How to avoid the three most common types of video essay mistakes – verbal, vocal, and visual 

How can you utilize video to stand out from other applicants? I created my YouTube account in 2008. Still, it took me until 2012, four years, to figure out how to use video to differentiate myself from other admissions consultants. You don't have four years. How can you use video to stand out now? 

First, please understand why schools want to see your video. 


Why do schools ask for videos?

As with written essays, schools ask for video responses because they want to get to know you. The schools are seeking to see how you present yourself visually and with little time to prepare or polish answers. They are testing articulation and presence in a way that essays can’t and at much less expense than interviews. In that sense, these videos are a pre-interview screening device in addition to a way to learn more about your likes and dislikes, achievements, dreams, goals, and challenges. Schools want to accept students who reflect well on them. 


How to avoid the three most common types of video essay mistakes  



Understand your impact 

I recently came across a study that claims that what you say (verbal communication) only accounts for 7% of the impact of your message. Your tone of voice (vocal communication) accounts for 38% of your impact. Perhaps most surprisingly, your visual communication (non-verbal physical behavior) conveys 55% of your impact. While I cannot verify these statistics, I do know that what we say is often less important than how we say it. Others do not always perceive us the way we wish to be perceived

  • Verbal communication (words) = 7% impact

  • Vocal communication (tone of voice) = 38% impact 

  • Visual communication (non-verbal physical behavior) = 55% impact 

(found at; accessed 2015/10)


1. Verbal mistakes (what you say)

(7% impact)





Vague answer


Describe a unique perspective, skill set, or life experience you have. Articulate how it might benefit your classmates, enhance discourse in the classroom, and/or contribute to our school community.



Unorganized answer 


Describe a unique perspective, skill set, or life experience you have. Articulate how it might benefit your classmates, enhance discourse in the classroom, and/or contribute to our school community.



Unprofessional tone

Avoid slang or profanity 



Negative first impression – is your opening warm, classy, and engaging? 

Always introduce yourself – opening (name and location) and closing (thank you)

Compare early VincePrep videos and more recent ones


Abrupt closing

Say something like, "Thank you for watching this video. I hope to see you on campus."



2. Vocal mistakes (how you say it)

(38% impact) 




Do you sound articulate?  

Minimize verbal junk

What is verbal junk?

Verbal junk includes "umm," and "uh"

Why do we use verbal junk? 

We sometimes make noises to fill the silence as we think

This verbal mitake happens when are are unprepared 

Why is verbal junk problematic: too many "umms" and "uhs" detract from presence. We sound unprofessional. We appear to lack confidence 

Solution: think for a few seconds before you reply and then minimize pauses that we tend to fill with “umms” and “uhs”


Are you too quiet? – we cannot hear you 

Be sure your room is quiet and you are loud (but not too loud)


Are you too loud? 

Your voice sounds distorted, like a singer in a punk or metal band

If you can see the sound wave of voice in an audio recording software, you want to be just slightly in the red zone 



Are you speaking too fast? – we cannot follow your ideas 

We often speed up when unprepared 



Is it possible to speak too slow? 

Speak as slowly as you can (show Mr. Aluminum sample)



Describe a unique perspective, skill set, or life experience you have. Articulate how it might benefit your classmates, enhance discourse in the classroom, and/or contribute to our school community.



3. Visual mistakes (what you look like)

(55% impact)




Is your presence weak or unconvincing? – we cannot believe you  

You look scared, not confident 


Is your physical appearance unprofessional? – would we want to hire you?   

Dress neatly, as you would at a job interview 

Follow any dress guidelines the school provides

Women, put on light make-up and minimal jewelry. If you wonder if your attire is too revealing, it is

Men, get a haircut and shave. Trim that beard or mustache, if you have one


Never let them see you sweat

Max the AC in the room where you will record but turn off all AC / fans when recording to avoid hum

Your video is only one minute; you should be able to finish your recording before the temperature starts climbing 


Bad posture – you look scared and small 

Sit up straight and lean a little bit forward


Unnatural hand gestures – are you using your hands to emphasize your main points? Do you look like you are drowning? 

Keep your hands in neutral position 

Practice using them to emphasize certain points 


Weak or inconsistent eye contact  – you are not sure where to look

The little green dot is your best friend


Too much (or too little) breathing – you sound out-of-breath, and/or I can hear your exhalations 

Remember to breathe naturally


Wrong facial expression – do you look like you are in pain? 

Remember to smile

I know it is awkward speaking to a machine

When I record VincePrep videos, I put a photo of someone who makes me smile just above my computer’s camera


Wrong location – we can see your dirty laundry 

What is a good background? Also, check continuity (a viewer of one of my HBS videos noticed the Stanford alumni directory on my bookshelf)


Wrong lighting – we cannot see your face 


Grab every portable light in your apartment / office and flood your face with light. You will feel strange, but look GREAT for your audience


Have the window in front of you, not behind you 


Wrong camera placement  – we are looking up your nose 

Place the camera at eye level

If you are using a laptop to record your video, put it on top of some large books



How to practice 

When I first starting making VincePrep videos, I found the experience very unnatural. I hope I’ve improved with practice. You can too.

If you feel quite nervous about the video exercise or about speaking in public, consider joining Toastmasters and forcing yourself to speak publicly. You will improve your “presence” and gain confidence. Hopefully, you are reading this blog post months before you need to record your admissions video. If not, then please follow the steps below to practice with the time you have. 

When recording your sample, put yourself in the exact setup you plan to use for the real thing. 


Practice questions

What are some typical questions you can practice now? While you may not be able to prepare for a specific question, you definitely can and should prepare. Practice answering sample questions in 60 seconds or less. Then view the video. Did you avoid the verbal, vocal and visual mistakes listed above in this post? Once you have recorded a video that represents your best effort, contact your Agos Admissions Consultant to arrange a one-to-one session. Be sure to share your video as "unlisted" and include the URL in your email to your consultant. 


