Remember how Elle Woods from Legally Blond supposedly got into Harvard? She made a cool video of why she was perfect for law school. Well, it looks like life is imitating Hollywood because prestigious institutions like Tufts and Yale are accepting video submissions that are usually uploaded on youtube for the delight or despair of others depending on the quality of said video. Although Harvard’s dean of admissions, William R. Fitzsimmons, fears that “students from families with substantial financial resources are in a better position to provide such materials,” the reality is that the availability of technology in the form of cellphone cameras to inexpensive video recorders, gives virtually anyone the tools they need to make a video.

Whether you’re performing a rap song, using stop-motion photography, flying the school’s mascot by remote control, or just speaking on camera, you can make a successful video essay if you follow these simple rules.

1. Focus on the story:

Almost everyone agrees that Avatar has amazing graphics, yet have you seen the movie critics complaining about the inane dialogue and the insipid story? Compare Avatar to The Blair Witch Project and Halloween, both movies were made for $50,000 and both generated over $100 million dollars. Why? Because they had great ideas that didn’t demand huge production budgets. So before you begin wasting huge amounts of money shooting a video submission that might not even get you accepted to the college of your choice, think about what you’re trying to communicate and then find a technique to get the job done.

2. Simple works:

Amelia’s “Math Dances” video illustrates that you don’t need fancy sound-recording equipment, lights, and the best camera to succeed. Her video which has been seen by over 90,000 people on youtube features Amelia dancing line graphs, y-axis, and other math concepts. But unlike those big budget movies that seem to go on and on, she gets to the point in one minute. Source:

3. Show, don’t tell:

Eric’s video submission shows what happens when you spend 30 seconds in front of a drum telling people what you want to do in a real monotone voice. By the time you’re family playing the drum, your audience is bored. Remember, you’re not Howard Stern so there’s no need to describe what your audience is seeing.


4. Say it with pictures:

When Sunset Blvd’s Norma Desmond says “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!” She’s referring to the long gone era of silent films which forced actors to get creative with movement, facial expressions and so forth. Well, your video essay can say a lot with frozen or moving pictures and music without you having to utter a single word. Take a look at this video essay for Chapman/Dodge, the student shows his whole life without any words whatsoever. Source:

5. Say it with subtitles:

Americans don’t usually like reading subtitles, but if you write compelling lines with or without related images, you can get your point across in an original way as more than 23,000 people saw in the video “In my shoes.” Source:

6. Use a celebrity:

Student Christian Holmes took real life footage of Bravo’s Inside The Actor Studio and mixed it with video of himself answering the questions of the host. Can you imagine being interviewed by Larry King? Obama? Sarah Palin? With this technique you can “hire” your favorite celebrity for absolutely nothing.


7. YouTube Idol: Ru Paul may want you to “lip-synch for your life,” well; plenty of students are lip-synching their favorite iPod tunes for a college education. So whether you sing, lip-synch, play an instrument, dedicate a song to a tree or use inanimate objects as instruments… You’ll find that music is the universal language of the video essay.


8. Behind the Student: Like VH1’s “Behind the Music,” sometimes it’s other people that can best speak for you. So consider making a documentary about your life with the most relevant people speaking o your behalf. Keep it interesting and it just might be your ticket to college and youtube fame.

9. Show your culture:

How many people do you know that live in Aramco Residential Camp in Saudi Arabia? Samantha grew up there and made a simple video of her talking in front of the camera with the amazing Saudi Arabian desert behind her.


10- Be Yourself!

In the end, do not loose focus on the real goal – finding a college program with the right “fit” for you. So after all, thrive at portraying yourself accurately, marketing your true essence, remembering that it is you that will have to spend the next four years of your life in the school you decide to attend. Follow the rules and create the video yourself – do not have someone produce it for you.

In the end, schools aren’t looking for James Cameron quality or even youtube hits, but they’ll be impressed if you make an effort and deliver your very best.

Further Reading:

Film Might Be the New Essay In College Admissions

Best and Worst Video Essays

A fresh pitch on ‘U’ tube


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