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How to Create a Video Supplement for Private School and College Admissions

We have had an increasing number of students asking, “Should I submit a video introduction as part of my application?” The short video introduction (usually one to two minutes) as a supplement is definitely gaining in popularity in private school and college applications. This is in part due to the greater digital fluency of the new generation of students, and in part due to schools exploring additional ways to gain insight about the students, rounding out the holistic admissions process.

A video supplement enables a student to show who they truly are, their personality, creativity, passions, as well as communication skills in a way that traditional written essays and academic records cannot. As private school and college admission is getting more fiercely competitive each year, a video supplement is another opportunity to help a student stand out from the crowd. We have seen from our first-hand coaching experience that with training and hard work, even students who are extremely introverted, digital averse, or completely lacking tech skills can create outstanding videos for application.

Video Prompts

It goes without saying that you should pay close attention to the school-specific prompts and guidelines and thoroughly address the prompt(s). If the prompt has more than one part, make sure you address them all. Some schools list the prompt on their website so you can prepare the script in advance, for example, Brown University, Washington University at St. Louis, and University of Chicago. The prompt is usually very generic, such as “Tell us something that is important to you.”

For other schools, the prompt is given on the spot and you need to answer the question spontaneously, for example, Bowdoin College, and the World Bachelor’s in Business (WBB) at the University of Southern California. Although the prompt won’t be known until the video interview, preparation should and can be done in advance. Sample questions can usually be found on the school website; past interview questions can also be found on popular online admissions forums. Additionally, commonly asked interview questions should also be prepared, such as the biggest challenge you have overcome, how you plan to contribute to the university, and how your friends would describe you.

Topics or Themes

No matter what the prompt is, you will be talking about your experiences and achievements. But the video should not be a hodgepodge of things thrown together; it should be focused. You likely have many achievements, talents, and traits, but choose a theme/topic that you can cover with clarity and depth. You may weave several subtopics or experiences together, but there should be one overarching theme–a clear and strong message you want the admissions to know. The chosen topic/theme should be compelling and representative of a defining trait, talent, or moment of your life. The chosen topic should also be positive and forward looking. If you include some obstacles or challenges, make sure you end with a positive tone of growth and resilience.

Outline and Script

Writing up a script or at least some bullet points will help you guide your speech. The video supplement is high stakes, so you should use a script or an outline to ensure effective communication of your intended message. You need to include specific details that illustrate the chosen topic/theme and your desire to attend a particular school. With private school and college admissions giving much emphasis on grades and achievements, you may be tempted to play the numbers game by including a lot of details on awards and accomplishments. However, this is not your goal. Your goal is to create a video story that shows the admissions committee how your unique attributes will contribute to the student body. You have other parts in the application (e.g., activity section, awards or honors section on the application form) to engage with the numbers game. Lastly, what you say in the video should communicate your true self rather than putting on some fake personality. For example, if you are not a funny person, do not pretend to be funny.

Delivery Do’s and Don’ts

  • Shoot from close up and show your face clearly. This helps admissions officers put a name to a face as well as make your video more memorable.

  • Look your best and be the cleaned-up version of yourself. Wear a top that is clean and appropriate. A blazer or a tie is not necessary unless that is what you normally wear.

  • Practice your response but do not read your script. Allow your words to flow naturally, as though answering the prompt in person. It is fine to memorize the script, which some students feel the need to do, but remember to speak in a natural way that does not come off as bland or stale.

  • Practice your presence in front of a camera and watch out for unnatural blinking (excessive, lacking, or anything strange) and inappropriate body gestures. Avoid presenting a robotic or forced image.

  • Stick to the time limit. Going over what the admissions guidelines recommend (usually two to three minutes) indicates a lack of attention to details. It may also just immediately disqualify your video from being considered.

  • Use backgrounds and locations that speak to your personality and be relevant to your chosen topic or theme. Do not display questionable posters or wall décor in the background.

  • Record and edit the video. But avoid too much editing or creative effects, which could make the video look fake or unnatural. Your answer to the prompt is the most important.

  • Proofread the video before submitting and make sure there are no technical difficulties or errors.


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