More Than Just Words On A Page

By Ryan Hickey + updated on June 2nd, 2010

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been taking a closer look at the use of multimedia formats, specifically video, for college admissions essays. Last week’s post showed how despite the differing formats, video essays aren’t hugely different from traditional written essays, at least in terms of the advice we give applicants preparing to create such essays.

This week, we’re going to look at the other side of that coin and examine some of the ways in which video essays differ from their written counterparts. If you end up seeing a video essay option on your application, be sure to keep the following points in mind as you prepare to start shooting.

  1. An outline/plan is absolutely essential. Even though we encourage all applicants to create an outline before they dive into their essays, there are some writers who are able to sit down, open a blank word processing document, and create a great essay without any sort of outline. In addition, some writers work best by simply creating a free-form outline that helps them develop ideas but does not offer much guidance in terms of format or structure. For applicants shooting a video, though, simply turning on the camera and going for it is practically guaranteed to cause problems. For one thing, you have many more factors to consider (Do you need to borrow a camera? Where are you going to shoot? What time will you shoot? Do you need props?) than those who are simply creating words on a page. So if you’re going to make a video essay in the upcoming admissions season, don’t even think about skimping on the preparation.
  2. Make sure you have the necessary equipment. Whereas written essays require nothing more than a computer and a basic word-processing program (or pen and paper if you prefer… and your application allows it), a video essay requires quite a bit more technology. You’ll almost certainly need a camera, sufficiently high-powered computer, and video editing software, along with any props or set pieces that you decide to use.
  3. Don’t forget about the visual part of the video. Admissions essays, regardless of format, are designed to give admissions officers a deeper, more intimate glimpse into your life. Video essays, however, require you to offer a glimpse in a much more literal way. Don’t assume that simply because you’re submitting a video, the admissions officer will be impressed. If your video consists of nothing more than you sitting in front of the camera talking, the viewer will wonder what the point is. You need to take advantage of the visual aspect of this format and ensure that your video is fun/interesting to watch.
  4. Don’t forget about the audio either. If your video has any sort of sound, whether talking, singing, or something else, pay close attention to the audio aspect of your clip. In particular, avoid talking too fast or trying to cram in too much dialogue. Once you’re done filming, make sure that your finished video is easy to understand and not too soft or so loud that it’s distorted.
  5. Editing a video is much harder than editing a document. This connects closely to the first point above, since a detailed plan will help you minimize the amount of editing and polishing required to get your video into finished form. Remember that while you can easily cut, paste, delete, and reword portions of a written essay with a minimum of effort, making similar changes to a video can be substantially more time consuming. A scene can lose its cohesiveness and quickly become choppy or confusing if you try to change a bunch of things around after you’re done filming.
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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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