Awesome MBA Video Essay Advice | For MIT and More!

Check mic check. Okay. All right. Here we go. Welcome to this very special video on our YouTube channel outside of our regular MBA Mondays. Today, I'm talking about the MIT video essay. It's about that time where your applications are coming together just before the deadline and it's time to shoot your MIT video essay. As the manager of this YouTube channel, we know a few things about how to make videos. Not that many, but a few things that we're going to share with you today as you look to create your most amazing introductory video to your MIT MBA classmates. By the way, you may notice I'm wearing a slightly Latin inspired shirt today. That's because if I were making my own MIT video essay, I would talk about salsa dancing, which was a really big part of my life around the time I applied to business school and a great source of joy and something I would definitely want my classmates to know if I were applying to MIT. That's a bit of foreshadowing about how you want to be thinking about your MIT video essay. Let me first talk about how to think about the content of your MIT video essay. And by the way, our MBA Monday this week was all about the spontaneous video essays for Kellogg and Yale, which is a totally different animal. So if you're applying to Kellogg and Yale or other schools that have spontaneous video essays, please be sure to watch that MBA Monday video. This is about the MIT video where you actually can film it on your own time, on the stuff that you want and put in it, whatever content you want. You're not answering questions that are assigned directly by the school at the last minute, you're crafting what is effectively an essay, but in video format.

Table of Contents

Introduce Yourself To Your Future Classmates

So as you're thinking about the content of the MIT video essay, the first thing you want to do is think about what do you actually want your classmates to know about you? This is so important because the question is not introduce yourself to the admissions committee. It has been that question in years past, and in fact, some of the video essays for Kellogg and Yale over the years have been introduce yourself to the admissions committee. But if you think about the kinds of things you communicate to a committee that is making the decision about you versus to your buds in your business school class, it's a totally different set of things that you're communicating. So the first thing is to really think about what would you want your peers to know? Because it is frequently the case that the things you would tell the admissions committee, if you told them to your friends in a casual getting to know you kind of a situation, you actually kind of come up a little bit like a douche because the cover letter is so cut and dried and so professional. MIT is gauging your ability to communicate as an executive as a professional in a cover letter context, which is a good gauge for how easily you're gonna go through the recruiting process, because guess what you're gonna write when you're applying to internships and fulltime jobs, a bunch of cover letters. So the cover letter is really there for them to gauge your professional persona and the video is there to gauge your personal persona. They want to know who you are as a person because they're looking out for your 399 other MBA and LGO classmates that have to live with you for two years. They want to make sure that you're cool, you're open, you have a personality, you have something to say, and you're not a robot. Really importantly. So this is going to have a lot of implications for how you actually construct the video. But the first thing to think about is a content. So look to complement what you put in the cover letter.

Don't overlap with it, but include the aspects of your life that are the kinds of things you would just really be eager to talk about with your friends, with your classmates. It's probably not that amazing consulting project that you did last year because that's much more professional than it is personal. It's the salsa dance lessons that you used to teach, or the languages that you speak, or your hobbies, or causes that you're passionate about. It's the things that round out your personality. So that's the first thing is to choose to talk about the things that are personally really significant to you and that you talk about with your friends, not necessarily with an admissions committee.

Now, once you figure out what you want to say, I really encourage you to create an outline with sparse bullet points and not a complete script. At the end of this video, we're going to critique a couple of publicly available MIT video essays, and one thing that you're going to see they all have in common, those who successfully got in and those who didn't is that they've clearly memorized the script or they're even reading it while they're talking. And that really sort of sabotages one of the most important things that MIT is trying to gauge with this video essay, and that is your communication skills. They want to know that you can just communicate like a normal person, that you come up as warm, personable, real, alive, present in the moment. If you fumble a word or two, it doesn't matter. That just makes you more human. It makes you more yourself. If you have to repeat yourself or you laugh in the middle even better, then you're really showing your personality. It's going to be hard to do all of that if you're reciting a script that you memorized point blank and you have to really rush to get through because you only have 60 seconds to deliver the whole thing in one cut before it cuts off. Don't do that. Don't cram too much in and don't plan exactly what you're gonna say. Instead, memorize three, four, five key bullet points and then improvise it as you're going through the video. And I actually recommend that you say it a little bit differently every time that you genuinely improvise what you're gonna say. This is going to be especially important for those of you coming from a professional background where they're going to expect you to struggle with communication. So if you come from, let's say, a really technical field where, on average, the truly excellent people are really great at technical stuff, but their soft skills tend to be on the weaker side, on average, you really want to show super strong soft skills in your essay so that they know that you're both MBA ready, ready to be a thriving and contributing member of their community, but also so that you can differentiate yourself from your competitive set and being able to do this, being able to come off as warm and comfortable communicating about yourself, you can't memorize a script and you can't read it. You have to be improvising it live in the moment. Little known facts about them being Mondays about our entire channel is that everything is improvised. I don't have a script. Frequently I don't even have bullet points. I'm just talking. So, whether you like my style or not is beside the point but when you're telling your story you need to just be being yourself in the moment, and you can't do that if you're being with the script, which is something you've either memorized or written down. You need to be being with the people that you're speaking to, and that means that you need to be generating what you're saying live in the moment. So, pick the things that you want your friends to know about you, write a couple of bullet points and memorize the order of things that you want to say, and then improvise it live while you're doing the video.

