College Application Videos: Content, Not Cinematography, Is What Counts

By Sharon Hodge

Man holding clapperboardLesson Plan Guide

Are you ready for your close-up? Many colleges and universities have made video submissions an optional part of the admissions process, and at some a video may be submitted for a written essay. Going a huge step beyond this, Goucher College, a small liberal arts college in Maryland, has made submitting a video and two pieces of high school work the crux of their Gouch Video Application admissions process—without requiring an application, test scores or high school transcripts.

What are schools looking for in a video submission? Application videos “are evaluated like any submission: creativity, thoughtfulness, voice,” Lee Coffin, dean of undergraduate admissions at Tufts told the New York Times. “Like an excellent written essay, the best videos showcase a student’s voice.”  Keeping that in mind as you make your video is key.

Those who choose to make a video submission might find it the least stressful piece of a process that generally includes completing an institutional or Common Application as well as submitting test scores, high school transcripts, essays and recommendations. The camera-shy, however, might find it more daunting than the personal essay.

Below are several tips to help get you started and to feel prepared and confident in making a winning application video.


Do some research: For the colleges you are interested in, look at specific recommendations and prompts for video submission and see if they have posted previous applicants’ videos that you can review. One great application video resource is, which has compiled many examples and even has a “College Video 101” section that includes lots of great advice, both philosophical and technical. For those who want to spend a bit more time and some money, the site offers a book, How to Make a Winning College Application Video Essay: Everything You Need to Know from Idea to Upload.

Be yourself and you will be original: Figure out what makes you unique and incorporate that into your video. In your research you should have found several memorable videos, now find your own hook or angle. That means telling or showing something about yourself besides the numbers; try to incorporate qualities, passions, talents. Speak from the heart and let your own inclinations guide you in determining what form the video will take, whether that is a stationary chat in front of the camera, donning a costume, visiting the places, people or issues that are important to you, or displaying a skill or talent.

Write a script and speak clearly: Don’t just wing it! Prepare a script and practice it. This will give you a chance to weed out the extraneous “um” “uh” and “like” and help you feel more comfortable with your delivery. Practicing will help you determine your pacing, so you are not speaking too fast or too slowly. During rehearsal you probably will think of  things you would like to include that can be incorporated without the awkwardness of a last-minute ad-lib.

Show your face: While the whole video doesn’t have to be centered on you, make sure there is enough time on face shots that will allow the viewer to see your expressions, smile and eyes. This is closer to a face-to-face interaction than writing, so make sure it feels like one. Smile, and try to be relaxed.

Focus on content: Beyond providing a well-lit video with clear sound that offers a good view of you and what you are all about, don’t sweat the small stuff. Put your time and energy into what you do and say on camera, not the filming of it. You are not being judged on your cinematography or production values, so don’t agonize over the technical.

Keep in short: Unless the college has other length guidelines, keep your video to a minute or two. You don’t want the viewer to stop midway through a six-minute video.

Edit: Critique your video and have family or friends you trust to do the same. Make changes or do more takes as necessary. You wouldn’t submit the first draft of an essay, so take the same care with this video. YouTube has editing capabilities that should be adequate.

About the Author

Sharon Hodge