When it comes to the university application process, there once was a joke that went around that played as follows –
Two application processing officers were given two tall piles of potential students. After an hour of picking through samey personal statements, one of the officers got fed up, picked up half of his remaining stack, and dumped it in the bin.
The second officer looked aghast. “Why did you do that?” He asked.
“Well,” the first officer began “we don’t want any students that are unlucky.”
Although we, of course, are more than sure that application officers are professional, by the book, upstanding sorts of people, but the unfortunate truth that lies at the heart of this joke is a perennial problem.
Genericism, sameness, monotony, unoriginality. All of these plagues the university application process and can very easily get you turned down.
Professional application advisors and consultants that work around pitfalls like this – click here to learn more about what these advisors do – have a new phrase for the individuals who get around this sort of problem. World Class Students. The sort of people whose personality, passions, and above all projects, shine through and mark them out.
But what sort of project will really make you stand out? A professionally produced, passionately put together, podcast. Something that can be heard by hundreds, possibly thousands, around the world, on demand, on any and every smartphone through a range of different apps and platforms. But what should you make this about? What kind of podcasts really stand out to application officers as the sorts of content they would like to speak to the authors of? Here are six things to think over here, three good targets to shoot for, and three minefields that you probably want to avoid.
Good Idea – Scripted Drama
This is a less common podcast direction for a whole host of different reasons, but if you want to show yourself as a creative person with solid writing skills, a dramatic production podcast could be the perfect showcase. It does not need to follow a standard radio-drama format. Works like Welcome to Night Vale, Archive 81, and the Bright Sessions have all shown that the recorded audio medium offers a great plethora of framing devices for this kind of material. Also, more so than many other types of podcasts, a work of audio drama reveals that you know what you’re doing with things like sound effects, audio editing, and other linked techniques. If you can truly make the listener feel their running away from a Wendigo, or addressing a summit of the United Nations, that could really make your production stand out.
Bad Idea – Random Conversations
Several famous podcasts seem to consist of little more than a conversation between two or more participants with nothing but the loosest and flimsiest pretentions of a theme or structure, and lots of creative people on hearing things think it surely would be simple to replicate this kind of effect. In reality, though this is not the case. It takes a very particular, very specific type of person to make their unplanned ramblings into something entertaining. Also, most podcasts where this is the style are hosted by people who were already famous in their own right. Because of this, they have the much more advantageous “build it and they will come” option. The same is not true of unknown properties, which describes most starting out podcasters, especially those of A-level age or younger.
Good idea – Structured Discussion
The above idea does not then mean to say that conversational podcasts are a bad idea, but you do have to be careful. If you want to grab the attention of the kind of person with the power to grant you access to their university, the key is to blend both entertainment and professionalism. The way to do that is with a structured conversation. If each episode of your podcast has a formula or pattern that can direct the broader flow of conversation, then not only will the listening experience be less random, but there’s a very good chance more can be learned, and a more edifying experience will be had by all involved.
Bad idea – Explicit Content
A certain amount of swearing and other broader profanity is, of course, acceptable in certain circumstances. If you are writing a gritty, dark, and realistic detective drama serial, you cannot reasonably expect your characters to all keep their language cleaner than the script of an episode of Sesame Street. However gratuitous and intentionally defiant levels of bad language could leave your content seeming juvenile and self-indulgent. Two characteristics that will not impress a potential university application officer.
Good idea – Niche Subject Matter
The wonderful thing about the internet in general, and podcasts, in particular, is that they are a non-zero sum medium, so there is room for absolutely everyone. Do you want to discuss the finer points of seventeenth-century French Romantic poetry? Go ahead! You want to dissect the history of airship design and finally find out the real reason the Hindenburg went down in flames? Absolutely! You want to analyse the political systems of Armenia when compared to Albania, Australia, Azerbaijan, and America? Feel free! The audience of the internet is so vast and varied there will always be someone somewhere who wants to hear about what you’ve produced, and in the eyes of the application process, this proves you have the kind of deep care and passionate focus that a good student really needs.
Bad Idea – Surface Level Worthiness
When producing a podcast with the intent of getting noticed by the kind of people who could let you into university or not, there is a temptation to go for the worthy and righteous listening experience. