YouTube Tufts Admissions Videos Raise Questions

Students enjoy adding videos to college applications, but others are concerned.

February 23, 2010, 6:51 PM

Feb. 24, 2010— -- When it comes to applying to college, 18-year-old Christian Holmes has become a pro. The Darien, Conn., high school senior has written multiple essays, submitted letters of recommendation, and sent a transcript to each of the 10 different schools to which he applied.

But one school asked for something different: a video.

Tufts University, outside Boston, is one of the first higher-learning institutions to provide an option on its official admissions application for students to submit a video essay if they choose to. And some students say these videos have made the admissions process much more enjoyable.

Lee Coffin, dean of admissions at Tufts, says applicants are asked to submit a one-minute video that "says something" about themselves.

"They're still writing three other essays as part of our application. We're not abandoning writing. This is something extra," he said.

Out of the 15,400 applications Tufts received this year, about 1,000 of them included a video. Some sent a DVD while others, like Holmes, uploaded their video to YouTube and included the link on their application.

Coffin said they evaluate each video on its content, not its production value.

Nevertheless, some applicants have produced brow-raising videos in order to help tell their stories.

They are as creative as they are diverse: from stop-action photography to building and flying a remote-controlled elephant (the Tufts mascot). One applicant performed a card trick. Another performed a rap song.

With no prior video editing experience, Holmes spent four hours on his mother's webcam-equipped laptop splicing clips of James Lipton, the host of Bravo's "Inside the Actor's Studio," interviewing a guest. He then replaced the guest's answers with video clips of his own.

Now the Tufts admissions committee knows his favorite and least favorite words, what profession he'd like to pursue, and what he hopes God says to him when he reaches the pearly gates of heaven.

YouTube Supplements College Admission Materials

"I tried to convey my personality the best I could," he said. "It's hard to do that in a minute-long video. I think it's even harder to do that in a 250-word essay."

It is yet another example of how social media is working itself into the college admissions process.

Yale University's admissions office recently produced a 17-minute video for prospective students. The admissions staff at William & Mary College in Williamsburg, Va., won an award for a video they produced to inspire students as they fill out their applications.

Henry Broaddus, dean of admissions at The College of William & Mary, helped produce the video that greets students before they write their essays, introducing them to the probably-not-who-you-thought-we-were admissions review board.

But Broaddus said William & Mary does not require nor specifically encourage applicants to send in their own videos.

"This isn't 'American Idol,'" Broaddus said. "This is still an evidence-based review in which we have a very specific record that we have sought: the transcript, the essays, the recommendations. There's a way that this all fits together."

Coffin says that at Tufts: "All of those things are still here. But who says those are the only things a college can consider?

"This is an individual," he continued. "It's not just an SAT score. There's a kid here who is expressing interest in this university and I find it refreshing. It seems to be refreshing to applicants, too."

Holmes said it was nice to see a college application asking for something different.

"I think it's a great idea," he said. "It's definitely original."

But Broaddus thinks the students they see in the application videos may not be acting like their true selves.

"Video, I think, has a dangerous tendency to encourage the kind of packaging that a lot of us really lament, where students really see this as a competition, as a way to try to pitch themselves as a product instead [of] as curious students," he said.

Lina Juozelskis, 17, of Middleton, Mass., is one of those curious students. She hopes to get into the engineering college at Tufts.

Another Option for Self-Expression

Juozelskis spent three days writing a song about her love for calculus. Then she turned on her video camera, picked up her guitar, and sang her heart out to the audience that is the Tufts admissions committee.

"This gave me a chance to express a side of myself that Tufts wouldn't have seen otherwise," Juozelskis said.

Tufts admissions officials aren't the only ones watching.

Holmes' and Juozelskis' videos have each been viewed more than 1,000 times since they were uploaded to YouTube at the end of 2009. Some viewers have even rated them and left comments, a striking shift from the traditionally private arrangement of the college application process.

But having part of a college application open to public scrutiny doesn't seem to bother the generation that grew up with YouTube.

"After I posted my video, I looked at others. I saw some good ones. I saw some bad ones," Juozelskis said. "I got to see my competition."

Even students who are already enrolled at Tufts are taking a look at their possible future classmates.

"On campus, our undergraduates have started watching them and commenting and there's a rooting section," Coffin said before quickly adding, "We're not paying attention to any of that because it's not part of our admissions process.

"The medium may be different than what you used to apply for college or I certainly used to apply to college, but it doesn't mean that new media isn't legitimate."

Holmes, along with most of the other applicants, will find out if they got in to Tufts on April 1. Until then, his mock conversation with James Lipton is on YouTube for all to see.

"I think at some point you have to say, 'This is me and the Internet can view it and I don't care what anybody else thinks.'"Except, perhaps, the Tufts admissions committee. contributor Miles Doran is a member of the University of Florida ABC News on Campus bureau.

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