Lights, Camera, Action!!

Now let's talk about going into production and actually making that video. So given the fact that my strong advice is that you improvise what you're saying, you're probably going to want to do a lot of different takes. The one constraint that MIT gives you is that you have to do the whole thing in one take and you can't edit it. You can't add subtitles. You can't cut. If you screw up your lines, you can't cut it and smash it together with another cut. You have to do it all in one take. So what that means is you want to do just a bunch of them, like just film it ten even fifteen times, and then look at them again and see which one you like the best. If you've got a winner, take that one. If not, do it again. More is more when you're trying to capture the essence of yourself on video. So again, rather than memorizing or scripting it, improvise it each time but take a lot of takes like do it multiple times. In terms of setting yourself up to do the video in terms of the technology that you're going to use, really, anything will work. You can do it handheld with your phone in the park. You can have a friend shooting you with a super high-quality camera. You can even do it in front of your computer with a webcam. As you'll see from the examples we're going to look at in a moment, successful people who get in have used every type of technology and they are not gauging your abilities, believe it or not, as a cinematographer and film producer. That's just not a qualification to get into MIT. So what they're looking for is you. They just want to see you. So choose the filming mechanism that makes you feel the most comfortable. For some people, having a second person behind the camera increases anxiety and makes them really nervous. If that's you don't do it. Do it with your webcam or do it with your handheld phone. If on the other hand, having your sister or your best friend or your partner behind the camera makes you feel more yourself, makes you more comfortable, then that's probably the way you want to do it. Get that friend to do you a favor and have them film you as many times as you need to get the right take. So make the choice about medium in the way not that's going to impress the admissions committee or your peers, not that's gonna create high production value, but in the way that's gonna make you feel most yourself and most comfortable so that your very best answer, your very best personality traits are gonna come across. By the way, if at some moment you laugh or smile during the video, that's like a huge win. Because then you're showing them it's like “Hey! I'm just me. I'm comfortable. Comfortable being myself!”. Like I said, even if you flub a word or two, it's not a problem. This is not about presentation skills, it's not about public speaking ability, it's all about personality. And if you've got a sense of humor, I sure hope that your video essay is going to make me laugh or at least make me smile because you smiled.

A couple more things about the production. If you can bring into the scene some physical objects, some settings or some clothing, hats, or whatever that showcase your passions or your unique personality, that's a good thing to do. It's not essential, but it will definitely add some dimensionality to the video and potentially even put you more at ease because you're talking about a thing and not just talking directly at the camera. By the way, this is a really good moment to tell people about Brian. Do you want to show everybody Brian Jonny really quickly? Just like Dangle Brian in front of the camera there. So we don't talk a lot about Brian, but Brian is my eternal audience because I personally feel really weird talking into the eye of a camera. It's much easier for me to talk into the eyes of an adorable little goldfish pencil sharpener. This is a really good trick for any kind of video interaction, including Zoom calls, where you need to make eye contact with the camera, but you feel weird doing it. Get yourself a Brian. It’s also really useful for these MIT video essays if you're recording it yourself. Having props in the shot to interact with adds dimensionality, but it also potentially will put you at ease. So look to include that if it's appropriate. If you are a cyclist and you want to film yourself outside cycling – like cycling up to the camera – and have your friend shoot it because that shows what you're passionate about, do that. If you love art, you love to go to museums, go to the museum and film it there. Take creative license to show your classmates who you are in situ, in context. But remember my first advice about production, which is set it up in the way that makes you feel most comfortable. Don't go for crazy shots, crazy settings if you don't feel comfortable doing it, or you don't have somebody who can help you make it great. Whatever you do, it can be simple, but you want to make sure it looks good. My last comments are really about framing and lighting. And this is a subtle concept because of course, they're not expecting you to be an expert in cinematography, but the impression that you make on camera changes dramatically if you're well-lit versus not well-lit. So if you're filming it inside in front of your computer, make sure you have a lighting source at a slight angle. Jonny's going to show you what that looks like right here on the screen. If you're filming it outside, make sure that you're not squinting into the sunlight and that you can't see your eyes because you're because you're blinded by the light. Make sure that you are well-lit, that you can be seen very clearly, and really importantly, that you can be heard very clearly. So if you are going to shoot it outside using your cell phone, best idea is to have, like, have a headset, use your air pods, use whatever you have to capture the audio cleanly, especially if there's wind, because really the worst case scenario is that you can't be understood. That's the worst-case scenario.

