Application Phase

The Ultimate Guide to Video Essays in 2021

How to Make Great Video Essays

If you have the option to submit a video essay, go for it.

No matter which school in which country you’re applying to, submitting a video essay is a great idea. A video essay is the best way for you to present yourself to the Admission Committees before an interview can happen.

You do not want to miss out on this advantage:

Whether you’re excellent with words or someone who struggles to express their emotions in writing, a video essay goes well beyond your mastery with words.

If you are not exactly gifted when it comes to writing down your thoughts, a video essay plays to your advantage. It gives you a chance to display all the qualities and communication skills that can’t be seen through a written essay.

Even if you are great at finding the best words to say what you need to, a video essay is an added advantage. It allows the AdComs to make their own inferences about your overall personality, including what they written essays don’t show.

In this post, we will talk about:

  1. Types of Video Essays
  2. Schools Accepting Video Essays for MBA Applications
  3. Video Essay Guidelines


Types of Video Essays

There are two basic types of video essays. One involves recording it yourself, editing as per your preferences and sending it along with or after your written application. The other involves rehearsing your answers and using the University website to record and send them.

Let’s get into a little more detail.


1. Impromptu or Auto-Recorded Essay
This is the most common type of video essay. Almost every major B-school uses this format of video essay through independent third-party platforms. You cannot edit these essays.


There are two ways in which this works.

One is that you receive a link from the University admissions team after you submit your written application; the link leads to a platform where you receive questions and are expected to record your response immediately.

The other alternative is that your video essays are included within your application process. In this case, your application is not considered complete unless you record and upload your video responses. You can record your videos on the University application website itself.

Typically, you have 20-30 seconds to prepare before you need to start answering. The answer length is one minute.

You have to make sure you start and stop speaking within the given recording time because you don’t get to control when the recording starts or stops.

The question may be played in video format, appear on your screen or be played in audio format, but in any case, it remains visible throughout your video recording process.

In most cases, you can’t even re-attempt answers. You have one shot at answering and you have to get it right. Sure, the sound of it is intimidating, but that’s just the thing – the B-schools want to see how you perform under pressure!

A welcome relief is that most of these platforms allow you to practice a couple of times before you have to record your final essay.

Among the schools currently accepting video essays, these are the ones that require impromptu essays:

 Schulich School of Business
– Rotman School of Management
– Vanderbilt University
– Kellogg School of Management
– Ivey Business School
– Yale School of Management

All these schools, apart from Yale School of Management, have video essays as a necessary part of their application process. The typical prep time is 30 seconds and the videos are to be no longer than 60 seconds.

Yale does things a bit differently.

After finishing your written application to Yale, you will receive a link from the Admissions team. The link leads to a platform where you are expected to record and submit three video essays. You get 20 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to record the first and third essays, but for the second essay, you’re allowed 30 seconds to prepare and 90 seconds to answer.


2. Self-Recorded Essay
Some schools give you the option to record and send in your own essay. It gives you significantly more freedom than the former type and is definitely much less stressful to complete. 


However, this is not a popular option.

Its important to understand that schools are not interested in your video production skills, they’re interested in what you have to say and how you present yourself. There is no point in editing your video to include pictures and other fancy effects.

It may not be a bad idea to put in a couple of captions when you want to stress on a point you make in your video. But do not spend too much time on this as it is not really important.

There are only two popular B-schools that accept this format:

– MIT Sloan School of Management

– McCombs School of Business

The MIT Sloan MBA Applications website clearly states that they do not accept edited videos. You are expected to shoot your video in a single take and answer within 60 seconds. The advantage you have here is that you can do as many retakes as you need.

Things work differently with Texas McCombs, though – the essay itself is optional. What is expected is an introduction of yourself in writing or as a video; if you choose the latter, the time limit is one minute.

As we have said before, video essays present a fantastic opportunity for you to showcase yourself to the AdComs before the interview. If you have the opportunity to do this, do not pass it up!

If you read the blogs of any B-school that accepts video essays, you will find one common factor among them all – every single one of them is accepting videos because they want to get to know you better. It is meant for you to express yourself freely and openly.

Your MBA video essay is not meant to show off your video production skills, but how it looks does have a big impact on what the AdCom panelists think of you.


Video Essay Guidelines

Here are some video essay guidelines to help you make an impression:

1. Maintain High Audio-Visual Quality
The whole point of video essays is to let the AdCom see you and listen to you – so, they should be able to do this clearly and without hindrance.

The best way to put people off your video entirely is to have grainy visuals and noisy audio. The last thing you want is for your MBA application essay to look like a shaky selfie video from your phone or a home video captured with a low-grade camera.


