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Lights! Camera! College! Video Essay Could Be Gateway to Admission


Elsa Vande Vegte's video submission is a favorite of the GMU admissions staff.

Elsa Vande Vegte's video submission is a favorite of the GMU admissions staff.

Video adds a personal touch to an often impersonal process

Along with test scores, high school transcripts and carefully written essays, some college applicants are now making their case for admission on video. For the first time, a few U.S. universities are allowing students to submit video essays as part of the application process.

Elsa Vande Vegte lives in Minnesota but she really wanted to convince the admissions staff at George Mason University in Virginia that she was a perfect fit for the school. So she picked up her ukulele and - with the camera rolling - explained that she felt it was easier to express herself through music.

Then she launched into her original George Mason song, which included lyrics like, "Dear George Mason, I really love your school, if I were accepted I would follow all the rules," and "I know I'm making the right choice, it's where I'm supposed to be." George Mason University in Virginia is one of a few US colleges that allows prospective students to include a homemade video with their application.

George Mason University in Virginia is one of a few US colleges that allows prospective students to include a homemade video with their application.

Vande Vegte says she found the experience of creating a video essay fun, but also challenging. She had to learn how to use a video camera and compose the lyrics.

Multi-media approach

This is the first year George Mason University has allowed college applicants to submit a video essay instead of a written one. Andrew Flagel is the school's Dean of Admissions. He says approximately 80 students danced, rapped and sang their hearts out as they showcased their talent in video essays.

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The most important part of the application is still a student's academic record, but Flagel says a video helps personalize the application. "It gives them an opportunity to tell their own stories. And I think they really feel the need to do that in what increasingly seems an impersonal process."

Paola Ogadzhanova is applying to George Mason from Kentucky. She moved to the United States about 15 years ago from Khazakstan. She says a written essay would only have allowed her to tell admissions officers about her Russian heritage. The multimedia format let her show them her bilingual skills while also highlighting her community activities with photographs. Paola Ogadzhanova delivered part of her video essay in Russian, with English subtitles.

Paola Ogadzhanova delivered part of her video essay in Russian, with English subtitles.

She says the video perfectly captured her outgoing personality. "It automatically adds a deeper element than would writing it on a piece of paper. For me it was exciting, like an open door, so I knew that if I made a video my chances automatically rose on being accepted."

New opportunity for the YouTube generation

Ogadzhanova thinks because her generation is so comfortable with new technology, more universities will begin offering this option.

Tufts University in Massachusetts has. It encouraged this year's hopefuls to share a one-minute video that says something about themselves. About 1,000 of the school's 15,000 applicants did.

George Mason Admissions Dean Flagel says what really surprised him was how many students were willing to post their application videos online and publicly declare the school they wanted to attend.

"That comfort level with a different threshold of privacy is probably one of the things that will be the hardest for admissions officers of my generation to adapt to," he says.

Elsa Vande Vegte, for one, says she's not concerned at all about looking back on her composition years from now. "This video is almost like an electronic tattoo. If I do see this video in 20 years, it'll remind me of who I was."

Like the other applicants, Vande Vegte still has to wait until April 1st to find out whether she's been accepted to GMU. But it's probably a good sign that her song tops the admissions staff's list of favorites on their website.

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