Is Indie Film Making an Application-Worthy Extracurricular?

Question: My son has a passion for film making. He has taken classes in both school and in the summer and has made films. However, he has never submitted them for festivals or awards. Is this still a good extracurricular? He is considering submitting a film to the schools to show what he is working on.

Film-making—even when done informally and without the intent to wow festival audiences or earn awards—can be a plus at admission-decision time. BUT … ever since the iPhone replaced the camcorder as a household staple, student film-makers have abounded, some quite accomplished, and thus it can be tough for teenagers to stand out in a talented crowd. So if your son does plan to submit his work to colleges, he should first seek some independent opinions (e.g., from his high school and summer-school teachers, not just from mom, dad, and Granny 😉 ). Perhaps he has already received high praise through his classes, but he also might want to check out prize-winning student films online to help assess how his own efforts stack up against those from the wider world.

When it comes time to prepare his applications, your son will need to read Web instructions carefully to see how to send his work. Colleges can be picky about their guidelines and—as with most things in the admissions universe—you shouldn't expect consistency. For example, many admission offices will ask applicants to create an account on “SlideRoom" in order to submit arts materials while, for others, an emailed link to a YouTube channel will suffice. Note also that, occasionally, the deadline for arts submissions will be earlier than the application deadline itself. (Ugh!) Note also that admission officials are not interested in films that are made by groups of students unless the applicant is highlighting his or her individual role (e.g., screenplay, editing, directing).

If your son is applying to film programs, samples of his work will probably be required and will be routinely reviewed as part of the evaluation process. But if he is not aiming for a film-related major and simply wants the admission committees to take a peek at his creative side and to better understand one of his passions, there's no guarantee that busy admission folks will see his stuff at all. So he would be wise to use the “Additional Information" section of his applications (or a separate, unsolicited letter or essay) to briefly explain his work, what it means to him, and—especially—what makes it special. If his films focus on an atypical topic, he should be sure to say so in this short synopsis. If his films have ties to other areas he plans to pursue in college (e.g., history, science, psychology), he should mention this, too. Overall, he should attempt to create a verbal “preview" of his films that will entice admission officials to want to look further, even if their college's selection protocol doesn't require them to do so.

Meanwhile, with nearly a year (including a summer) ahead of him before applications are due, your son might want to think about unique themes or approaches that could help distinguish his films from the many others that “competitor" applicants will submit.

Finally, if your son already has a clear-cut first choice, he might even want to make a short film that offers some connection to that specific school (via setting, characters, etc.). While, obviously, sending it to his OTHER colleges could be a potential deal-breaker (or could require a highly diplomatic explanation!) he might get a little mileage out of his extra efforts at his number-one college.