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Admissions Tip: Video Essays

It’s no secret that the use of video in the MBA application is becoming increasingly popular among top business schools. Schools that now use these so-called video essays include Northwestern / KelloggINSEAD and Yale SOM. Typically you will be provided with a question, then a short amount of time to think about the question (30 seconds for example) and then a limited amount of time to provide your recorded answer, typically 60-90 seconds. In the tips that follow, we’ll explain the origins of video essays and provide a series of practical and strategic pointers to ensure that you ace this aspect of the admissions process.

Why B-Schools Use Video Essays

So why are some schools adopting this new means of assessing a candidacy – beyond the fact that it is new technology that was not available in earlier years?

1. Authenticity

Video essays have to be submitted without the direct support of admissions consultants and others who can provide feedback for candidates. In that sense, the content response can be perceived as more authentic than an essay;  schools know with a degree is certainty that this is the response of the candidate.

2. English Language & Communications Skills

Because a candidate cannot get editing support for these responses, it is also a great test of the language skills of a candidate. It is also a good test of broader communication skills, testing your ability to think in the moment, gathering your thoughts and responding. Certainly the video responses provide a different level of assessment of communication than what can be learned in the essays, which may have been edited by others.

3. Spontaneity

In most cases, a candidate will not have the questions ahead of the time that the responses are required, which is typically after the application is submitted. This forces the candidate to be spontaneous.  Of course, the questions are not supposed to be overly tricky, and you can get a sense of the types of questions asked by searching the web; some schools even have practice questions on their website. Clear Admit’s Yale Interview Guide includes some of the questions that have been used by Yale in previous years. Yale asks for three video responses, drawn randomly from a bank of questions.

Video Essay Tips

1. Practice makes perfect!

Because you don’t know your questions ahead of answering a video essay, this does not mean you should not practice. On the contrary, it is very important to practice answering questions in this format. You can get a sense of timing so you can understand how long 90 seconds is, when you are answering one question. It can also be strange at first, when you are providing your answers without getting any visual cues from your audience, as you would in a traditional interview. Those cues can help you direct your response in a traditional interview, in a video response you are on your own. So practice, and then practice some more.

2. Review your work

If you use Skype, or similar technology, practice creating video messages, and review. You should also consider your eye contact, look at the camera, not at the screen, which is more natural for you. Also make sure that your camera is at eye-level, you don’t want to be looking up, or down, at the camera. Looking at the camera, and making sure the camera is at eye-level will best simulate an in person experience for the person(s) reviewing the videos.

3. Video essays should support the application messaging

As with any other part of your application, keep on message. Your video responses will be reviewed in the broader context of the remainder of your application, your experiences, goals and so forth. It is important that your video responses support your goals, while highlighting your personality.

4. Don’t let setting, wardrobe, or technology distract

Dress well, at least for the part of you that will be visible. Make sure that the room in which you record your videos has a clean background, and the lighting of the room helps highlight you. You want the person who is viewing your videos to be able to see you clearly, and not be distracted by the background. Also make sure that there are no other audio distractions during your video responses, and that your technology is tested, and works!

Final Thoughts

Responses to video essays might not need to be perfect, but they will add a significant dimension to your application that cannot be gleaned from other aspects of the written application. For this reason, these responses are very important, and practice, even around questions that might not be used, will help you overcome any unfamiliarity with this new format.

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