How to Create a Winning MBA Application Video Essay

MBA application video essays are becoming a popular tool; MBA programs can use them to learn far more about candidates than the traditional application permits.

MBA Application Video Essay Tips

MBA admissions committees are relying more and more on technology to help them evaluate and manage their growing applicant pools. In recent years, leading MBA programs including Kellogg Northwestern, MIT Sloan, and Chicago Booth have incorporated a video component into their evaluation process. Video essays are excellent screening tools that allow admissions officers to assess candidates’ professional presence and communication skills.

Many applicants are unnerved by the MBA video essays. They certainly can be an anxiety-inducing step in the business school application process. However, we urge you to consider the benefits presented by video essays. We wrote this article to help you take full advantage of video essays and video interview questions.

Done well, a video response allows you to jump off the application page. Your goal is to impress the admissions committee so that they can’t wait to meet you in a face-to-face admissions interview. Let’s face it; the video essay is here to stay. So read on to learn how to ace this step in the admissions process!

While more business schools are utilizing video essays, the formats and styles can vary. We will discuss the two most common formats, reveal what admissions officers are really looking for in a video response, and share tips on how to produce an outstanding video essay.

MBA Video Essay Tips #1: Randomized, Timed Video Essays

Some MBA programs, including Kellogg, use a timed video essay format. In this video essay style, you will be presented a question on your computer screen, have a short amount of time (20 seconds or so) to organize your thoughts, and then have 60-90 seconds to answer. Your video will be recorded directly into your application via online software. Though you may be granted opportunities to practice, you will only have one opportunity to record your final response to each question once you leave the practice mode.

The number and type of questions you will be asked in this MBA application video essay and interviews is up to each school. Some schools ask a single question, whereas others ask three or four. In some cases, you will know the video essay prompts in advance and have time to design your response and practice your delivery.

However, most business schools expect an impromptu performance. They want to see if you can think on your feet. The good news is that you can prepare for some of the most common questions. Below we discuss three question types of video essay questions and provide a few examples of each one.

MBA Video Essay Sample Questions

Introduction Questions Video Interview Questions

  • Please introduce yourself to the admissions committee.
  • Introduce yourself to your future classmates.
  • Who are you? Tell us about yourself?

Career Goals Video Interview Questions

  • What career are you interested in pursuing, how will you get there, and why is this program right for you?
  • What are your short-term and long-term career goals? How will our program help you achieve them?

Ice-breaker Video Interview Questions

  • What is your favorite book/travel destination/holiday?
  • What adjective describes you best and why?
  • What is the most meaningful thing anyone has done for you in your life?

Behavioral Video Interview Questions

  • Talk about how you handled a disagreement with a team member.
  • Tell us about a time you were not going to be able to meet a deadline. How did you handle the situation?
  • Tell us about a time you helped someone in need.

MBA Video Essay Tips #2: Pre-Recorded, Open-Ended Video Essays

In contrast to the timed, random video questions, other MBA programs provide you with the opportunity to pre-record your response to a more open-ended prompt. MIT Sloan is perhaps best-known for employing this type of video essay.

MIT Sloan interviews often end with the final question, “Is there anything else I should know about you?” When admissions officers realized that the information applicants shared all kinds of interesting information at the conclusion of their interview, the MIT video essay question was born. The required 1-minute video MIT at the time of this writing is worded as follows:

“Introduce yourself to your future classmates. Here’s your chance to put a face with a name, let your personality shine through, be conversational, be yourself.”

What do Admissions Committees look for in MBA application video essay responses?

While MBA application video essay questions come in many shapes and sizes, they are designed by admissions boards with some common goals in mind. First, the admissions officers use these videos as a new way to get to know applicants better. MBA admissions officers genuinely want to learn what makes you, you. Most video essay questions are open-ended, which will allow you the flexibility to choose what you want to share. This video essay gives you a whole new way to differentiate yourself, share unique personal interests, and grab the Admissions Committee’s attention.

Secondarily, the video essay enables an admissions committee to evaluate your communication skills. If English is your second language, they can judge your level of fluency. If you are a native speaker, the video interview will provide insight into how well you express yourself and your executive presence.

To a large degree, your Admissions reviewer will care more about how you present yourself than about the content of your responses. They are trying to figure out if you will be able to participate in class discussions and get a sense of how you might perform in front of recruiters. Additionally, they can evaluate how your personality will “fit” within the school’s culture. Are you timid, aggressive, confident, bubbly, or anxious? Don’t worry if you aren’t a person who is comfortable on camera or at ease with public speaking. MBA programs don’t expect or want everyone to sound and act the same. There is room in the MBA community for reserved and thoughtful students as well as for charismatic dynamos.

The randomized question format also tests your ability to think on your feet. Can you remain calm when faced with an unexpected question? Are you able to quickly organize your thoughts and deliver an answer on the spot? MBA essays can’t measure those abilities. An MBA application video interview is one of the admissions committee’s best tools for predicting if prospective students can handle the dynamic and unpredictable world we live in.

How to Prepare for Your MBA Essay Video

To prepare for both types of MBA video essays, you will want to begin by learning about the school’s fit qualities, determining which of your qualities or experiences best align with those value points, and practicing until you can deliver your responses in a polished, authentic way.

First, keep in mind that your video is not intended to be a summary of your application. The Admissions Committee has your application resume, cover letter, and letters of recommendation to learn about your professional history. The least successful videos are those in which applicants recite their employment history.

Treat your video essay as an opportunity to show another side of yourself beyond your professional persona. In a relatively lean application, this is key. Applicants often worry that if they fall into a particularly overrepresented applicant group (say, “consultants”) that they won’t be able to stand out. Find a way to use the video to differentiate yourself!

Do Your Research BEFORE You Create Your MBA Video Essay

To excel in the MBA video essays, you need to do your research to determine each program’s fit qualities. This is a two-part question: what is each school looking for when evaluating applicants, and which of your stories or experiences best exemplify what the school values?

During the brainstorming phase of this project, consider what your target school values and how your interests, personality, and values align. MBA programs certainly think about “fit” when evaluating candidates, and the video is a perfect way to demonstrate how your priorities match those of the school.

In the case of MIT Sloan, you might begin with the school’s mission: to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice. This mission statement and Sloan’s culture more broadly emphasize the value the institution places on leadership, integrity, inquisitiveness, outside-the-box thinking, problem-solving, and “doing good.” Knowing this, you might opt to film yourself doing something creative, highlight a community service experience in which you impacted others, or showcase a product you built.

Another source of inspiration is MIT’s motto: mens et manus, or “mind and hand.” MIT Sloan believes that theories must be tested, and knowledge must be applied. Action learning is a core component of the curriculum, and the Admissions Committee seeks action-oriented, purposeful students. You might integrate action into your video by “showing” rather than “telling;” for example, you could shoot the video of you participating in a hobby you enjoy rather than simply explaining it.

Lastly, a common phrase shared within the MIT Sloan community is “Sloanies helping Sloanies.” The school prioritizes collaboration and inclusion among its students and across its programs, so you might highlight stories that involve you teaming up with friends or colleagues. Do any of your points of difference or personal interests exemplify these values?

Lastly, make a connection between the personal and professional aspects of your message. For example, suppose you want to focus on renewable energy after your MBA. In that case, you might consider filming your video while hiking a nature trail, sharing a story about your experience as an environmental volunteer, and highlighting Sloan’s sustainability certificate as a defining piece of your MBA plan.

Similarly, endeavor to connect your intended career path to classes, clubs, and resources that will further your career aspirations. Although you won’t know what random question you will receive, knowing the school’s “fit qualities” and your key differentiators can help you brainstorm building blocks for effective answers. For example, Kellogg offers students a wide array of global opportunities. This might lead you to talk about language lessons or a project you work on overseas.

Don’t Repeat Your MBA Application Resume

Repeating stories in the videos that you previously shared in your essays is a bad idea. The Admissions Committee wants the video essays to add dimension to the picture they already have of you based upon your MBA application. We urge you to draw upon fresh examples from your resume bullet points or introduce personal interests you haven’t discussed elsewhere.

As your next step, review your application package to determine if you neglected to showcase any of your points of difference or critical attributes that the program values. Look for connections between your personal interests and the school’s priorities. For example, Kellogg is known for its collaborative culture; therefore, you might want to key on a team-based experience in your response to add evidence that you fit with Kellogg’s culture.

Additionally, because effective essays focus on your recent past (within the past three years or so), you probably did not have a chance to mention formative experiences. Suppose you have overcome personal obstacles or are passionate about a topic unrelated to your career. If so, use your video essay to showcase activities that matter most to you and brief stories that exemplify who you really are.

Take Notes, But Don’t Memorize a Script

Having a video prompt in advance provides the opportunity to write out your thoughts. Nevertheless, you want to be prepared – but not scripted. Your notes should serve as a guide only and should not be referred to during the recording session. (Admissions officers will almost always be able to tell if you are reading notes.) In the case of randomized video questions, it may be helpful to have a notepad next to you to jot down ideas during the short preparation period. Writing notes may put you at ease, but aim not to look at them while the camera is on.

Practice, Practice, Practice for Your MBA Video Essay

Practice delivering answers to develop a sense of the pacing required to fit them within the time you are granted. Ask a friend (or admissions consultant) to ask you a few random questions or listen to your prepared statement with a stopwatch handy to time your responses. Be sure to stay on topic to complete entire responses in the given time. For timed response, practice enough times until you have a good sense of how long one minute is. Once the camera is rolling, it goes by faster than you think!

Tips for Recording Your MBA Video Essay

Once you’ve brainstormed and practiced, it’s time for lights, camera, and action. Whether you are sitting for a timed, on-the-spot question or recording your prepared response, shooting your video requires careful thought and patient preparation. Here are some logistical tips to make sure you have the technical details sorted out:

Location, Location, Location

Be mindful of your surroundings. Choose a location to record videos where you know you won’t be interrupted. For videos like MIT Sloan’s that allow for personal flair, applicants often choose to shoot their video in a meaningful location that ties into the story they plan to tell. This is an excellent idea in theory but can undermine your work if background movement or noise distract viewers from your presentation. Avoid any pedestrians or coworkers walking through your shot or traffic sounds in the background. For example, an applicant recorded her video in front of her favorite coffee shop, but the noise and foot traffic made it very difficult for the Admissions Committee to focus on the applicant herself.

Test the lighting and sound to make sure you will be seen and heard clearly. You want to ensure that, wherever you are, your camera microphone clearly picks up your voice. Showing your passion for environmentalism by recording yourself on a nature trail is an interesting idea, but not if the wind washes out your words.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some applicants don’t put ENOUGH thought into their location. Check the camera frame to ensure that no distractions appear (such as a pile of dirty laundry or an empty beer bottle). If you plan to record yourself in your home or apartment, clear away the dirty dishes and compost your dead houseplant first! Show the Admissions Committee that you care about your final product. Finally, check the strength of your Internet connection for timed videos to reduce the risk that you are disconnected during the video recording session.

Dress to Impress?

How you present yourself is just as important as your location choice. For timed videos like Kellogg’s, you should dress for success– at least from the waist up. Because the frame will only capture your face and shoulders, you are free to rock those sweatpants! Admissions officers prefer to see you dressed in business casual. Double-check your hair and makeup just as you would before an actual admissions interview.

If the school’s video prompt lends itself to showcasing a more personal side, dressing in business formal is not necessary. You have the freedom to use clothing as a means of expression. In the past, MIT Sloan applicants have worn their favorite sports team’s apparel, traditional clothing that reflects their culture, or just whatever makes them feel comfortable.

However, remember that while this video is personal, it is ALSO a professional application. Our former admissions officers have seen applicants who looked like they rolled out of bed five minutes before recording their video and once had an applicant submit a video of themselves in their bathing suit like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. Use good judgment in selecting what you wear.

Make Eye Contact

Look at the camera, especially when recording timed video essays on your computer. This can be a challenge because people naturally tend to look at their image on the screen rather than the camera lens. When you focus your gaze on the camera, you make “eye contact” with your viewer. Some applicants put a post-it note over their image on the screen to avoid being distracted by their own faces.

Timing is Everything

Time management is key to success in the overall application process, and the video essay component is no different.

Figure out the best time of day to record your video. Is your voice raspy in the morning? Are you tired and sluggish by the end of the day? You can practice recording your voice on other devices and play it back to compare. You might even consider a few vocal exercises to warm up your voice.

Don’t put the video essay off until the last minute. Don’t wait until minutes before the deadline. The pressure will be too intense. Additionally, video servers have been known to crash when too many procrastinators try to upload their videos simultaneously. We recommend you set aside about 20-30 minutes to complete the recording process, so you don’t feel rushed.

For timed essays, be aware of the time bar that shows how long you have been talking and how many seconds are remaining for your response. When you sense your time is almost up, quickly check the time bar so you can wrap up your statement without being cut off at the end.

Stay Calm!

Don’t panic if something goes wrong. As they say in the theater, the show must go on. Unexpected disruptions or technical difficulties may happen, so you need to display poise under pressure. Brush off mistakes rather than calling attention to them. If you lose your train of thought, pause to give your brain time to catch up with your mouth. If you need to answer multiple timed questions, don’t carry stress or mistakes from one question to the next. What will hurt you is cursing on camera when you make a mistake (I’m a former admissions officer, and I have seen it happen!).

Follow the Rules

Last but not least, stick to the guidelines the Admissions Committee has set forth. Keeping your video within the timeframe allowed (e.g., 60 seconds for MIT Sloan) shows you respect the committee’s time. MIT Sloan also stipulates that the video should be a single take of you speaking directly to the camera with no editing or production work. If it becomes evident that you hired a Hollywood-caliber video production company to help create your video, then you might win an Oscar but won’t be admitted to MIT Sloan. If there are too many people on your crew, it becomes impossible to identify the real talent, the applicant, or their production team. Not following the parameters may indicate a sense of self-importance or the mistaken belief that the rules don’t apply to you. While MIT Sloan is a school that admires people who challenge the status quo, they also expect applicants to play fair in the admissions process. So, play by the rules and find ways to be original within the constraints of this exercise– that is how you will demonstrate true creativity.

What Succeeds, What Fails

Having viewed thousands of video essays during their time in multiple admissions offices, MBA Prep School consultants have seen some video strategies work exceptionally well, and others fall flat.

Show and Tell

The benefit of a video, especially one in which you have some creative license, is your ability to communicate by showing in addition to telling. Whether showcasing a hidden talent like singing, a hobby like cooking, or an athletic interest like basketball, actions speak louder than words. In some cases, applicants choose to participate in an activity on-camera that they enjoy. One memorable applicant parasailed into the frame of his video. Before he even began speaking, an admissions officer could infer some information about him: he liked water sports, he was adventurous, perhaps he was even a risk-taker. It was a great use of action to convey something about him and allowed him more time to speak about other topics.

If you choose to “perform” during your video, be sure you are doing something you are actually GOOD at! Previous applicants have written and performed parodies of songs, changing the lyrics to reflect their stories and affinity for MIT Sloan. However, the videos were painful to watch if the applicants weren’t talented singers!

Other applicants have utilized a “show and tell” format. A candidate on a Peace Corp mission chose three items to tell the admissions committee about himself, one being the pot he used to cook food in daily while in his village. His creative framing succeeded because he had to pack light; therefore, each object had a special meaning. It’s important to make your “show and tell” unique. Too many applicants used a tablet computer to show photos of their travels, family, and hobbies. Often, there was nothing special or memorable presented in these videos.

Creativity Counts When It Serves a Purpose

Innovation is MIT’s lifeblood, so it is no surprise that applicants often use their video essays to illustrate their creativity. The risk is that your clever framing device takes over and comes across as a gimmick that distracts the viewer; remember, the purpose of the video essay is for the Admissions Committee to get to know you. One applicant sent a video of herself lip-syncing to a popular song intermixed with a time-lapse video of a pie baking in the oven. It wasn’t possible to infer what these images meant, so the video detracted from her application instead of enriching it.

Nothing Beats Authenticity

You don’t have to learn to parasail to capture the Admissions Committee’s attention. In fact, while creativity has its place in a video essay, it never can beat authenticity. An MIT Sloan applicant passionate about ending human trafficking simply spoke to the camera about her volunteer work in that area. Viewers could clearly sense her drive to find a solution to this problem. An engaged speaker sharing a personal story always wins against props or schtick. Presenting an authentic representation of yourself always wins over special effects.

Final Thoughts

Video essays give MBA applicants a chance to showcase their true selves, which is extremely valuable when competing with so many exceptional candidates for a select few spots. By putting thought and effort into this aspect of the application, you will meet the actual measure of success in this assignment: an invitation to meet the Admissions Committee for a real, live MBA admission interview!

Do Your Video Essays Stand Out?

Whether you need help outlining your video, want us to review your pre-recorded video, or want to practice live video questions, we have you covered!

Talk with one of our MBA admissions experts about hourly consulting!