In summer 2007, as an incoming high-school senior, I looked back on the scene in Billy Madison when a naive third grader asked Adam Sandler what high school was like. Sandler responded by grabbing the boy’s face and whispering, “Don’t you say that. Don’t you ever say that. Stay here. Stay here as long as you can … You have to cherish it.”
For me, Sandler isn’t talking about missing recess or snack time, but was describing the high-pressure atmosphere of my junior and senior years in high school that I never could’ve imagined as a third grader. As a result of the college-application process, I witnessed my friends at numerous schools become increasingly competitive and unwilling to share resources. Parents began micro-managing their children, friends became acquaintances and all that mattered was packaging the perfect storyline for a college essay.
Having the option of submitting a one-minute YouTube video that “says something about you” — as Tufts University admissions asked students this year for the first time — could exacerbate this pressure. It seems to increase stress on students and add to the superficiality of the college process.
In addition to the traditional collection of Tufts’ quirky optional essay topics — such as “Kermit the Frog famously lamented ‘It’s not easy being green.’ Do you agree?” — this year Tufts has included the option of submitting a one-minute visual autobiography. The New York Times reported that approximately 1,000 of the school’s 15,000 applicants submitted videos, some of which have received thousands of hits on YouTube.
Penn Dean of Admissions Eric Furda sees Tufts’ video-essay option as more of an “organic approach” that he believes would be useful for applicants who did not have the option to interview to demonstrate their personality.
However, he is not sold on the idea. “I have some reserve about it,” Furda said of the video-essay approach. According to Furda, this caution stems from his concern that video might not be the best medium of expression for every student.
But it’s not just that some applicants don’t come across as well on camera as others — after all, the video is one of a number of choices for Tufts’ optional essay. It could also potentially lead to more opportunities for disingenuous portrayals of students.
After watching about 40 of the videos, I noticed a vast discrepancy in quality and content. Some of the videos are dry and don’t exhibit eye-popping originality. There are videos flaunting a student’s musical, athletic and comedic talent — even a video in which an applicant plays an ode to Tufts on his guitar while standing in his shower fully-clothed. But, then you have submissions that look as if a professional had tailored the applicant’s video to highlight his or her innovation and dynamism. And this is where the video-essay approach becomes problematic.
“Certainly, inviting applicants to show off not only their strongest side but also their hidden corners is a great idea … in theory,” Sally Rubenstone, a senior advisor at College Confidential, wrote in an e-mail. “But I’m fearful that once the word is out that colleges are encouraging such additions to application files, we will inevitably lose the unself-consciousness of these submissions. Some parents will start plotting their progeny’s ‘show and tell’ ploys from pre-school.”
We have all encountered the parents who micro-managed their children since they were toddlers. The children who were driven to the gym to shoot free throws for countless hours each day or those who were practicing classical music on the piano every night since they were in fourth or fifth grade. College admissions officials realize that this process unfortunately occurs. However, the video-essay option not only places more emphasis on setting yourself apart, but also may introduce unnecessary pressure from parents and professionals to the process — pressure that is not needed.
Michael Roberts is a College sophomore from New York. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Roberts Rules appears on alternate Tuesdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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