A few years ago, when Dr. Pimple Popper and her imitators suddenly became famous, I developed a theory about ‘popping videos’ that I’d tell to anyone who would listen (so what else is new?):
I think people are addicted to popping videos – and popping zits in general – because they have perfect dramatic structure. In the calm world of skin, a problem arises. First it’s ignorable but then, as it gets bigger and redder, it’s undeniable. You try to push and prod it to get it out of the way, but it persists, getting redder and angrier. Then, just when you think all is lost, there’s a pop! The problem is solved, all the efforts are rewarded, and there’s a feeling that all’s right with the world again.
The same exact thing can be said about College Admission videos on YouTube – and I should know, because I’ve watched dozens, maybe hundreds.
To understand exactly how dorky this is, you have to know the following: College Admissions videos are a widespread trend on YouTube; no matter how many I watch, I’m always served new ones. The concept is exactly what it sounds like: kids film themselves opening each and every admissions decision – most of which, of course, arrive via email. They’re elated at acceptances, devastated (or shocked) at rejections, and remarkably sanguine, if deflated, at deferrals and waitlists.
Almost all the videos follow the same structure: a bright-eyed high school senior gives an introduction, and then we cut to a sequence they’ve been working on for months. Usually the videos start in December, showing either acceptances to less-selective or ‘safety’ schools, or updates on the applications for Early Admission, which is far too complicated to get into here, but basically means you don’t have to sweat as much in the spring.
I should acknowledge two things – first, the vast majority of these videos come from people applying to U.S. schools, partly because college culture is such a thing there (note the number of videos titled something like “I APPLIED TO HOW MANY SCHOOLS?!”), and partly because in Canada and the U.K., admission is based on GPA and thus a lot more transparent and a lot less subjective.
The second is that a lot of these videos climax on ‘Ivy Day’, the day late in March (this year it was the 26th) when all the Ivy League schools release their decisions – which, for many of these kids, means opening 5 or more decisions on the same day, which can be incredibly gratifying… or depressing.
So, given that it’s incredibly subjective, that grades, test scores, and the kinds of extracurriculars that so-called ‘elite’ colleges care about, why should you watch? Why do I?
They’re inspirational – especially in failure
I’m floored by the transparency of these kids. No matter how much a rejection hurts or surprises them, they include them all. There’s no sense of a rejection being something shameful (because see above, where admissions are a crapshoot) so they just lay it all out there, and I find it really refreshing and even… instructive?
After all, if these bright-eyed babies who have no life experience can get over their disappointments when they’ve been told acceptance is literally the key to everything in their lives, I can deal with my petty problems.
In fact, one of my favourite parts is watching them talk about admissions to schools I’ve never heard of; they’re educating us, and themselves, about the fact that there are many places, not just one, where they could be happy, and – especially since the College Admissions Scandal is still fresh in their minds (and mine) – it’s a message worthy of boosting.
Some of these kids want to be YouTubers and start channels, while some are clearly just doing this as a one-off. But all of them speak the language, know that watching someone watch a screen is inherently kind of boring, and so the interjections and onscreen jokes (especially at themselves) are legitimately entertaining:
THE FAMILIES ARE THE BEST
Not all the videos are taped with family around, but a substantial number of them have family and friends gathered around to cheer on the students, and it is SO damn cute:
I’m not trying to be rose-coloured glasses here. I know the families know the cameras are on. I’m one of bajllions of people who felt like their parents put a lot of academic pressure on them, and I’m sure some of these kids feel that way too.
But when you look at the glowing eyes of the parents bursting with pride behind them before they ever open the letters, you realize how much these kids are loved regardless of what overpriced school sweatshirt they’re about to buy – and that the disappointment on parents’ faces is sometimes because they realize their little baby is about to go across the country:
It also means you’re that much more aware of what it means when there’s nobody in the videos at all. And your heart breaks, and swells again, at the idea that some of these kids did this all on their own:
Mostly, whether the videos are tagged ‘realistic’ (i.e., not all acceptances and/or not all Ivy League schools) or ‘I got into my dream school!!!!!!!’, the addictive property is the same – in the words of one friend I successfully hooked on these vids…
“The glint in their eyes when they realize they got in 😭”
It’s beautiful to watch people do a thing. If it’s got joy and sorrow all mixed together, so much the better.
If you get deep enough into the hole, you’ll also find yourself faced with ‘Decision Reveal’ videos, and while they’re also quite entertaining (and very often involve cupcakes) I care less because they’re made for an audience—for me, really – whereas the reaction videos make the teens the stars, and that’s what I’m here for.
I make no apologies for how addictive these videos are, or how much time you’ll spend clicking through them; the schools they apply to, the family dynamics, and the obvious socioeconomic disparities change with each video, but the purity of hope, and the joy in seeing the word ‘accepted’, is the same every time. I’ll never get tired of looking at all that possibility, and I guarantee even one will make your heart grow three sizes – and I defy anyone to tell me they don’t need that right now.