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How To Nail Your MBA Application Video Essay

How To Nail You MBA Video Essay

Technology has become integrated in nearly every aspect of our lives so it’s no surprise that it’s made its way into the MBA application process in the form of video essays, both candid and rehearsed. Over the last five years, a number of top MBA programs have added a video component to their applications in an effort to get to know applicants better beyond what can be found in the written submissions. While the intent behind video essays seems straightforward enough, applicants often find themselves a bit intimidated by the whole thing and aren’t quite sure how to best approach the live format.

As admissions consultants, we’ve also undergone a learning curve in terms of how we can best help our clients nail their video essays and interviews. Here’s what we’ve learned over the years!

Candid timed and recorded video essays completed after written application is submitted (e.g. Kellogg, Yale)

This type of video essay is certainly challenging in terms of its unpredictability and one chance to get it right. Unlike interviews with a human on the other side – whether in-person, Skype, or even on the phone – you don’t have any feedback coming through verbal and visual cues, and thus, it’s difficult (but not impossible!) to gauge how you are coming across to the adcom. The timed environment poses an additional challenge as there isn’t an ability to extend an interview answer or go back and explain something that may have come out the wrong way. So, what can you do to help maximize your performance in this candid format? Preparation is key.

1.Be Yourself:  The best advice I have to nail any type of essay, interview or video essays is to be yourself.  Programs have incorporated this component as a way to get to know you, your personality, and your fit with the school, so above all, be yourself.  Reflect on your own experiences and answer questions honestly, instead of thinking, “What do they want to hear?”

2.Prepare, Practice, Repeat: The second best advice I have to give you is to prepare and practice. And when you don’t think you can prepare and practice anymore, do it one more time. I coach my clients to write out their ideal responses, practice out loud (look in a mirror and/or record yourself to get some feedback) and make sure that your responses fit within the given timeframe. In the past, programs such as Kellogg gave applicants 3 questions with 20 seconds to prepare and 1 minute for a response.

Generally, the questions fall into these 3 categories: 1) Get to know you, 2) Why MBA/career goals, 3) Behavioral question (Tell me about a time when….).  You should brainstorm and research questions that fall into these categories to make sure you have a bank of responses that can be easily modified for the video essay. Here are some questions that would be a great start to practice:

  • Why are you applying for an MBA now? (Variation: Why are you applying to our program?)
  • Tell us about a time when you prevented a problem from happening.
  • Tell us about a time you’ve faced a significant obstacle and you overcame it.
  • It has been said that an individual can’t make a significant impact on global issues by themselves. Do you agree or disagree?
  • What is one thing you’ve always wanted to try?
  • What is the most interesting course you took as a student?
  • If you could meet anyone (living or dead), who would it be and why?

3. Do a Test Run: Make sure you do a test run prior to the actual interview by recording yourself in a neat environment with good lighting and no clutter. Test for a reliable internet connection and dress nicely (e.g. business casual). I know it feels uncomfortable to watch yourself on video, but the benefits are invaluable. Examine your test run to make sure you’re clearly visible and audible. Check that your expressions are coming across the right way. Finally, examine the content – did you articulate your MBA story, personality and experiences in a clear, compelling and succinct manner? There is always room for improvement so ask a trusted friend for help if you need another opinion.

Rehearsed video essays as part of the application (e.g. MIT, McCombs, Cornell)

For video essays that are pre-recorded and submitted with the application, the timed environment and factor of unknown are no longer the main challenges as there are unlimited chances to get it right. However, this is where the pursuit of perfection becomes the enemy. Given that most applicants don’t have backgrounds in filmmaking or cinematography, video essays can become a huge time drain.

Quick anecdote! I coached a client who had applied to NYU on her own the prior year and spent 14 hours on a beautiful video that introduced herself. Unfortunately, she didn’t get in. When she and I started working together, we went over many ways that her video could have been simplified tech-wise and instead could have focused more on her personality and MBA story. I share this experience because I have seen so many applicants get immersed in countless hours playing with iMovie effects, taking away from the primary focus of the essay which is to get to know you and your MBA story. So, how do you nail pre-recorded video essays as part of an application?

1.Be Yourself: Similar to the advice above, the best advice I have to nail any type of essay, interview or video essays is to be yourself.  

2.Evaluate the Video Essay Prompt: Consider how the essay topic fits into your overall application strategy and story in order to determine the appropriate response. For example, last year’s Sloan cover letter asked applicants to share past experiences that highlighted their leadership, intellectual abilities, ideas, etc. For the second question, they asked applicants to introduce themselves to their classmates through a brief video. Since the cover letter generally focused on professional experiences, this video essay was a great way for applicants to show their unique personal traits, quirks, and characteristics to complement the cover letter.

3.Create a Simple Structure: To continue with the previous Sloan example, if you are submitting a 1-minute video essay that is asking you to introduce yourself to your peers, I recommend creating a simple structure of Introduction, Body and Conclusion as you incorporate a theme of who you are. One minute actually flies by, so it’s best to think about the 1-3 traits and characteristics that you really want to convey while sticking to a simple structure.

4.Balance Perfection with Reality: As I mentioned above, it can be easy to get lost in the tech aspect of these videos. I recommend avoiding that trap by keeping it simple, conducting a test run to check for visual/audio quality, and remembering that content is more important than cool video effects.


Eileen Chao, Kellogg 2008, has been coaching MBA admissions clients for nearly a decade. She brings expertise in the admissions process, particularly around creating a strong story to propel significant career shifts.