Do admissions deans fear “the internets”?

The admissions process is, for the most part, very impersonal. Colleges and universities are making a decision based on your records and essays and have very little opportunity to get to know you personally. For some of us, that is really a good thing, as I doubt my personality would have been an asset in my college admissions process (unless they were looking to fill some inflated ego quota that year).

On the other hand, others of you have let it be known that you would prefer it if admissions officers knew you better, under the belief that if they knew you, they would really LIKE you. Some schools have answered this by increasing the availability of interviews, particularly with alumni. A few of us, and by few I mean just three, are trying something new (sort of): including videos as part of the admissions process. I wrote about this way back in September.

Using videos in admissions didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me. After all, even when I started in admissions (just after the invention of fire), we would accept videos from students if submitted. They would come on these ancient devices called “Betamax Tapes.” (For those interested, I believe that they have unearthed a few samples from a dig in South America.) So imagine my surprise to find that some of my most illustrious colleagues have grave concerns.

The Boston Globe quoted Harvard’s Dean of Admissions, Bill Fitzsimmons, saying, “Students from families with substantial financial resources are in a better position to provide such materials, so that’s something we have to be very careful with.’’

Really? Harvard is worried that VIDEOS are causing a financial disparity in admissions? No mention of the correlation between income and SAT scores, the prevalence of admissions coaches routinely drafting written essays for their clients, or the advantage that legacies have in the process?

On the other hand, this got me thinking about how familiar Dean Fitzsimmons might be with YouTube. I have a hard time getting my mind around the image of the venerable and distinguished Dean giggling at the latest clip of a cat adorably playing the piano.

That being said, Bill is not alone. I was quoted in an article about the new videos in U.S. News and World Report. Also quoted is the President of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (of which I am also a member), who notes, “If accepting videos becomes commonplace, it will increase the divide between haves and have-nots,”

I have enormous respect for both of these fine professionals. I know them to be two of the most thoughtful, dedicated, and committed individuals in the field of admissions. I would ask them directly about their perspectives, but I’m not sure the rotary phones in their offices can connect with 2010. Just Kidding! Although, to be fair, I’m not entirely sure they are quite up to date on the accessibility of technology, and just how easy it is for most students to make these videos.

Others expressed worry that adding the video would increase stress, and an anonymous poster on the US News web site suggested that using videos would abandon using sentence structure as a factor in the admissions review process.

Of course, I can entirely understand this crucial point. Students are so entirely unfamiliar with these “videos” and “websites” and “computers” that this mystifying new feature is bound to be far more stressful than written essays. Instead we should restrict students to written essays, easily plagarized, often written by “coaches,” and limited to 500 words, since those essays, if I follow the logic, are far less stressful. Also, although I’ve yet to be in an admissions committee where sentence structure was the crucial deciding factor on a student’s application, perhaps we should preclude students from using anything that provides more individuality or provides evidence of their technical savvy or creativity if it fails to fulfill this potentially, although previously rarely seen, critical role. This will afford applicants more time to focus on crucial skills, like use of rotary phones.

In twenty years in admissions, I have reviewed some wonderful, but far more truly awful, written essays. The handful of videos I have reviewed, however, have been thoughtful and insightful. I doubt video essays will degrade the process, and in fact it is reasonably possible that this medium may, just possibly, not bring about the end of civilization as we know it. If I’m wrong, however, you can let me know. Just go ahead and tweet it. Be seeing you.


4 Responses

  1. The flip side to Harvard’s Dean Fitzsimmons must be Yale, which produced an admissions video that most certainly was inspired by FOX’s “Glee.” (and is almost as long as an episode of that fine show!)

    Yale posted the video on YouTube (, and it has received over a half-million views and garnered quite a bit of press coverage.

    Their mistake (other than the ridiculous length)? Yale disabled comments. If you are going to use YouTube, embrace that it’s far more than a video distribution channel. It’s a sharing platform. Quite a shame that they don’t welcome comments – the good and bad.

    • and….unlike Mason, Tufts or St. Mary’s, my understanding is that Yale PAID their students to make the video, and it’s promotional rather than part of the admissions process. So my two cents is that it’s less embracing of the technology for students benefit and more a direct marketing effort – not that Mason’s page isn’t useful for recruitment, but that’s more a bonus.

      Actually I think the BIG get would be product placement on Glee – now, how can I get the show’s writers to have the next competition on the program at Mason? Or better yet, have most of the cast members applying to join our College of Visual and Performing Arts! Sadly, Fox will probably have them apply to made up schools, entirely missing a huge product placement opportunity!

      • You know, Dean, stranger things have happened. Try following Glee on Twitter ( and then send then a direct message with your idea? Ya never know …

      • I annually mine my Hollywood contacts, arguing that there is a clear need for a Dean of Admissions character on any and every show. I’m still waiting for that call…maybe I need a write in campaign?

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