How to Create a Video Essay for Your College Application

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Some colleges may accept a video essay in lieu of the traditional written essay as part of the college application process.

[Featured image] Job candidate smiles at her tablet as she logs on for a video interview with a hiring manager in an open office space.

A video essay serves as a personal introduction on a college application. As a modern trend in the application process, some colleges and universities allow prospective students to submit a video essay, either in the place of the traditional written essay or, sometimes, as a separate element of the application packet.

With a video essay, you can naturally highlight your personality while providing the decision-makers with a glimpse into your world. You have the power to present yourself in your best light—literally—in a more personal medium than the regular written word.

What was once limited to art and design schools is now part of the normal process for schools like theUniversity of Chicago and Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. This modern twist on essays allows students to express themselves in a way that was once reserved for social media.

To impress the college admissions representatives of your chosen school, take the proper measures when planning. When preparing your video, give plenty of forethought to make your best first impression.

Learn more: How to Write a Personal Statement

How to make a video essay

Verify how long the video can run; this should be listed in each of your institutions’ requirements. For example, the University of Chicago allows videos of up to two minutes. Stay within the university’s range to be considered. The challenge is to focus on your presentation and choose your words wisely.

1. Choose a topic.

Next, decide on the topic of the video. Some schools may invite you to discuss a particular topic, and others will want the video essay to serve as a personal introduction in place of an interview.

If the video serves as an interview, include the answers to the following questions: 

  • Why do you wish to attend this specific school?

  • What will you bring to the college campus?

  • What will you do when you arrive?

Overall, you can use the video to show why you’ll be a natural fit at the school.

Read more: What Should I Major In? 5 Things to Evaluate

2. Create an outline and script.

Show off your production skills, but don’t overextend yourself. University representatives will focus on various aspects of your video in addition to its production. Plan your talking points, create a script, and practice by recording yourself multiple times before finally hitting the send button.

A video script is different from a written essay. Make a logically organized list of the topics you want to cover in a way that allows you to speak naturally and comfortably at the camera. Use the outline to guide you as you record in lieu of memorizing a script.

Record yourself with your phone’s camera, and practice the presentation repeatedly until you feel comfortable. Time yourself to stay within the time limit predefined by the college or university you're applying to. Once you feel satisfied with your script, you’ll be ready for the next step.

3. Use imagery and audio files.

Think about the scene you are depicting in the video. Verify your background. If you’re in your bedroom, for example, make sure it’s tidy and clean. Display things that visibly render your interests, such as a trophy from a swim meet or a stack of your favorite nonfiction books.

You can also film your video in a nearby park or landmark to represent your interests and make good use of the natural lighting. Use the setting to reveal a part of your personality and gain the interest of your college admissions representative. 

Along with video of you talking, you may wish to include additional images, video, and audio files that go along with your message. Collect all your content first before initiating the editing process.

4. Upload files into editing software.

Demonstrate your presentation skills by doing more than one take of your video and editing them to create a polished final cut. For this, you can use any of the trusted free editing software, including iMovie and Lightworks, which are typically user-friendly. You can drag and drop any file you upload and add sound and visual effects as you edit your content.

For tutorials on new software, look for relevant courses on Coursera like Mastering Final Cut Pro, where you’ll learn skills to make your video look professional.

Keep your post-production simple since you will principally be ranked on the content of your video rather than the graphics and transitions, that is unless you’re applying to become a videography student.

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5. Share or submit your work.

Follow the submission guidelines described in the university’s application process to ensure you meet all requirements. You may only need to submit a link to your video upload from a commonly used video-sharing website.

If such is the case, upload your completed video essay for free on popular video-sharing platforms like Vimeo or YouTube. Once you’ve uploaded your video to your preferred site, you will have the option to copy a shareable link. Before you send the link, test it on your computer or phone to make sure it leads to your video.

Use the Common App to submit your essay.

Many high school juniors and seniors are familiar with the Common App, which is used by hundreds of colleges and universities to streamline the process of application. For the 2021-2022 school year, there were seven different essay prompts that you could choose from for the traditional written essay.

For some institutions, you may have the option to submit your essay through the Common App. You may also be able to submit a video essay in place of a written essay or as its complement. You’ll need to research and follow the directions of the institution you’re applying to.

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Take note of these best practices of video production to make sure your video is both memorable and favorable.

Videography tips for success 

Apply your top-notch creativity in this nontraditional medium to produce your video essay. Discuss ideas for your video with a guidance counselor, parent, or trusted teacher. Ask them for feedback to make sure the message resonates properly.

Reach for success in these other ways:

  • Have good lighting and sound: Avoid distracting the viewer with shadows, cluttered backgrounds, or loud background noises. Sit near a window to use natural sunlight and prevent a washed-out appearance.

  • Dress for success: Wear a presentable outfit like you would for an in-person interview. Aim for business or business casual attire, tidy hair, and positive body language. This will improve your confidence as well as send the message that you’re serious about this application.

  • Answer questions directly: If the school asks specific questions on their application process or has prompts that need to be included in your video essay, make sure to directly provide the answers to each of them. Avoid getting carried away during the creative process.Write the questions and timestamp of the video where they’re answered.

  • Be yourself: Perhaps one of the most important video tips is to be authentic and relaxed. Review your script and practice repeatedly so you can naturally express yourself without reading it. Give yourself plenty of time to complete the project, and remember to meet the submission deadline.

Express yourself: Interviewing Skills to Benefit Your Career

Next steps

Practice your presentation skills and increase your confidence before working on your video essay with the following courses from top universities, available on Coursera: 

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