By Rashad Mulla, Staff Writer

Prospective George Mason University freshmen had a new way to impress admissions officials during this year’s application cycle: one-minute video essays.

About 150 potential students took advantage of the option to include a supplemental video essay as part of their applications for fall 2010. The video gave high school students another opportunity to stand out from a record applicant class of more than 17,000. Mason accepts less than 50 percent of applicants, said Andrew Flagel, dean of admissions.

The concept is novel — Mason is one of at least four schools that encourage video applications — but it will not make a huge impact on admission decisions, Flagel said.

“It’s fully incorporated into the application, but it’s not meant to replace the written essay,” Flagel said. “The dominant issue, by far, is a full review of the student’s academic record.”

Despite its perceived minimal impact, student demand was one of the reasons the admissions office decided to implement the video essay option.

Until fall 2000, Mason conducted interviews with many applicants. During the fall 2000 admissions cycle, Mason interviewed about 5,000 of the 7,400 applicants, according to Flagel. The process was tedious, but allowed for more personal interaction with each applicant, Flagel said.

“It made a big difference in terms of students’ commitment to joining the school,” he said. “But it was such a massive undertaking that it really wasn’t sustainable.”

But some potential applicants wanted the personal touch that these interviews provided, Flagel said. As a trial run, Mason decided to give applicants for the summer 2009 Mason Ambassadors program the option of submitting a video essay. Deeming this a success, the admissions office opened the option to all new applicants.

Hannah Kabli, a senior information technology major, said video essays will help strengthen the admissions process.

“There are a lot of people who would be valuable assets to the Mason community but are not able to portray that through their writing,” she said.

“Having a video alongside their essay will help give a lot of students a second chance. The fact remains that a lot of people cannot make their writing interesting and a video would help them find a way to stand out.”

Amy Mai, a freshman nursing major, said the video applications are neither an easy fix nor a disadvantage for potential freshmen.

“Anything you are willing to say in a video can also be written,” she said. “With a video, [students] would probably put in a good amount of time preparing for it, just as I prepared for my essay.”