Video Essays As Part of MBA Applications
Some business schools – such as MIT Sloan, Kellogg, INSEAD, and Yale – include video essays as a component of their MBA applications. Broadly speaking, there are two types of video essays:
1) Real-time answers to impromptu questions
2) Pre-recorded answers to published questions
Admissions committees (“adcoms”) utilize video essays for two primary reasons. First, they want to discover subtle strengths in an MBA candidate that are not evident in the written essays, resume, and/or letters of recommendation. Second, adcoms want to mitigate the risk of accepting an applicant whose verbal communication skills are not strong enough for classroom and workplace success.
The expanding use of video essays by business schools is also driven by changes in the conventional, time-honored components of the MBA application process. Over the past few decades, many business schools have reduced the number and length of written essays, introduced common recommendation questions, and decreased the percentage of applicants they invite to interview. So, with less “data” collected on applicants through traditional means, video essays have become a relatively efficient adjunct for examining and evaluating candidates.
Social Media and MBA Admissions
A natural extension to video essays is social media. As most MBA applicants have an established presence on social media platforms, business schools use this “window” into a candidate’s background as well. It’s been reported that approximately one-third of admissions officers claim to visit applicants’ social media profiles during the decision-making process. Furthermore – and this should be no surprise – admissions interviewers, current students, and alumni often do a quick Internet search on the applicants they meet. Finally, during the formal, post-admit verification process implemented by third-party firms like Kroll and ReVera, background checkers use online profiles when researching inconsistencies or possible fabrications they spot in an admitted student’s previously-submitted application.
The social-media platform most commonly viewed by business schools is LinkedIn, which is considered to be the most objective and professional place for MBA applicants to present themselves. All things considered, it makes very good sense for any serious candidate to make sure his, her or their current LinkedIn profile is accurate and compelling. At the same time, applicants should eliminate any questionable content from online platforms. At The MBA Exchange, we help applicants accomplish this by providing an audit of their social media presence from the vantage point of a dispassionate observer ‘on the hunt’ for anything troubling, untoward, questionable, etc.
Business School and The Gen Z Factor
It took several years for business schools to go beyond having a basic website by utilizing the power of social media (e.g., blogs, webinars, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) to promote their MBA programs to Millennials. Furthermore, not all schools have a video component as part of their admissions process. Given this reality, it’s been a slow process for admissions officers to embrace cutting-edge technologies to better connect with Gen Z. No doubt, it is happening, but not quickly or broadly.
Gen Z’ers often place a high value on visual content, are intrigued by virtual reality, and are motivated by trendy social influencers. Most significantly, there’s nothing more important to this market than the “coolness” of what they engage with online. “MBA admissions” and “coolness” are terms that don’t usually appear together – at least not yet. Keep this in mind when interacting with your dream business schools. Just because a particular program is slow to the newest and hippest social media platforms doesn’t necessarily mean the school shouldn’t still be your dream school. This is another topic for another time, but we always highly recommend doing campus visits whenever possible, ideally when classes are in session.
Practical Tips on Producing MBA Video Essays
Getting back to video essays, some schools ask for a pre-recorded video to be submitted, usually a minute in length. This is a major opportunity for the applicant. When considering message content, the following are just some of the many questions to consider:
- Content: Is the substance meaningful and relevant? Or have you just rearranged or recycled content from your essays?
- Structure & Flow: Do your thoughts seem ordered? Or rambling and chaotic?
- Authenticity: Is the content confident, engaging, and earnest? Or do you seem like someone trying to impress the viewer?
How the applicant comes across is much more important than video quality. However, when actually recording the video, the following are criteria to consider regarding production quality:
- Background – choose one that doesn’t attract more attention than you.
- Lighting – as much natural daylight as possible is a great rule of thumb (and no harsh shadows).
- Audio quality – test this! What you hear (through headphones) is not always what the other person hears when they play it on a laptop or desktop.
- Speak professionally and sincerely – injecting personality is fine, but the viewer should never question whether you are professional and sincere.
- Practice, but don’t seem over-rehearsed and scripted – effortless storytelling conveys confidence while scripted speeches can have the opposite effect.
- Are there any techniques and/or elements that add to the video and story, highlighting your creativity? – Less is more here; sometimes the inclusion of a subtle ‘outside-the-box’ element can elevate, while over-indulgence on the creative can seem desperate.
Prepare, But Don’t Over Prepare
Engaging with new people and speaking in public are challenges for many individuals who consider applying to business school. When these people sit down in front of a webcam, communicating with an unseen MBA admissions officer, the discomfort can become more intense, sometimes even debilitating. That said, there are proven tactics for MBA applicants to reduce anxiety and enhance video performance.
First, such individuals should ponder the topics they will be addressing on camera. Some schools pose impromptu questions while others give applicants complete control over the subject matter. In either case, some advance thinking about the focus, substance, and structure of the response will make the video session seem far less intimidating.
Second, having a partner (friend, mentor, colleague, etc) present to provide actionable feedback on videos can be invaluable. However, just because someone is a trusted friend, relative, or colleague doesn’t make them the best choice for feedback. In fact, relying on someone who lacks the objectivity, candor, knowledge, and skills to help you improve can boost confidence in the wrong areas, or puncture confidence in the right ones.
When video essays were first introduced by some pioneering schools in 2012-2013, The MBA Exchange introduced a new service – professional, video essay coaching – to assess and elevate applicants’ on-camera performance. The admissions success of our past clients confirms the efficacy of this resource. If you know you need help, admit it, and go get it.
Finally, as mentioned previously, there’s no substitute for practice. Simulating the upcoming video session in advance, weeks before the actual event, gives MBA applicants a clear sense of exactly how they will appear to the school. Participating in recorded “dress rehearsals” allows the candidate to observe and refine the most significant aspects of his or her on-camera performance. So, by the time the real video essay session takes place, the individual has the competence and confidence to exceed expectations. And again, beware of over practicing. If not careful, the applicant can come across as overly rehearsed and stilted which can betray the very self-assuredness the video essay opportunity is meant to tease out in the first place.
Admissions committees are not only looking for bright, promising applicants but also engaged, articulate, passionate professionals who can think on their feet. Video essays are a golden opportunity for an applicant to showcase that and help tip the scales to be selected for an interview.
Alex Min is one of the very few Principal Consultants of this consulting firm, providing admissions and career services for applicants, students and graduates of the world’s leading graduate schools including Harvard, Stanford, UPenn, Columbia, MIT, Northwestern, UChicago, Dartmouth, UC Berkeley, NYU, UCLA, INSEAD, London Business School, Instituto de Empresa (IE), Oxford, Indian School of Business, and over 60 additional institutions around the world. He is an MBA graduate of the MIT Sloan School of Management.
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