by Rebecca Kern

The Flight of Jumbo stars a remote-controlled blue elephant helicopter created and flown by a high school student as an homage to Tufts University's school mascot. Whereas, GMU Song features a student singing an original song along with her ukulele about why she belongs at George Mason University. Then there's Math Dances, starring an energetic high schooler performing interpretive math dances for Tufts. The videos were part of these high school students' applications to the college of their choice, and they have received thousands of views on YouTube. Welcome to what could be the future of college applications.

George Mason, Tufts, and St. Mary's College of Maryland are the first colleges to accept videos as part of their applications for admission. George Mason and St. Mary's accept the videos as a supplement or in lieu of a written essay, while Tufts currently accepts them only as a supplement to the application. Other schools have accepted videos as supplements to applications over the years, but these three schools are among the first to solicit them specifically in their applications. While George Mason and Tufts both officially began accepting videos as part of their undergraduate applications in the fall of 2009, St. Mary's began accepting them in the fall of 2008.Tufts received more than 700 videos from its nearly 15,500 applicants, while George Mason received about 120 videos from its 20,000 applicants and St. Mary's received between 200 and 300 videos from its 2,500 applicants in 2009.

Andrew Flagel, George Mason's dean of admissions, says the reason the school added videos to its application was to provide another outlet for students to add personality to their application. The school also accepted the videos as a way to cut down on the expense and time tied to conducting student interviews, he says.

While many of the videos feature high-quality production and animation, quite a few look very homemade. "From our standpoint, we're not looking for the best film producer or best video equipment," Flagel says. "What we are really looking for is energy, enthusiasm, and leadership; someone who would make the best George Mason student." He says that so far he hasn't seen any of the students' videos work against them in the process, adding that the admissions officers view the applications holistically, with the most weight focused on the student's academic record.

Richard Edgar, the St. Mary's director of admissions, says the school added a video as an essay to see another side of a student. "It's so important for us to understand who they are," he says. "The essay should be able to share about the soul of the teenager."

Hayley Fremuth, a high school senior from Ellicott City, Md., was accepted early admission to St. Mary's for this fall. She created a video to show the college her many talents. "Your résumé is supposed to show what you've done, and the essay is supposed to show who you are," she says. "The visual effect you get from a person in a video is different from their writing style. I wanted to show them who I was when I wasn't on a piece of paper."

The Common Application, which is currently accepted by 389 member schools, has solicited videos on its arts supplement for the past two years, and it will be accepting videos in the athletic supplements next year, says Rob Killion, executive director of the Common Application. "Other than that, we have no plans to encourage or solicit video or other multimedia submissions from common applicants," Killion says. By contrast, the Universal College Application, which currently has 86 member schools, began allowing students to submit optional multimedia through its main application form during the fall of 2008, says Joshua Reiter, the president of ApplicationsOnline, which creates this consortium application.

While colleges are becoming more receptive to videos as part of an application, there are still mixed opinions among high school counselors. Some counselors worry about privacy issues surrounding videos on YouTube and their possible negative effects when students apply for jobs. There are also concerns about a socioeconomic disparity between students who can afford to make videos and those who can't. "If accepting videos becomes commonplace, it will increase the divide between haves and have-nots," says Jim Jump, the director of guidance at St. Christopher's School in Richmond, Va., and the president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. "I also worry about an 'arms race' where students feel like they have to outdo each other, where production values and packaging become more important than substance."

However, others argue that video technology is widely available to young people these days. "The accessibility of tools to do online video are common in phones, cameras, and classrooms," Flagel of George Mason says. "I very much doubt the access to this is more significant than access to essay support and the ability to hire consultants for essays and standardized tests."

To further level the playing field for all students' accessibility to multimedia in college supplements, Steve Metzman founded, a company that provides video cameras to high school students, allowing them to create videos and digital portfolios to send as supplements to colleges. Currently, the company has partnerships with several large public school districts, including inner-city schools in Philadelphia and Chicago, and he says over 250 colleges have viewed the students' online supplements at Students can create videos about their experience growing up in inner-city neighborhoods. For students who don't have the money to travel for college trips, these videos enable the students to introduce themselves to college admissions counselors, Metzman says.

Deborah Carrera, the principal of Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High School in Philadelphia, said she signed the school up with to offer her primarily Latino and African-American students the chance to show colleges their diverse backgrounds. "We want to afford the students this opportunity to present themselves in a creative and 21st-century way," she says. "These videos paint a story of resiliency. They show hopes and aspirations and put a face and a story to the application. "

Jonathan Drullard, a senior at Kensington, created a video with He will be the first in his family to graduate from high school and the first go to college. Drullard will be attending the Community College of Philadelphia this fall. "The program was a great way to show kids how can you be more than just a piece of paper," he says. "It gives kids a voice."

Some high school counselors worry that videos add further pressure to an already stressful application process. John Boshoven, a counselor for continuing education at Community High School in Ann Arbor, Mich., says, "I hope it won't add a whole flavor of show biz to the application process. There's enough competition as is." Likewise, Marjorie Jacobs, director of college counseling at SAR High School in Riverdale, N.Y., says, "These videos are truly adding a degree of stress, pressure, and an unrealistic set of standards for young people."

Despite their critics, applications with videos may become common. Shirley Bloomquist, an educational consultant in suburban Washington, D.C., says she thinks that in five years, the vast majority of colleges will allow videos as an option. "These videos are going to transform admissions," she says. "This is the medium where young people are right now. The videos are an opportunity to provide a window of insight and depth into the person, and can give the written word some vitality."

Education: YouTube the New Essay in College Applications | Rebecca Kern

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