The video essay has gained prominence in the admission landscape over the past couple of years. While the idea of staring into a webcam and responding to an MBA admission committee’s questions might make applicants uneasy – there is no denying that the video essay is here to stay.

Admission officers at schools that use video to help assess applicants, do so for two reasons: efficiency and authenticity. INSEAD at #1 in the FT global MBA rankings is the highest ranked business school to add a compulsory video component to its MBA admission process for the September 2017 intake for the class that would graduate in July of 2018.

It is the first prestige business school outside North America to introduce a video test in admissions. The University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management was the first school to pioneer the use of video in MBA application in 2012. Yale’s School of Management, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and several other schools have followed the move.

Most schools state that this move towards the video essay has stemmed from the evaluation of their admission process. For schools that have introduced the video essay – admissions committees are increasingly getting the feeling that application essays are not generating enough differentiation. A video essay is a good way to understand the personality and passions of the applicants and create a more candid profile of the candidate when coupled with the rest of the application.

Summing up his school’s decision to include a video essay in their application, Yale SOM’s Director of Admissions Bruce DelMonico commented that admission officials were trying “to distinguish between polish and professionalism”. The two might seem synonymous at first, but DelMonico makes an important point – in a world full of qualified candidates, admission officials prize those who are confident enough to be genuine.

He and a growing number of others see video as a way to supplement the traditional written essay and encourage authenticity.

The brief, spontaneous nature of the video essays force applicants to forgo polish in favour of quick thinking and concise, forthright answers. It also mimics aspects of the business environment, allowing officials to gauge how a candidate will fare in today’s fast-paced, global, digitally-driven job market.

What is asked in a video essay?

Each school has a different take on the video essay, and there are some important differences. In Yale’s video essay, you must answer three questions. After each question appears onscreen, you will have 10-20 seconds to think about your answer, and then, depending on the question, 60 to 90 seconds to record your answer.

Exact questions will vary, but will typically include one behavioural question focusing on a past experience, one thought question responding to a statement, and one data interpretation question. Bruce Delmonico Yale SOM’s Director of Admissions has indicated at a slight change in the video essay format for the 2017 intake. To quote him  “We are trying to build out more competency-based evaluations as opposed to just a general undifferentiated analysis of whether a person did a nice job or not. We hope to do a much more structured approach this year. If nothing else, the videos have been very valuable to evaluate English language ability.”

Rotman School of Management gives applicants 45 seconds to think about their responses and then 90 seconds to respond to each of the two questions that they ask.

The school has a database of 100 questions and each applicant is randomly assigned a question from two interview data banks. The first asks you to answer a question that reflects on your values while the second is more about a reflection of an event or experience that you have had.

The overall objective of Rotman’s video essay is to give applicants a chance to share their personal stories, and a little bit of who they are, on tape.

Kellogg gives applicants 20 seconds to collect your thoughts after seeing the question, and 60 seconds to record their answer. Applicants are able to complete the practice questions as many times as they would like, but the real video essay cannot be re-recorded – so candidates get only one shot.

Examples include, “What is one thing that you’ve always wanted to try?”, “What is one piece of technology that you can’t live without?”, “What is the most interesting course you took as a student?”, and “What inspires you?”.

The second Kellogg video essay question asks applicants more directly about their hopes for getting an MBA. The question asks, “What path are you interested in pursuing, how will you get there, and why is this program right for you?”It’s important to note that while Kellogg is rare in giving applicants a look at the exact video essay question they’ll be asking, they still do not want you to have a memorized response! You should be prepared for the question and have an idea of what you want to talk about, but the school is still looking for a spontaneous, authentic response.

While INSEAD has not specifically stated what it will ask in the compulsory video essay –  the INSEAD adcom has released a statement about the video essay stating – ““We are keen on getting to know you better and believe that through a video you can come to life, so be spontaneous, be creative and be yourself! We look forward to virtually meeting you!” For INSEAD, on submitting their application, applicants will receive a link to a video interview. This video component is required to start the evaluation of a candidate’s application. Candidates will have until a week after the application deadline they are applying for to complete the video interview.

How to prepare for a video essay

As with a written essay, you should dedicate significant time to developing answers to potential questions and thinking carefully about the details that you want to share. What aspects of your story – your personal brand – do you want to convey? What points in your application need more development? Remember that you only have a short amount of time – you want to focus on developing answers that are concise and impactful. Finally, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Admissions committees have begun using video essays because they want to get to know you; they do not want generic answers. Be professional, but let your personality and your unique story shine through. To get used to giving concise answers, make a list of practice questions and time yourself as you answer them, according to the essay guidelines outlined by each school.

The video essay provides you with a direct line to the people who will determine your fate in the admissions cycle. With proper preparation, you will be ready to seize the moment.


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