Multimedia Essays: Not So Different?

By Ryan Hickey + updated on May 26th, 2010

How many YouTube videos have you watched in the last month? The last week? The last 24 hours?

How many of you have created and uploaded a video to YouTube in that same span?

Digital media has become an inescapable element of most individuals’ daily lives, and as we discussed in our last post, it’s unsurprising that schools are beginning to incorporate such media into their applications. Moving forward, it’s likely that even more schools will begin allowing, or even requiring, students to submit essays in video format.

This development brings with it many questions, and as a business committed to helping our clients give themselves the best possible chance of admission, we’re here to provide answers. While video essays may seem vastly different than written essays, those differing formats share a surprising number of similarities… at least in terms of the advice we give to applicants.

A video essay still needs to follow many of the tips we give our clients who are writing more traditional essays. Let’s go through a few of those here. Then in our next post, we’ll look at the differences between these formats and provide tips that apply only to those creating videos.

  1. Keep it personal. In a video essay, applicants can utilize an infinite number of creative elements. Don’t get too hung up on production value, though. You’re better off with a simpler video that says something important about you than a flashy one without substance. Special effects and the like are not as important as your own personal story, so make sure your essay tells the viewer something about you.
  2. Focus on the prompt. As video essays become increasingly popular, it’s likely that the prompts for such videos will become more focused. As they do, make sure you create a video that responds to whatever the instructions are asking for. You’re not making a video solely for entertainment value or to attract views on YouTube; instead, you’re creating something that needs to contribute to your application in a specific way.
  3. Creating a top-notch essay takes time, regardless of format. Just because your computer has a built in webcam doesn’t mean that you can crank out your video essay the night before it’s due. Even though production value isn’t as important as substance, it’s still important. You’ll thus do much better with an essay that’s obviously taken you time and effort to create and polish, as opposed to one that looks like you shot it at 3AM in your bedroom after finishing several energy drinks.
  4. Get a second opinion. With a video essay, ask someone to watch your work before you submit it with your application. Better yet, ask someone to watch it before you’re even done editing. Since you’ll probably need a friend’s help during filming, why not ask that person to watch some early cuts of your video? Feedback from a third party will ensure that you’re not the only one who thinks your video is good.
  5. Don’t make it too long. You’re not after an Oscar, you’re just trying to catch the eye of an admissions representative. So far, 1 minute seems to be a standard length for videos of this type. Whatever your length limit ultimately is, don’t exceed it. Nobody wants to watch you juggling, dancing, or just talking about yourself for ten minutes. Make sure your video has a point, and stay focused on your overall message.

As you can see, if you’re prepared to write an essay, you can take much of that preparation and apply it to a video essay. That’s because despite the differing formats, both should contribute to your application in similar ways.

Of course, there are some notable differences as well – we’ll discuss those next time. Until then, feel free to join the discussion with comments and questions – we’d love to hear from you!

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Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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