“Oh William and Mary, please let me into your school”

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April 16, 2010

2:08 AM

Transcript? Check. Recommendations? Check. Essay? Check. Video? Maybe.

Videos are becoming an increasingly popular part of college applications at the College of William and Mary and at many other schools across the nation. Including a supplementary video allows a potential student to show — not just tell — admissions officers about themselves.

“We do receive some, and we do watch them,” Dean of Admissions Henry Broaddus said. “Of course, this year we also received pillow cases, wooden shoes and surfboards. Those aren’t primary components of the application either.”

Because videos are an unsolicited aspect of applications, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions does not keep track of how many videos are submitted as supplements. Furthermore, according to Broaddus, video supplements are relatively insignificant when officials are weighing an application. Some are simple slideshows set to classic songs, displaying pictures of the applicants with friends and family and enumerating extracurricular activities — a multimedia version of their applications.

“Anything we do not ask for specifically, including video, plays a very limited role,” he said. “Although additional materials may direct our attention to a substantive theme of the file, more often than not they’re frivolous.”

Submitting a video does not, of course, exempt applicants from writing an essay. But those who submit video supplements see videos as a chance to give admissions officers a more intimate understanding of who they are.

“I felt that what I wrote was as much as I could say in writing about myself,” Allie Rizzo ’14 said. “So, I thought that I might as well show myself in the video.”

Rizzo, from Connecticut, applied early decision last fall. Although she plans to study biology, her video shows her playing the guitar and singing altered classics like “Oh, Susanna.”

“Oh, William and Mary/ Please let me in your school/ ’Cause I really want to go there/ And I promise I ain’t no fool,” she sings in the video, strumming her guitar in her backyard.

“It’s my passion, I guess, to play the guitar and sing — not that I’m that good at it, but I just thought that was a part of it they should see,” Rizzo said in an interview. “I thought the video showed my sense of humor pretty well. I was actually worried it might be too goofy, but then I thought, ‘The school has a good sense of humor.’ So, I thought they would like that.”

Rebecca Long, a transfer applicant from Radford University, submitted a video showing her making an intricate William and Mary-themed cake in fast motion. She rapidly ices and fondants to “I Want You to Want Me” by Letters to Cleo while sharing written facts about herself: for example, she enjoys museums, puzzles and, of course, baking.

“The Tribe tastes good to me,” her final sign says.

The baking was meant to show a side other than her academic persona, Long said. Her essay and application focused on her geology major and general education, but she said she was able to show the admissions office more in her video.

“I thought it would be really cool if I did a William and Mary cake,” Long said. “And I made the video because I didn’t have anything else to write about for the optional supplement.”

Long doesn’t yet know if she has been accepted to the College; transfer letters were sent out yesterday. Unlike Long’s cake baking, some video supplements have even gone viral — kind of.

Andy Hickman ’13 submitted a video of himself doing parkour, a sport in which participants move quickly through an area by climbing and jumping over obstacles. After a brief introduction, Hickman’s video segues into him tearing through wooded areas and urban centers, dodging lampposts and jumping across staircases.

“I realized, you know, this would give me something that would set myself apart from other people, because I feel like everyone who applies to William and Mary already has really good grades. And it kind of shows something different that’s unique to my level,” Hickman said. “Plus, it’s unique for the people looking through applicants who probably get bored, so I just thought it would help me.”

Hickman has been doing parkour for three years. He started in high school when his older brother became involved.

“It’s creative. There’s a lot of freedom in it compared to other sports,” he said. “I used to play basketball and soccer and baseball and all that. Parkour is very free. You’re able to do whatever you want; basically, there’s not really a set of rules. And it’s just a lot of fun.”

That creativity is what Hickman said he wanted to get across to admissions officers.

“I guess it shows a more creative side of me outside of academics and outside the classroom of mathematics and all that stuff,” Hickman said.

Most supplementary videos have no more than a few dozen views. Hickman’s parkour video, however, was picked up by the Huffington Post earlier this month and has now scored more than 4,500 views.

Hickman said he didn’t think many people would ever see his video and was surprised when the views began ticking up rapidly. Neither Rizzo, Long nor Hickman ever heard from a College official about their videos.

The parkour video, however, apparently made its way to campus, outside of the admissions office. Hickman said he was chatting with Drew Stelljes Ph.D. ’07, the College’s director of community involvement, when the video randomly came up in conversation.

“I was talking to him once, and I think he mentioned that some other faculty were talking about some jumping guy,” Hickman said. “Then he made the connection it was me.”

In Hickman’s case, his video demonstrated an activity that he wants to promote at the College. Hickman said he plans to start a parkour club on campus next fall.

Although videos seem to be more and more popular with applicants, Broaddus said he is concerned about the shift videos represent in the college admissions process.

Videos hosted on publicly accessible websites such as YouTube represent a transformation which “fundamentally changes the pact an admissions officer has with an applicant,” Broaddus said.

Part of a college application that is available to anyone, anywhere can encourage positive feedback — or, more damagingly, negative comments.

“This opens the door for lobbying and embarrassment, which contribute nothing useful to admissions decisions and have the potential to do harm,” Broaddus said.

The vast majority of supplement videos on YouTube are without any comments. Rizzo’s video has one lone comment asking if she was accepted, and Long’s video has a single comment praising the video and cake. Hickman’s parkour video has 13 positive comments stretching back to a year ago. A single negative comment was posted earlier this week, after the Huffington Post linked to Hickman’s video.

However, some videos are subject to negative comments. One video, from a student now at another university, portrays the applicant as the future secretary of state, debriefing reporters on a Middle East peace agreement. Near the end of the video, a fictional reporter asks what gave him insight into the situation. He specifies travels to Europe and the Middle East, an interest in politics and history, involvement in Model United Nations and mock trial — a veritable laundry list of his extracurricular activities.

“Ultimately,” he concludes, “I think I have to say my wonderful, world-class education at the College of William and Mary.”

Comments for that video are blocked on YouTube, but a thread on a collegeconfidential.com forum links to the video and has invited a few compliments alongside some serious criticism. One commenter stated that he thought the video made him come off as a privileged kid, while another commenter said the video killed his chances.

Broaddus stressed that he does not encourage the submission of videos — even though the College was the first university in the nation to post a YouTube video as an application essay prompt. He said the video’s purpose is to encourage more fluid essays that give officers a better understanding of the student.

Unfortunately, Broaddus said, the ability to submit video along with an application could put additional pressure on those applying to the College.

“Asking students for presentations of self in video has the potential to create a new sense of anxiety and obligation beyond what this process already imposes on them,” he said. “Even when we say something is optional, many students will decode that to mean ‘required if I want the best chance of being admitted.’”

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