However, the good news is that you don’t need to worry about having fancy equipment or a DSLR camera. The mobile phone in your pocket (or the one you are reading this article on) should be more than enough for the purpose.

Here are a few things to remember:

  • Tip #1
    Try to buy a cheap mobile tripod. This is important because you want a place to keep the mobile and precariously balancing it on top of a stack of books may not be convenient. Having a friend to hold the camera might make you conscious. So it is best to invest in a cheap tripod. You get a lot of options below Rs.1000. 
  • Tip #2
    Ensure that the camera is at face level and the place where you are going to record the video is relatively silent. Also, ensure that you are seen properly in the frame – typically waist-above is perfectly okay. You don’t need to get your whole body in the video. And keep your eyes on the lens. It makes you more confident.

    Remember that we are just trying to make sure your message is getting conveyed properly. The MBA program does not need the next Steven Spielberg! 
  • Tip #3
    To get a good video, make sure that the light source is not behind you. Try an overhead light or one pointed towards you, instead. This is because you want to highlight your face and not look like you have attained nirvana (which is what you will get with the light source behind you – also called the “halo effect”. 
  • Tip #4
    Your video will lose its entire point if you cannot be heard clearly. So, make sure you speak directly into the mic or in the direction of the camera, as the case may be. Also, ensure that the room is not noisy (in India you might underestimate traffic sound).You need to be serious about your application and the video should reflect that very clearly.


2. Be Creative… or Not
An MBA Application video essay is no place to show off your video production skills. Honestly, all the AdComs want is to get to know you better.

You don’t need to focus excessively on providing the best light or the highest quality sound. Don’t waste your time trying to perfect your make-up and hair, you don’t need to be a diva. Your face should be clearly visible, your voice loud and clearly audible, and your appearance should match that of a confident young professional.

The entire point of video essays in MBA applications is to showcase who you are. Your personality matters to AdComs because they want to be sure you will fit into the overall batch. Display your thought process, your strengths and beliefs and just your very personality in your video essay.

If you are a creative person, let it show. If you’re not, don’t try to look otherwise.

Really, there are no rules for how you should communicate what you want to. You just need to make sure you communicate it well.


3. Keep it Crisp!
Wait – we know you don’t need to be told to keep it crisp when you have all of ONE minute to speak. That’s not what we’re saying.

There will always be a whole lot of things you will want to say in response to a question – we all do. The trick is to pick the right and most relevant things to say, especially since you only have 30 seconds to figure out what to say.

Use those 30 seconds to jot down your thoughts.

With all your ideas on paper, you will know how to structure your answer. It becomes easier to organize your thoughts when you can see them. It also helps you stick to the point.

It’s too easy to end up talking about the same thing for too long and end up with no time to mention other important things. If you ramble on or get into too much detail about any specific point, it can belittle everything else you’ve said. That is what we’re asking you to keep crisp – every point you mention should be succinct.

Typically, the prescribed time limit will be one minute. You have to be able to make all your points clearly and convincingly within that much time.


4. Keep it Simple!

You don’t need to use big words to make an impression.

Nobody expects you to speak like Barack Obama, whether your essay is self-recorded or impromptu. After all, even President Obama had an entire team of professional speech writers behind him – we’re not sure even we know what he would sound like by himself!

The point is, AdComs expect you to sound like no one but yourself. If you don’t usually use big, uncommon words, don’t try to throw some in only to sound smarter. It shows when you’re saying words you don’t normally use by the way they roll off your tongue.

It’s better to sound less “smart” and use your usual vocabulary than to use fancy words and sound fake.

The AdComs will be impressed by how well you communicate the ideas you have in your mind. Make sure you’re good on that front and you don’t need to worry about the other aspects of your video essay.


5. Practice Before Recording

An almost obvious but super-important tip is to practice saying your answers out loud before you start recording.

If you can, do a couple of dry-runs; record yourself and watch the video.

This gives you a good idea about how long you’ll need to finish and whether that fits within the required time limit. It’ll also give you a good idea of how you appear and whether you need to change anything. 

If you’re a camera-shy kind of person, these practice sessions will help ease your discomfort, too.


We know that the prospect of appearing on video may be exciting for some of you and daunting for others. It’s bound to be – after all, it is similar to appearing for an interview. In fact, it might be scarier because you don’t get any clues from the viewers’ facial expressions.

Look on the bright side, though!

It’s only one minute long – you can’t really go too wrong in such a short time!

On a parting note, a quick word of advice: don’t leave video essays for the last minute. Research has shown that video essays are turning out to be the biggest factors influencing AdCom’s decisions regarding candidates.

If you’re overwhelmed with your MBA Application work, feel free to reach out to us.