The best framing – unless you're walking around or moving in the shot, or if it's a full body shot because you're including dancing or cycling or whatever – is basically the framing you're seeing right here where you see most of my torso. My head is like right at the three-quarter line. So if you look at great cinema, you'll see that this is not a secret. All film directors know that the most emotional and appropriate way to frame a human face is like this.

Bottom line is you're trying to show who you are. Do it in the most creative way that you can manage within the bounds of what you're technologically capable of, and then do it in such a way that you feel completely comfortable being yourself in the moment, improvising, and showing them who you really are. That's the most important thing.

One of the best things that you can do to prepare yourself for these video essays is to make sure that you look good on that webcam. And in the era of Zoom calls dominating our lives, I'm sure I don't have to tell you that not a lot of people know how to look good on Zoom. It's actually really important that you frame your camera and set up your lighting in such a way that really makes you look like yourself. So here's tip number one for most of you. Your laptop or the camera on the laptop is going to be well below eye level, which is not just unflattering. It makes you look down on the camera, which doesn't feel good for the person watching it. So you want to prop your laptop up on some books so that the – I need more books, this isn't quite high enough – , you want to make sure that the camera is kind of like, right at eye level or just slightly above, slightly below eye level. And then you want to make sure that you're framed in the shot where you're taking up most of the screen and your eyes are at roughly the 3/4 mark. Here are some shots from famous movies you know and love. It's not a coincidence that those shots are all framed the same way that actually creates the best experience for the audience. And the admissions committee is your audience. You want to create a great experience for them.

So put the camera in a good spot, frame yourself well in the shot and then make sure to set up your lighting so that you can be seen very clearly. For most people that means you're gonna want a slightly indirect source of light. Here for MBA Monday we have the light right over there. It's coming diagonally at me. It's not head on. It's not directly from the side, making me look sort of like all shadowy like freak show. And it's really important to make sure that you're well-lit enough because it’s not a good look in the dark. You just don't look as great when you're not well-lit, right?

Okay. And then last thing is, dress in a way that represents you. Business casual, of course, is the way to go for most people. But if you're like me and you, you know, you have a little bit of flare in the way you present yourself, feel free to do that. Wear a colorful shirt. Wear a fancy tie. You could even wear a Kellogg sweatshirt or a Yale sweatshirt if you really want to go that far. But express yourself in every aspect of how you present yourself in those video essays, in the content of what you say, in the way you improvise and be yourself on camera, and in the way you set up the shot and you'll be doing the best that you can do to help yourself with these schools.

We're putting in the discussion a couple more links to what the schools themselves are saying about their own video essays so that you can really rest at ease and know that this is not a test, it is not an interview, it’s just a chance for you to show them who you are and how you communicate so that they have a more complete picture of you as an MBA candidate. Have fun. Good luck. And don't forget to come back next week for MBA interview week. We've got one video every single day helping you get ready for your MBA interviews which I know, if you've been following our channel, you are definitely going to need. See you next time.

Now let's take a look at a couple of successful and unsuccessful MIT video essays from the past. And let's see if you can guess what I'm gonna say about what's working and not working about each of these videos.


Hi, I'm Isabelle, born and raised in Shanghai, China.

Alright, first, let's take a look at the MIT video essay of the lovely Isabel Zhu. What I love about this video is that she's framed it in a really interesting way. Her face is right at the three-quarter line where it needs to be. She's framed the video really well. She's chosen a really interesting background. She's really well-lit. So from a simple direct production value of something that she's clearly filmed for herself, she did an amazing job of setting this up. My one critique is that I don't get to see her personality. I don't see her warm, I don't see her smile. I feel like she's improvising. I feel like she's citing a recitation. And even if the content is gangbusters, you miss a huge opportunity if you don't show the admissions committee who you are as a person. And that's again why I say don't memorize.

Now let's look at Jose Ramos (VIDEO 2). This incredible, like, handheld camera video of him walking us through his bedroom. This is just a really cool and creative approach because there's dynamism in the video. He's moving around. He's showing, not just telling, and he's really giving us insight into the things that matter to him, into who he is as a person. I think this one is a great effort. My one critique is that it does feel a little bit stiff. I can tell by the way he introduces himself that he has a big, lively personality. But I don't feel like I really get to see that in this video. So if I had one piece of advice for him, it would be do a few more takes and do bullets, not a full script. This keeps coming up. Having the script. It kind of screws you every time because you get anchored to a certain way of thinking and believe it or not, when people watch you on video, they can see that you're remembering something. Not that you're creating it. It makes a huge difference. If you're actually creating something live on the camera, it brings you to life. So we keep coming back to that point.

