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Richson: Goodbye application essays, hello videos?

BY BRIANNE RICHSON | OCTOBER 09, 2014 5:00 AM

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If any of the colleges you applied to as a high school senior used the Common Application, chances are you remember agonizing over what topic you were going to write about for your personal essay. You struggled to strike a balance between standing out and seeming desperate for attention; a creative topic might strike you admission gold, but you didn’t want to appear too “woe is me, accept me because these are all the things that I have overcome in my young life.”

I remember wanting my essay to be quirky … I nearly wrote about my love of grocery shopping, hoping to turn it into a metaphor about the different crossroads we must come to in life and how everything can change with a turn toward the produce section. Don’t get me wrong, grocery shopping is something I do bizarrely enjoy, but was I being me or being what I thought would get me attention?

Any admission process, be it for college or a competitive internship or graduate school, can make you feel flat … it reduces you to a fraction within a pile of papers. Goucher College, a liberal-arts school in Maryland, is hoping to inspire change in the application process by replacing traditional elements of a college application with the submission of a short personal video clip.

Is this a smart move to keep up with today’s migration from paper communication to audio and video? It is no secret that many parents are willing to shell out money to get their kids tutoring for application essays and standardized tests, a fact that makes the traditional essay-style application controversial; how can colleges be sure it is the student on the page, with no other contributing parties?

Having a video element in a college application could just as easily turn into a competition for glitz and professionalism. Some kids might find it harder to be themselves in front of a camera than others … and it would be left to the discretion of admissions committees to look past stylistic and physical elements to get at the core of who the student is and why they would flourish within a particular college environment.

Goucher still asks that students submit writing samples for consideration, although they are not tailored specifically to a college application as an essay would be. These samples may be enough to offset any inherent biases toward applicants because of physical appearance (Elle Woods’ Harvard Law application video essay … need I say more?), but perhaps adding a technological element was meant to do just that: make applicants people, not pieces of paper.

Many employers have caught on to the technology trend by making Skype interviews an option, so it’s only a matter of time before colleges and universities begin to catch on, too. As much as technology has the ability to make communication anonymous, it also has the ability to make sure we are heard more so than ever before … and who better to capitalize on this than high-school students.


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