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Tips to tackle video essay questions in MBA applications

Video essay tips

For all the talk about business schools increasingly adopting video essays in MBA applications, we are yet to see a definite ‘trend’ on this aspect. Sure, there are more schools now having this than say 5 years back, but the number is still perhaps countable on fingertips. When you consider compare this with the universe of schools out there, you know that the trend is far from catching up.

We’ve seen ISB experiment with it way back in 2011-12. But they’ve dropped it since.

Even so, if one of the schools you’ve set your sights upon has this component, it doesn’t matter what the trend is – you’ve gotta do it and do it well. With this post, we’ll try to give you a sense on the Dos and Don’ts for this beast. While the post says video essays, there are three types therein. Let’s investigate each one of these and try to de-mystify the areas.

How to tackle video essays | Tips for MBA admissions

Tips for video essays for INSEAD, Rotman, Schulich, Yale, Kellogg & others


The faux interview question(s)

This is the most common format in vogue currently. For most schools, this is an opportunity to see you and hear you even before putting the effort of an actual interview.

Typically, you get the question/application link for these only after you’ve submitted the rest of the application. Most applications would give you some practice questions to test the technology interface and your preparedness and then would have anywhere from 1-4 questions to respond to.

At the last count, we know of about 6 schools that have this component (tell us if you know of more) – Kellogg (10 practice; 2 actual); Rotman (2 actual); Schulich (5 practice; 2 actual); INSEAD (4 actual); Yale (3 practice; 1 actual) and Queens (4 actual).

The best way to prepare for this is to consider this as an actual interview preparation. The questions vary wildly across schools but a few sample ones could be – tell us about yourself; why are you interested in our program. The wacky ones could be – if you had a ticket to anywhere, where would you go and why.

These questions are designed to be impromptu. The schools really want to see the ‘real’ you, without any bells and whistles or made-up stuff and hence this format. We recommend you prepare all the usual MBA interview questions. Here are 5 quick tips to a good response:

  1. Be yourself (You’ve heard this before, right?). Don’t try too hard to impress. Authenticity is the key to a good response
  2. Be technology ready. Make sure you have a good working camera, mic, a silent room, a good and neutral background. Make full use of the practice questions to ensure the response ‘look’ good apart from the content
  3. Be confident. These go a LONG way in leaving a strong impression. Remember, body language is the key part of communications. Don’t believe me? Read this article on improving communication skills.
  4. On the above note, dress for the occasion. We recommend donning a full formal garb to present the best version of you
  5. Though most of the applications won’t give you a lot of time, but the limited time you get, use it to prepare a broad structure to your response. Write it down on a piece of paper if you have to, but make sure you do not look at the paper while recording the response. Look into the camera and maintain eye contact throughout the duration of your response


The optional video essay

Some schools (3 so far as we know of – MIT Sloan, NYU Stern and Texas McCombs) give you an option. You don’t have to do a video but you can. Most of these will have the option of other mediums – written essay, power point, sometimes a bit more exotic. The primary motive behind this option is to provide you a chance at being creative. So, choose this only if you feel you do have at least some creativity in you instead of relying on someone to do it for you entirely. The canvas here is usually quite broad with the prompt either being – share anything or introduce yourself. Let’s see 5 tips on how to tackle this one:

  1. Creativity is the buzzword here. Unlike the previous category, plain and simple recording of a written response isn’t a great option here. You don’t have to be on the video for the entire duration either. Think about the topic (if there is one) and then come with a potential theme. In most cases, the question is about introducing yourself. Think of what all you’d like to tell someone you meet for the first time – personal, professional, quirks, likes/dislikes. And now think about how you can do that creatively. Outdoor shoots? Indoors? Something else? Caricatures? Basically, let your imagination go wild.
  2. Technicalities matter. Again, unlike the previous version, the quality of video production matters. Get intelligent yourself or rope in someone who knows the stuff (if you do the latter, make sure to acknowledge them in the end of the video credits or some such). Successful submissions in the past have had really impressive production quality – though there is no set norm here.
  3. Let them see you. A bit contrary to #1 above, but the point is that for the bulk of the video, you should still be visible. For example, if your talent is photography, don’t just make a video showing your best pictures. They still want to see YOU.
  4. Dress to the occasion. In this case, it doesn’t necessarily mean formals. For instance, if you are shooting by the beach or in an open market, chance of you looking misfit in that tie and blazer are pretty high. The key here is to blend in with the theme and the surrounding so you appear natural and not fake.
  5. Yups, this is true here too. Don’t be too sombre or serious – tougher to captivate people in general with that than being happy, smiling and confident.


