In the 2001 film Legally Blonde, Reese Witherspoon’s character Elle Woods shocks the Harvard Law admissions board with a peppy, upbeat admissions video. Despite her defiance of convention, she’s accepted into the program.
In the decade since this film was released, video admissions essays have become more common, and they are somewhat surrounded by controversy for a few reasons, namely the idea that they make applying to college too easy. One university that’s paving the way for this medium is Tufts University, a private research university based in Medford, Massachusetts.
In today’s technological age of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, it’s important to establish whether colleges should lend credence to this medium – is it too informal? Can it be made formal if done correctly? These are issues that universities face in deciding whether they should accept videos in addition to – or even in lieu of – college admissions essays. Doing so might put the university at risk of lowered admissions standards, but the main concern is whether there is an appropriate way to film and submit a video admissions essay.
The appropriateness of a video essay depends entirely on the type of program to which the student is applying as well as the college’s take on the idea. Students should do their research beforehand to determine whether their potential universities will accept video essays, and if they do accept video essays, what rules apply?
According to Lee Coffin, dean of undergraduate admissions at Tufts, the essay portion of the admissions application is still required, but a video is optional. Henry Broaddus, the dean of admissions at the College of William and Mary, is a critic of the idea, arguing that videos put too much emphasis in “style over substance.”
In some ways, this medium can revolutionize the way that students present themselves to their prospective colleges; however, as any film director knows, the student should cater to the audience. If it is a private, prestigious college, the video essay should feature the student in professional attire, and the student should use proper speech and avoid using slang.
Only time will tell whether video essays will become more widely accepted in the admissions process. For now, though, it has its share of critics. Even though it is becoming a more accepted form of self-expression in the admissions process, it should not take the place of a well-written essay.