Admissions Blog

What do you MEAN there's a video essay?!

By Brianne Kain
Posted Dec 06 2022

In almost every information session or meeting with a student, I always feel the mood shift when I mention that SIPA has a video essay component. Students get super nervous about the idea of this being part of the application. I'm completely aware that the type of student who is applying for SIPA is one that likes to prepare in advance before submitting an assessment however in the case of the SIPA video essay, there are very little ways to prepare. I know, I know.. it sounds stressful but I promise you it's not! We are not here to fool you. Let's talk more about what the video essay actually is.

What is the video essay?

The video essay is the final component of the SIPA application. You can only access the video essay only after you submit your application and pay the application fee. We will give you a random prompt and you'll have 60 seconds to think of your answer and 90 seconds to record your answer, then you're done! No reshoots, one and done.

Ok, Brianne.. that sounds intimidating. How can I prepare?

Well candidates, to be honest, it's very hard to prepare for this. The actionable items I tell students they can do is make sure you are in a quiet space and you test your audio/visual settings prior to beginning. The prompt is random so you won't know in advance what you will get. My best advice is treat this like you're going on a first date; have good eye contact, talk clearly, go in with the mindset of wanting the admissions committee to get a sense of your personality, and do the best to your ability. Ultimately, this prompt is just like a conversation between us on the admissions side and you. There's no expectation to be an expert on the question you're given so I think it's most important to just relax and be yourself. The best video essays are the ones that come across as conversations rather than speaking as if you're reading off a piece of paper. Also, unlike a first date, no need to get dressed up!

So I've submitted my application and paid the fee, I now have my video prompt. What are your tips in the 60 second prep time?

First, take a deep breathe and read the question. As I mentioned before, it's not a prompt that is meant to stump you. These prompts can be anything from policy-based, political, opinion, behavioral, etc. so it should not be out of your subject zone. Remember, you only have 60 seconds to think of your answer so use your time wisely, but know it's not expected that you're going to have every single piece of thought ready for this. I see many students who are trying to cram so much information into the video, especially when it's a policy driven prompt. Sometimes less is more, and I feel that can definitely be the case with the video essay. If it's a question about yourself, don't overthink it. I think the utmost important thing to remember is there is no "right" answer for these prompts. I said it before but use your 60 seconds wisely; create a structure with the prompt you have been given; maybe you have some buzz words you write down that want to remember when you're speaking. You'd be surprised what you can accomplish in 60 seconds!

My prep time is done. It's time for the 90 seconds. Any advice?

One thing that's important to share is that there will be no sound or light alerting you that your 90 seconds has started so be aware of your time. Right before it starts, take a deep breathe and remember what I shared above. One personal recommendation is to use the first five seconds of your time to introduce yourself "Hi, my name is", and start going into your prompt. I think one of the worst things students can do is clearly be reading their notes word for word on the screen in front of them. Remember, this should be conversational - we don't want it to feel rehearsed but instead more natural. It's ok to have notes, as mentioned maybe some buzz words to remember, but please do not spend the whole time reading off of something. If you experience technical difficulties during your video essay, reach out to the Office of Admission for assistance. 

It's done. Now what?

You're officially done with the application - woohoo! Please take a moment to be so proud of yourself; it can be daunting applying to graduate schools, especially if you've been out of undergraduate for a while. If you're worried that you did terrible or wish that you could redo it, remember that this only one component of your application; SIPA takes a holistic approach to reviewing applications meaning we take a very thorough review of all aspects of your application. Good luck!