Let's look at another awesome video by Anthony Wall Kamp (VIDEO 3). Again, really well framed, really interesting shot. He's managed to include a lot of cool objects in the frame that are really relevant to what he's saying and everything that he's communicating. He's even dressed in his chef’s top and he comes across as really personable, super dynamic and interesting. I have two critiques for Anthony. The first is that again, like everyone else, he's coming off as a little bit stiff. He actually appears to be reading. You can kind of see his eyes tracking on some kind of teleprompter or a script. And again, as I'm hearing him talk about his passions, I want to feel the passion that he has for those things. I don't just want to see them demonstrated with words and pointing. I want to feel it. So that was a missed opportunity, to show the emotion, the energy behind the things that he's talking about again, resulting from reading and memorizing. And the second thing I would say is that it's actually a little bit overwhelming. If I'm a student, if I'm like a potential classmate looking at Anthony's just like, amazing breadth of passions and achievements, I'm actually gonna get a little bit overwhelmed. I'm gonna feel like, wow, is this guy even human? Like, when does he sleep? So it's not that you don't want to showcase how awesome you are in the video, but you want to give the viewer a chance to come inside and to feel like they know you.

So this is where I would contrast Jose’s and a Anthony’s. Jose is welcoming us, he's inviting us in, whereas Anthony is just putting it all out there. And the reaction for the viewer is very distinct. So as you go and watch these videos, notice how you feel while you're watching the video and how you feel is how the admissions committee is going to feel. And your job is to make the admissions committee feel like they like you, like they want you, like they know you. They feel really comfortable inviting you into their community because they have a sense of who you are and you make them feel good. So this is like, really advanced video as a creation. It's ultimately mostly about how you make the viewer feel and all the tips I gave you before. We're about making the viewer feel endeared and affection for you as a person. 

Really quick honorable mention to Varsha Harish (VIDEO 4), who has done just a super simple, super straightforward, on a clean background, minute-long discussion of dance and its role in her life. Would have loved to have seen the costumes. Would have loved to have seen a dance move. But she was a successful admit. So sharing this one with you as an example of how it doesn't have to be complicated. It doesn't have to be elaborate. It can just be you telling a simple story and talking about yourself. That's really where the bar is set.

It's just convey who you are. If you're not technologically inclined, if you don't have anyone that can help you, if you have to do it yourself in your bedroom this is a really great model because it's super successful and super effective, even though it's clean and simple.

Last one I want to talk about is this one by Charles Kerhin (VIDEO 5) I hope I'm saying his name right, Charles, if I'm not, please correct me. This one is actually my favorite of the whole set. It’s not framed all that well., it's shot with mediocre lighting, and the background is actually more in focus than he is, but he's completely being himself. He's got his bullet points. He's speaking off the cuff. He's speaking naturally. He smiles. He gestures. There are moments where he looks a little bit awkward, but he carries on. That's all part of being human. So of all the video essays I looked at in preparing to show you good examples as you're creating your video essay, this was really the one that I feel fully captured the person best. I feel like having watched this video, like, I know who this guy is. If he's sitting next to me in class, like, I know what he's going to be like. He's going to have a sense of humor. He's going to be a little bit nerdy. He's got some passions and some interesting experiences that are going to be useful to me, and he just seems like a cool guy. So that's the kind of, you know, that's the kind of person that he is and therefore, watching that video, I feel like I get this guy, and I'm comfortable admitting him, interviewing him, bringing him into the MIT community.

So I hope this video was incredibly helpful to you. The video essay is one of our very favorite things to do when we're working with our clients, not only because I have a film and video background myself, but because it's just so much fun to begin to go beyond the printed word and to capture yourself in, like, dynamic living breathing, three- two-dimensional, three-dimensional, seemingly three-dimensional reality as you present yourself to the MIT admissions committee. So have fun. I know I say that advice a lot, but that's really the most important thing when you're creating this video MBA essay is to have fun doing it. Because if you have fun doing it, then we'll have fun watching it and that's doing the very best that you can do to endear yourself to the admissions committee and complement the hardcore rock star professional profile you're showing in your resume and in your MIT cover letter. Okay I know I already said it said it three times, maybe four times, have fun! That's it.

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Angela Guido

Student of Human Nature| Founder and
Chief Education Officer of Career Protocol

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