The compulsory video essay question

This is a bit of a mid-way between the above two. You would be given an essay topic beforehand (no impromptu stuff here) but don’t have an option – you HAVE to submit a video response to it. Apart from ISB which had it a few years back, the only one we are aware of is Georgetown University, McDonough School of Business (the prompt is again – introduce yourself). The general advice on this one will be the same as the previous category although you have to pay heed to the guidelines. Sometimes schools may say they want to see you throughout the response or some such. So, adhere to those instructions.

Ivey MBA Video TipsWe wanted to get some official perspectives on the not-so-obvious nuances admission officers look for. So we asked the Ivey MBA Recruiting and Admissions to share some insights. Here’s what they said.

“We are looking for a number of things: overall polish and professional appearance as well as the space that you choose for doing the videos (quiet space, not a lot of distractions or background noise, etc.) We are looking at how you carry yourself overall, whether you speak in a confident and thoughtful manner, stay on topic, and give concise answers. Try to think of the camera like it’s a person and speak to it as though you’re addressing a human being (because you are – we are on the other end!) Treat the entire experience as you would any in-person interview.”

The Ivey MBA team also shared with us the common mistakes they see in many applicant videos.

“We sometimes see candidates who are obviously not prepared or haven’t taken the time to read the instructions ahead of time or to do the practice questions. This doesn’t leave a good impression. The practice questions are essential! Make sure you don’t go to a café or somewhere with a lot of surrounding noise. Wearing headphones can be distracting for the person watching the video, so it’s best not to wear them. Overall, you want to follow all the tips we’ve provided above and any of these mistakes can be easily avoided!”

For more tips, check out this video created by one of the recruiting managers at Ivey.


Sample video essays – A word of caution

Many MBA applicants upload their videos on YouTube. So there’s no dearth of sample video essays if you search online. You could look at them for ideas. The challenging part is to locate the good videos that were successful.

US News hosts a sample video essay that helped get the MBA applicant into Kellogg. Here’s the link to the article with the embedded video.

There are many more out there. Just ensure you don’t binge watch them like your favourite serial. You’d still want to retain your originality in the video.

There you have it – 10 schools have this option so far as we know. Not that very many but yeah, it is a lot more than in 2012 when there were 2 school applications that probably had this feature. You decide if you can call it a trend. Are you aware of other schools that have this feature? If yes, share with the readers in the comments section below.

Our MBA application consulting team has helped many applicants polish their video concept and ensure that it aligns with overall application. If all the sample videos you’ve seen have left you dazed and confused, instead of inspired, drop us an email (mcb [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com). We’ll help you look good not only on paper (i.e. your regular essays), but on video as well.
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Manish Gupta
About Manish Gupta
Chief Consulting Officer at MBA Crystal Ball, ex-McKinsey, IIT & ISB topper. MG can help you get into the top B-schools. Read more about this top MBA admissions consultant. Connect with MG on Linkedin, Facebook or Email: mcb [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

2 thoughts on “Tips to tackle video essay questions in MBA applications”

  1. I know 4 more schools- additional to those you have listed- that requires video essay as integral part of their application. I am applying to these schools this year.
    a) Penn State- Smeal, b) Purdue University- Krannert, c) Ohio University- Fisher, d) MSU- Eli broad

    I believe there would be some more. I think it is really a trend catching up.


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