“I don’t watch TV, I watch YouTube.”
I hear it from students all the time. So much of the culture teenagers consume is distributed digitally, so much of it produced by other teens, just like themselves. Kids sit on their beds, with their phones or cameras propped on their desks and pointed at their faces, while they sing popular songs (often written by other YouTubers), unbox new clothes (that they get for free, because they’re “influencers,” and yes I’m jealous), level up on video games (yes, this is a thing people watch for hours) and deliver makeup tutorials (in which 17-year-olds apply winged eyeliner with precision I will never be able to replicate).
Instead of just letting all of this make me feel old (which it does – oh god, it does), I often find myself asking, “What will this all mean for teenagers in the long term?”
One thing it will mean for sure, is that the YouTube generation will increasingly have their content creation and video production skills put to the test, personally, professionally, even academically. So it is no surprise that college admissions boards all over the country are asking applicants of the YouTube generation to submit stories about themselves using this new language they all seem to speak: the language of video.
The college application video has been creeping up on applicants for a few years, with multimedia platforms like ZeeMee offering easily customizable profiles students can stock with videos, links to relevant websites, and carefully-curated peeks into their social media personas. This year, it truly feels like the college application video has arrived. Yale is allowing students to submit an application video in place of one of its essays (but only if you apply to the school via the Coalition Application instead of the Common App), Babson gives students the choice to submit a video instead of writing a supplemental essay, and the University of Chicago, pioneer of the quirky application prompt, offers students the option to submit a video as well.
While students may have experience watching two-minute clips in rapid succession and producing funny snaps for their friends on the fly, will they know how to craft videos that reveal something fresh and meaningful about themselves to admissions officers? What are they really looking for with these videos? And how does an applicant even begin making one of these things?
There is good news. This task isn’t actually as foreign as it may seem. The goals of the college application video parallel those of the admissions essays applicants have been submitting for decades. Reveal something about yourself to admissions that isn’t apparent anywhere else on the application. Showcase your best qualities and give admissions a sense of your personality. And…entertain! (Make yourself memorable!)
Here are a few tips that will help your teen craft an admissions video that truly gets them noticed:
Follow the instructions…but not to a fault. Is a school asking for a “video interview”? If so, a student might want to think about facing the camera and drafting a set of prepared questions to answer. That said, applicants shouldn’t allow their preconceived perceptions of what “video interviews” (or any other specific video-related assignments) should be stifle their creativity. There are so many ways to give admissions a sense of background, personality and passion – skits, day-in-the-life reels, parodies – the possibilities are truly limitless.
Think about what would translate well visually. In other words, what is exciting to look at? Let’s give these tired admissions officers a sight for their (literal) sore eyes, shall we? Instead of setting up a camera in a bedroom, can an applicant take an admissions officer bowling? To the beach? What can a student wear that will make them memorable? A useful exercise is to think about admissions watching the video with the sound off – how much can you communicate through visuals alone?
Don’t overproduce. As with the application essay, the video is meant to provide admissions with an authentic look at who an applicant is and where they come from. They don’t want a fancy video made in a production studio (unless the student is a filmmaker with access to those resources -- then, by all means!). Students shouldn’t aim to over-package themselves here. A slice of a real life is refreshing and will tell admissions what they want to know. That said, if you have a message you want to send and specific points you want to make, there is no harm in getting these points down on paper first. The delivery should be natural, but that doesn’t mean you can’t organize your thoughts for the best chance at success!
Get a second opinion. Still wondering whether your teen’s video is accomplishing what it’s supposed to? When in doubt, they should have a trusted and relatively objective person like a teacher or professional consultant take a peek. The final product should come from the student’s brain, but gauging various people’s reactions to what your teen has created can help you better understand how admissions may respond to the video in question.
This new addition to the college application process is a boon for college applicants. It provides them with another mode of self-expression that can be incredibly personal, allowing them to show admissions what it is like to inhabit their daily life and world. And maybe one lucky admissions officer will learn how to apply these skills to their own life. #AdmissionsOfficerVlog, anyone?