Pixelation in the application process

It seems the age of Elle Woods is upon us: Whereas students once writhed and struggled to write 500- to 1,000-word essays summarizing their life goals, they now have the option of creating video essay submissions.

Instead of trying to complete the sentence “I belong at this university because,” students can now consider choreographing dances, arranging dramatic speeches or studying amusing skits when applying to college. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video should be worth exponentially more, right?

While most universities have yet to accept video applications, a few schools, such as Tufts University and Pomona College, are experimenting with the idea. This trend comes at a time when acceptance rates and education budgets are dropping as applicant pools continue to increase.

As competition grows, indicators like grade point average and SAT scores are becoming less reliable at determining one’s chances for acceptance, which now depends more on how much a prospective applicant can grab an admissions officer’s attention.

On one hand, this trend seems horrifying as the college application process begins resembling American Idol. In addition to getting good grades and test scores, the idea that students must train themselves in such personality marketability seems counterintuitive to academia.

Such applicants are often parading themselves like wannabe actors and decorating their personalities with song, dance or quirky declarations affirming their uniqueness, trying to convey a spectacle that would probably never see the light of day in an actual college classroom setting.

If the use of video application processes continues to increase among universities, advice for how to write a college essay may begin sounding like advice for how to become a YouTube star.

In an ABC News interview, Tufts’ Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Lee Coffin said, “We’re not looking for Oscar-winning short films. What we’re really hoping to get out of the videos is another part of the puzzle that makes up this 17-year-old person.”

It sounds ideal that applicants are given more mediums to express themselves, but it raises the question as to whether home video and YouTube culture is conducive to academic goals.

This trend does coincide with the growing importance of one’s familiarity with new media in academics and the job market. Academia already occupies its own sectors of YouTube culture via www.youtube.com/education while job descriptions are adding more onto their list of requirements, stacking on Microsoft Office with Adobe or Aperture and Final Cut, or the ever-vague “social media.”

While YouTube culture has its trivial moments, it has already been integrated and configured into the classroom and workplace, making sense that the college application process follow suit.

Admissions officers have stressed the fact that video essays are neither required nor a replacement for the written essay. It isn’t quite clear yet as to what effect utilizing video applications will have on universities across the world, but the dual-usage capabilities of YouTube for both academic, business and entertainment uses is a crucial factor.

Being able to write a formal essay and use new media like short YouTube videos seem to be key to making it in this economy.

It will be imperative that one skill is not neglected for the other, or else the result could be a whole bunch of YouTube stars that can’t pass their freshman writing class or worse, force the writing standards to be lowered.

Victor Luo is a junior majoring in English.

2 replies
  1. Pomona College Admissions
    Pomona College Admissions says:

    I’d like to offer a gentle correction. Pomona College is not “experimenting with this idea” and does not solicit video from students as part of the application. Tufts has a specific set of instructions for the pieces and for submission. Pomona does not and still considers and essay an exercise in writing.

    The only video submissions considered at Pomona are for arts supplements by film makers, actors, dancers and in some sports, athletes whose performances will be evaluated by faculty or coaches and will be considered supplements, not replacements for any other part of the application.

    — Pomona College Admissions

  2. English Major
    English Major says:

    Are they kidding? This is such BS. Writing is already hitting the toilet these days and now prospective students applying to academic institutions get an alternative option?

    Knowing how to write well is a skill that is extremely undervalued in America. When one considers the growing importance of international commerce in business and other fields, it’s very important to be able to write cohesively.

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