: Video Essay on YouTube”

  1. avatar Oscar says:

    I believe a video essay is an interesting idea, and may allow students to prove themselves acceptable in a manner beyond their high school grades. But some students may not be talented in that field and as mentioned may not have the right materials to do so, so it is good that it is optional and not required

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