Here are a few sample questions to get you started:



  • What is the most interesting course you took as a student?

  • Why did you choose your college major?



  • What do you do for fun?

  • What are your passions, interests, and hobbies?

  • What is one thing you’ve always wanted to try?

  • If you had an extra hour every day, what would you do with it?

  • If you could meet anyone (living or dead), who would it be and why?

  • What is your most treasured possession and why?

  • What invention during your lifetime has had the biggest impact on you and why?

  • Tell us about the most interesting place you’ve traveled to. What did you enjoy most about it?

  • If money was not a concern, what would you do?

  • What’s the best book you have ever read and why?

  • If you could witness any event —past present or future —what would it be?

  • What is the most meaningful thing anyone has done for you in your life?

  • If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?



  • How have you handled a difficult interaction? What did you learn from it?

  • What impact have you had on your co-workers?



  • Whom do you respect most, and why?

  • What is your favorite motto or quote, and why?

  • What inspires you?

  • What word describes you best and why?

  • Tell us about the first job you ever had.

  • When you have a problem, whom do you approach for advice and why?

  • What accomplishment are you proud of?

  • What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?

  • Tell us about an organization or activity in which you have dedicated significant time. Why was it meaningful to you?

  • How have you changed in the last five years?

  • What risk have you taken and what did you learn?

  • Describe a difficult professional decision you had to make.  What were the consequences, and what, if anything, did you learn?



  • If you could teach a class on any subject, what would it be and why?

  • What is one interesting thing about you that you would want your future classmates to know?

  • Describe a unique perspective, skill set, or life experience you have. Articulate how it might benefit your classmates, enhance discourse in the classroom, and/or contribute to our school community.



How to share your video  

Send your Agos Admissions Consultant the link to your video. Be sure to make the video "unlisted," not "private."

Instructions on how to submit your Video Essay: Please upload your video to YouTube. We recommend that the applicant use the "Unlisted Video" setting so that only individuals who have the URL can view it. Only those who you send the link to will be able to view it. It isn't searchable. It won't be password protected but the only way it can be shared is if someone posts/shares the link applicants send, which we obviously won't be doing. Please click this link to learn more about creating “Unlisted” videos in YouTube:  


The real thing

Expect the worst (my clients report repeated system failures)

There have been reports of system malfunctions and delays



Sample videos

Video essay samples – well done and could be improved. First, please see the changes in my Columbia Business School tips over time (four videos recorded from 2012 to 2015)


First attempt (Jul 2012)

Link ▸





Well done

▸ Original analysis (good content)


Could be improved

▸ Very long (one hour!)

Bad body language 

learning back in chair

touching face

not smiling 


Second attempt (Jun 2013)

Link ▸





Well done

▸ Clear content, well structured

Could be improved

▸ Monotone (I sound low energy)

▸ Not smiling 

▸ Not well lit 

▸ Noise in the background (low grade hum probably caused by the AC unit running while I recorded the video)



Third attempt (June 2014)

Link ▸





Well done

 ▸ Clear content, well-structured

 ▸ Personal insights combined with school-specific data points 


Could be improved

 ▸ Less monotone than second attempt from 2013 but still some awkward pauses

 ▸ Strange lighting and echo (shot at friend's aparment, not an ideal set up)




Fourth attempt (June 2015)

Link ▸





Well done

 ▸ Higher production value (opening music, titles) 

 ▸ Clear content, well-structured

 ▸ Vocal delivery sounds relatively natural, especially when compared to 2012 and 2013 videos


Could be improved

 ▸ Audio inconsistent between opening theme music and Vince's spoken words

 ▸ Text on screen hard to read

 ▸ Could have created some visual aids to demonstrate key points 



Bottom line

The biggest mistake is simply not making a video. The video is an opportunity. Take it and make the most of it



Stay tuned

In our next post, we will identify some schools that require video essays, and others that give you the opportunity to make a video

For now, here is a list of some schools that require or encourage video essays or interviews ▸





Information is subject to change. Please verify all data with the schools.


- Updated by Vince on 9 Apr 2016

  • I have been a full-time international graduate admissions consultant since 2002

  • Based in Tokyo, Japan, I help clients around the world 

  • In 2007, I launched VincePrep because I wanted to help the best candidates aiming for the top schools

  • To share my insights with a talented team, I rejoined Agos as Consulting Director in 2014 

  • Now, I lead 10 professionals who deliver Japan’s best graduate admissions results

  • I also serve as president-elect of The Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC)

  • Given my ongoing professional and personal commitments, I accept very few clients

  • Usually, I refer prospects to one of my highly-experienced and successful colleagues   

  • If interested, please complete this intake form

  • Meanwhile, please explore my YouTube channel, and be sure to subscribe for the latest updates

  • Thank you for your interest, and best wishes for your success!


Vince's clients
admitted since 2007
Kellogg  24
Stanford 1
Tuck  8
Wharton  26

+8 Fulbright Scholars

Full list here




"You encouraged me to be genuine, and helped me find the right, true stories that captured who I am. In this way, you offer applicants not only an effective admissions advisory, but also a unique journey of self discovery and empowering dreams."

Harvard Business School Class of 2015, with Fulbright Scholarship (also admitted Stanford GSB)


"First, you limit the number of your clients so that you can maintain the high quality of your services while many other MBA consultants accept clients almost beyond their capacity. Second, you are really great 'catalyst.' Each question you asked me made me think and thus deepened my stories. Thanks to you, I was able to come up with excellent ideas that I could never come up with alone."

Kellogg Class of 2015 (also admitted Berkeley Haas)


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