Personal video websites such as YouTube are finding their way into college admissions offices as another way for prospective students to stand out from the large quantity of applicants, but for now, St. Thomas is sticking with writing samples.
Traditionally, college applications consist of basic information, such as address and phone number, and educational information, including high school transcripts and standardized test scores.
The only section that allows for some personality is the writing sample, which often consists of cliché writing topics like, “Discuss a meaningful contribution you have made through involvement in school, church or community activities,” as the St. Thomas application suggests.
St. Thomas Vice President of Enrollment Marla Friederichs said St. Thomas has not considered adding the personal videos to the application process. In the past, Friederichs has seen students send portfolios or DVDs of some of their work, which get looked at but are not something the department asks for.
“We are not in any way asking for that part of the application,” Friederichs said. “The reality is that the writing sample helps us get to know the student better, which the video would also do, but it helps us look at writing skills.”
Colleges and universities around the country have utilized YouTube for several years as a recruiting tool. St. Thomas has its own YouTube page where it posts videos that offer potential students a look into what the community is like. But only a few accept videos with applications.
With the addition of personal YouTube videos to college applications, students can create infomercials about their lives, all while demonstrating their personalities through spoken words and actions.
Tufts University in Medford, Mass., George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and St. Mary’s College of Maryland are three of the first to accept videos as part of their applications.
Videos range from creative scenes where students might perform a short skit or play a musical instrument. Others are essentially verbal essays of students making their case for why they should be accepted into the college they are applying for.
Rhiana Cohen’s Tufts University video supplement has more than 30,000 views on YouTube, the most of any Tufts video. In the video, Cohen plays off the idea that “you never really know someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes.” In the video, Cohen uses pictures of various shoes she wore during key events, whether it be her black dress shoes when she stood next to Hilary Clinton or her white sneakers she bought in the United Kingdom. The video ends with a slide that says, “What shoes will define my time at Tufts?”
George Mason and St. Mary’s College accept videos as a supplement or an alternative to the written segment of their application, while Tufts only accepts them in addition to the traditional written application. Personal videos are optional for all of these schools, but they do directly solicit them on the application.
In 2009, about 4.5 percent of Tuft’s 15,500 applicants submitted a video, whereas at George Mason only a fraction of a percent submitted videos. For St. Mary’s College, 2009 was their second year accepting video supplements, and it saw just over 10 percent of its 2,500 applicants submit video.
One way students can submit these videos is to post them on YouTube and include a link in their application, but this makes the videos public, which is a concern among many high school counselors that worry about the privacy issues surrounding YouTube. Counselors also think that the application process can be stressful enough as it is without having to submit a video.
Senior Rory Tucker remembers having to write numerous essays for the various colleges he applied for.
“I don’t think I would have had the time to make videos of myself for each college I applied for,” Tucker said. “The essays were hard enough to write.”
In addition to time, socioeconomic concerns also surround these videos because some students may not have the resources to put together video applications and, thus, would not get the same amount of attention as those who do.
As a solution to the socioeconomic issue, Steve Metzman founded CollegeSupplement.com, which provides cameras to high school students, allowing them to create videos as supplements to college applications.
Friederichs does not see that this will be a requirement for St. Thomas anytime soon as it has been considered.
“We certainly use the information that is presented to us to figure out who will be a good fit, but at this point in time we are not going to require something like that,” Friederichs said.
Brian Matthews can be reached at email@example.com.