Video Applications Encourage Students to Tell Their Stories

Posted: March 2, 2010 at 11:05 am, Last Updated: March 2, 2010 at 11:09 am

By Catherine Ferraro

Thinking about applying to college? Get your guitar or dancing shoes ready. At George Mason University, it’s show time.

Mason is one of the first universities in the nation to encourage potential students to submit videos about themselves — in addition to or in lieu of an essay — as part of the application process.

With the explosion of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the way information is shared has changed. For Mason admission officials, it only made sense to extend this growing phenomenon to the application process.

“We began thinking about video essays several years ago because the massive growth in applications to Mason increased the importance of giving students a way to personalize their applications,” says Andrew Flagel, dean of Admissions.

“Since interviews can be an expensive and time-consuming process, using technology to incorporate videos offers a novel approach as competition for admission increases rapidly. The video essays allow students to convey their energy, enthusiasm and creativity directly to the admissions committee.”

In developing their videos, students have no constraints other than to adhere to YouTube guidelines. So far, the Office of Admissions has received more than 75 videos accompanying applications. In one, a student sings original songs while playing a ukulele; in another, a student creates a scrapbook; and in yet another, a student retells the classic “Cat in the Hat” story. Videos have been submitted from students with a wide variety of interests, including theater, global affairs and business.

Since last year, students have been submitting videos for acceptance into Mason Ambassadors, an Admissions Office program in which Mason students share their pride in the institution by hosting prospective students, participating in admissions events and elite university functions and guiding campus tours.

Impressed by the strength of the candidates and the originality of the videos, Flagel and other admissions officials decided to offer the video application option to high school seniors vying for a spot in the incoming class of 2010.

Most of the videos focus on similar themes, such as a student’s involvement in the community, travel experiences and entrepreneurial spirit.

The videos are evaluated by the same admissions team that reads the applications. Academics are still central in all admissions decisions. Flagel also notes that the production value of the videos is not considered. Instead, the admissions counselors are interested in what motivates and excites a student about attending Mason.

According to Flagel, the videos haven’t radically changed any admissions decisions, but they have helped convey why certain students would be an asset to the university.

A unique aspect of the video application process is that they are posted, with the student’s permission, on the Mason Metro web site and can be viewed and commented upon by anyone. In fact, the admissions team has called attention to some of the best videos to let potential students know the option is available.

“The advantage of having the videos available for potential and current Mason students is that they are able to see the diversity and talent that exists at the university,” says Flagel. “I hope we will eventually receive thousands of videos from students who have great things to say about Mason.”

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu