You sit down at your desk, a cup of coffee in hand and ready to write. You’re all set to author the great American MBA essay, the 500 to 1,200 words that will get you into your dream school, take your career to the next level and begin your long road to fame and fortune through business. Except, you look at the prompt and suddenly realize, your dream school doesn’t want an essay. Or at least, it doesn’t ONLY want an essay: You’ve been asked to create a video essay. Your whole game plan is out the window. What’s a video essay? What’s a multimedia essay? What’s the difference? Don’t panic: We’ll answer these questions and show you how to structure a video essay.
Multimedia submissions are a key part of several schools’ application process, most notably and famously, MIT. They serve as an opportunity for schools to evaluate candidates directly in terms of personal presentation, speaking skills and body language, all of which can make them nerve-wracking for applicants. Why? Well, there are few reasons. First, there are far fewer opportunities to hide your weaknesses on video than there are on a page. Essays can be edited, re-written and poured over countless times. A friend, colleague or professional admissions consultant can easily swoop down from the rafters to fix a stray typo or suggest a rework of a wonky sentence. On video, however, there are few easy fixes. Unless you’re a master video editor seeking an MBA as a career change, if you mispronounce a word or stumble in your diction, or look and sound a bit too swift and awkward, there’s no saving it. You have to go back to square one and record the whole thing from the start, or at least from the start of the sentence, which you’ll then need to seamlessly cut and paste into the rest of your video.
For more introverted students, this can be a nightmare – after all, maybe one of the reasons you’re pursuing an MBA in the first place is to gain the leadership and confidence that would come in handy for this very video! Things get even more hairy for English as a second language applicants, who must also contend with a variety of extra factors from a slight accent to a generally lower level of spoken English. These are all things that can be carefully thought through in a written essay, but not so on video.
The improvisational nature videos is part of the reason are more and more schools are including them in their application requirements. Business schools are trying to find the best candidates, and they hope videos will elicit more genuine responses from applicants. Notably, the Kellogg MBA Admissions committee have stated that “the video essay provides students with an added opportunity to demonstrate what they’ll bring [Kellogg] in an interactive way.” INSEAD, meanwhile, says their video provides opportunities for students to “share their passions, motivations and personalities.” Once again, the focus is on an authentic view of the applicant as a person, and seeing how applicants communicate their ideas verbally.
To add another layer of complexity to the process, there are three main types of video essays. The first two are recorded via each school’s platform, as continuous takes, with no editing. First, we have the “prepared” video where applicants are given the question ahead of time. Usually, you’re asked to either present yourself (to the adcom or your peers) or present your career plan and long and short-term goals. This is the easier of the two, as you’ll have plenty of time to write out your ideas, and practice ahead of time, before recording and submitting your final product to the school. In that sense, it’s not all that different from a written essay, beyond being a test of your spoken English skills.
The second type is more spontaneous. You’ll be asked a random question and provided a timeframe to think up and then give an answer. The best way to prepare for this is to arm yourself with a number of personal stories relevant to a wide range of topics, and then adapt them to the question you’re being asked. In this case, there’s virtually no time to write down and edit an answer, you’ll have to be confident in your speaking skills and able to answer on the fly. This is very much like in class discussions, which is why they’re asking this of you.
Finally, the third type of video essay offers the most time for preparation: You can be asked to record and edit a video ahead of your submission, on your software of choice. MIT Sloan is the most well-known school asking for submissions of this type. You’ll often have to adapt to specific parameters (one take, no editing) but these can vary by school and by year. The good news here, is that you’ll have plenty of time to think of your answer and submit the best version possible, and we’re here to show you how to structure a video essay.
It’s also worth noting that for some schools, such as McCombs, video essays are offered but not mandatory. However, if you have the opportunity to do so, submit one. This is a chance to showcase your personality and enthusiasm for the program. You’ll be competing against applicants that will use this opportunity, so you must do the same.
So with that out of the way, what is YOUR dream school asking of you, video wise? Let’s take a look at the top four schools with a serious video essay component to their applications.
