Video Essays & Prejudice

You may have seen the recent trend to use video essays as part of a college or university application. This is no surprise, given the popularity of YouTube with this generation. The goals are laudable, as schools want to encourage well-rounded applicants, students who can speak and conduct themselves in front of a camera as well as they can write. However, little warning bells are ringing in the back of my head.


I believe we do students a favour by making applications confidential. I’m not a fan of the public video essay; even though students seem to be giving away their privacy right, left and centre, it doesn’t mean we should encourage it. I worry that these students will wake up in 10 years to a world they don’t want but can’t do anything about because they opened up Pandora’s Box. It is possible to protect the privacy of these applicants, but the trend is to post these videos on YouTube for public viewing. That may not be wise.


Back in the old days, we used to require photos of applicants to be submitted with applications. However, concerns were raised about the possibility of prejudice influencing admission decisions. I’m not aware of any proven cases, but the possibility exists. That possibility is increased dramatically with video essays. Not only might I make admission decisions based on colour of skin, but now I might make them based on accents, speech impediments, gestures, etc.


Admission professionals work very hard to level the playing field among applicants. This is why we require standardized test scores and other such tools to assist us in making fair and equitable admission decisions.  It is hard to compare applications in different formats with different requirements. Video applications raise so many other formatting and equality issues that are related to prejudice (Is that a video game console or a library of ancient Greek philosophers in the background? Did he use a 5 year old cell phone camera?).

Admission Professionals Are Professionals

Right about now, you’re probably thinking, “Grant, you need to give admission professionals more credit!” Please understand that I am not suggesting that admission counsellors are Ku Klux Klan members. But we all know how that prejudice is a sneaky little guy – so sneaky that we’re not even aware that we might be prejudiced ourselves. So, as much as my cautions are intended to protect applicants, we should protect ourselves from ourselves.


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