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New components of the US university application

Increasingly, US universities and colleges are trying new ways to get to know prospective students. Here are some tips to approach the video essay, diversity statement, and other new components.
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   09-10-2017
Photo by See-ming Lee (used under CC license)

Applying for admission to a college or university in the US is a lengthy process that goes far beyond filling out a few forms. You need to think carefully about what you want to do, why, and how you’re a good match with each school you’re applying to. The basic components remain unchanged – resume, academic transcripts or marksheets, a personal essay, sometimes supplemental essays, letters of recommendation, and official scores for any required standardized tests such as the SAT or GRE. But there is a recent trend of many universities requiring or encouraging applicants to submit components that are not traditional. We take a look at some of these below.

Video essay

Many colleges and universities encourage applicants to submit a video essay in addition to the traditional components of the application, or as a replacement for a traditional personal essay. The video is recorded, not live. Keep it short, and if a time limit is specified don’t exceed it! Remember, admissions officials sifting through thousands, or even tens of thousands, of applications do not have time to watch even the most brilliant 10-minute video essay.

To keep the video short, think carefully about what you’ll say and how. Prepare a script so that you don’t ramble or fumble. Try to stay on the good side of the line that divides creative from cheesy. Use visuals to explain what you say in the video. Right now is a good time to start gathering visuals, as it will give you more time to fine-tune your script. Ensure you get two or three rounds of feedback on edited versions of your video.

Ensure the video and audio are clear, without interruptions, but there’s no need to go overboard with equipment, effects, and production values. The video essay is not a demonstration of your film-making prowess (unless you’re applying for a film-making course, obviously), and your time and effort are better spent on what you say, rather than on fancy effects. The college wants to understand your authentic self, and your potential as a student, so don’t read off of a script, and don’t get distracted – stay focused on the video prompt. Check out this example of a video essay prompt from Goucher College, Baltimore.

Elevator pitch

This is exactly what it sounds like – a 30- to 60-second spiel to persuade your audience to recruit you. So it should highlight your potential and show that you are a good fit at the school you are “pitching” to. You should provide basic information such as your name, current school and year, city, and major subject. The pitch should highlight your qualifications and skills, summarize your career goals, and demonstrate your interest in your chosen subject.

It’s a good idea to create a script, seek feedback, and go over several revisions and edits. Don’t be afraid to try something like telling a story or anecdote that highlights your character and potential. One way may be to record yourself, revisit it some days later, and pick out the best bits. Here are some tips from Kent State University to help you get started.

Diversity statement

Some universities require this, while others, such as Harvard Law School, give you the option of submitting it. Some schools call it an “equity statement” or some other name, but broadly speaking, the intention behind asking for it is so that the university can understand your achievements in the context of your background, and understand how you could contribute to its diversity.

For you, it is an opportunity to highlight any community leadership or service experience that promotes equity, diversity, and social harmony. If you are fluent in more than one language, or have lived for significant amounts of time in more than one country, that would be relevant here.

You can explain why you value diversity, but the essay needs to go beyond opinions and future plans. A strong essay would discuss your personal experience, and highlight how it would make you an asset to the campus community. Show how you add to its diversity (relatively easy to do if you are an international student, have a disability, or belong to a social, religious or sexual minority). Talk about how you are different – family relationships and traditions, the skills you gained as a result of belonging to a minority in your society (for example, growing up bilingual), and any difficulties you faced as a member of that group.


As you can imagine, this is for programs such as architecture, art history, creative writing, design, film, fine arts, and photography. Not all programs insist on a portfolio, though if you apply to an art school you will probably be required to submit one. A portfolio should have 15-20 recent original works that highlight your technical mastery, range and versatility, and of course creativity. It is an opportunity for the school to get to know you as an artist. Let your passion and originality shine.

Give yourself enough time to put together a strong portfolio. Some art students take a year to create pieces for their portfolio. If you know where you want to apply, research the school’s portfolio requirements at the earliest. Some universities specify portals where you should upload your portfolio, such as SlideRoom or Zeemee. Here is a sample of the requirements of the Montserrat College of Art. A portfolio that does not meet requirements is probably the worst reason to get rejected by your dream school.

For more tips on the application process, click on the links below!
What is the Common App for college admissions, and how does it work?
#1 on the top 10 list of mistakes people make when choosing where to apply
A perfect SAT score isn't everything
How a great essay got a high-school senior into 5 Ivy League schools and Stanford
What to do if you're deferred from your Early Action/Early Decision school
Demonstrated interest - what it is and why it matters
Letters of recommendation - who, when, and how


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