MIT Sloan asks that you submit a video statement, recorded on your software of choice and uploaded at your convenience. You’re asked to ‘Introduce yourself to your future classmates’ in a single take, in 60 seconds or less. The admissions committee recommends covering your personal experience AND why you chose to pursue your MBA at MIT.
INSEAD meanwhile, won’t give you a topic ahead of time. Once you’ve submitted your (already massive) written essay package, you’ll receive an e-mail from the adcom with a unique link to complete your video essay. There will be four questions drawn from a larger pool. Some will ask why you’re interested in INSEAD, others about leadership, teamwork, diversity and more. Once you receive the questions, you’ll have 45 seconds to prepare and 1 minute to record an answer. That’s pressure! The good news is, you can practice on the INSEAD online platform ahead of recording your answers. The practice sessions feature multiple questions and there’s no limit to how much you can practice – so take advantage of that opportunity!
Yale SOM will also send you access to video questions upon the submission of your application. You’ll be given three behaviour-based questions, with 30 seconds to think of an answer and 90 seconds to respond. Much like INSEAD, there is a practice tool so you can get familiar with the process.
Finally, Kellogg was the first major business school to popularize the video essay. Once you submit your essays, you can access the video portal through your application page. You will be asked three questions with (only!) 20 seconds to come up with answers and one minute to respond. The twist is that you’ll be provided two questions upfront for brainstorming but one will be randomly selected when it comes time to respond. They want to keep you on your toes, while giving you some time to think.
As you can see, there’s quite a lot of variety between each school’s demands, much like their requirements for written essays. Creating a video essay for maximum impact will take time and, depending on your confidence on camera, probably quite a few takes (if allowed). The best video essays have a lot in common with well-written prose essays, however. Here are some tips:
- First, while you have to think on the fly for many of these questions, you can mitigate this through careful preparation for questions you’re likely to face. With a proper framework for your response, you’ll be in good shape when it comes time to deliver a “spontaneous” answer. Start by identifying relevant life stories you can leverage, stuff that could very well answer many potential questions. For example, many video essays ask about your career goals, something that also features prominently in written essay prompts and that you should be able to easily give a concise answer about after an application or two. Alternately, for schools that ask behavioral questions, come up with an “answer bank” with responses to potential questions. For example, you might get asked “why [B-school X] is a good fit for you” or “why you’re interested in [B-school X].” These are slightly different questions, but you can prepare for both the same answer.
- Additionally, you’ll want to prepare short, punchy answers. Pretty much all of the schools give you 60-90 seconds, usually 60, to answer. You’ll want to prep for situational questions by outlining the situation, describing your choice of actions and why, and the result. For example, it’s common for schools to ask about a failure you might have experienced, and how you overcame it. You really don’t want to run out of time before getting to the “how I turned it around” part.
- Next, be aware of how you answer the questions: you’ll want to use standard business English, avoiding both slang and overly flowery/formal language. Talk normally, like you would to a colleague at work.
- Next, make sure you’re in the right space, physically and mentally, to answer and record your questions. Make sure you’re in a well lit room with no background noise and your phone/electronic notifications turned off. If possible, use a quality microphone and webcam – your laptop might do the trick, but if not, make sure you have external options hooked up. Finally, try to record in front of a neutral colored wall to keep the focus on YOU.
- Practice, practice, practice. For questions you’re given in advance, that may seem obvious, but even for “on the spot” video essays, you’ll want to prepare to give punchy answers for potential questions. You’ll want to cut down on filler words (hmm… like… umm….) while not appearing too stiff, rigid and pre-rehearsed. Practice on video. Practice in front of a friend. Practice on your school’s video portal if that option is available. Crucially, if English is your second language, practice any tricky words and enunciate clearly. The best video essays involve a ton of practice.
- Finally, dress for success. Your video essay is much like an interview, so be clean, groomed and well dressed.
Video essays aren’t easy and they can be nerve wracking, but follow the tips above on how to make a video essay, and you’ll be getting interviews in no time.