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Thinking outside the essay: Tufts admissions adds new video option to application

Optional video fosters class of 2014 applicants' creativity, talents

Published: Saturday, February 6, 2010

Updated: Saturday, February 6, 2010 21:02

In recent years, the Tufts admissions department has allowed supplemental essays to the Common App in which potential Jumbos write about everything from whether or not they agree with Kermit the Frog's statement "It's not easy being green," to answering the question of "Are we alone?" This year, however, the admissions committee made the application even more unique.

For the prospective Class of 2014, Tufts' Office of Undergraduate Admissions decided to offer applicants the opportunity to direct or produce their own video as part of an optional supplement to two required short essays.

The video is an alternative to choosing one of seven other optional essay topics. While the content of the video is up to the applicant, the admissions committee suggests the applicant create a video -- capped at around one minute -- that says something about the applicant.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Lee Coffin said that the admissions committee added the video option as a means to assess creativity and to offer students a non-verbal opportunity to tell their stories. The committee believed that a popular teen video platform like YouTube would be a good starting point.

"[It] seemed like an interesting way to gather new perspectives on our deep and talented pool of applicants," Coffin said. "And it has been -- applicants have used the video option in all sorts of creative ways and, like the unexpected following they have spawned in YouTube, the admissions officers are enjoying this new part of our supplemental application."

Coffin added that most of the videos the admissions committee has seen helped the students' applications by complementing what the admissions officers learned about them on paper.

"The videos have been funny and poignant and goofy and insightful," Coffin said.

Ripley Swan, a high school senior from Brunswick, Maine, created a video that showcased his talents and various hobbies, including his interest in filmmaking and in inventing his own devices. His YouTube video featured the creation of an underwater glass cube to house a video camera, steady cam inventions and camera-tracking devices.

Swan said that he was drawn to the video option because filmmaking is his main hobby.

"It ... just made sense for me to take this extra opportunity to show Tufts who I am," Swan said. "Given my interest in film, I would be able to put something together that would really demonstrate what I had attempted to describe in words in the other parts of my application."

Swan's efforts paid off. In addition to being a part of his Early Decision acceptance to Tufts, his video is now the most viewed -- with over 3,300 hits to date -- among the YouTube submissions from the applicants for the Class of 2014.

The next most popular video, with over 2,500 hits, shows applicant Sam Zuckert taking creative advantage of another application supplement option -- which asked applicants to "use an 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper to create something" -- to compose an edited music piece by tearing, crinkling and ripping the sheet of paper.

Other popular videos show applicants performing skits, raps and music.

Some current Tufts students, perhaps bored over winter break, admitted to watching a variety of the YouTube application videos. Freshman Matt Connor was especially enthusiastic about them.

"I thought some of them were really funny and added to their application," Connor said. "Some were really clever and unique."

Others students remarked that the video essay would distinguish Tufts from other schools.

"I think it's really cool how it separates Tufts from other colleges," freshman Howie Levine said.

Videos like Swan's and Zuckert's not only display the creativity and talents of some of the thousands of candidates for next year's class, but also serve to strengthen the maker's application. Though Coffin admits that some of the videos "have been awful," he said that submitting a bad video does not significantly hurt an applicant's chances of admission.

Nihal Krishan, a senior at the Singapore American School, submitted a video as part of his application. He used an unusual filming technique of cloning himself onscreen. As a result, it allowed him to interview himself -- side by side -- on video. Though he was denied admission, he is still confident that it helped his application.

"I wanted to show some unique quirky things about me, like reading the newspaper in the bathroom and how I invented a little chant for Tufts ... to showcase their school spirit," Krishan said. "And even though I didn't get in, I think [my video] only could have helped me."

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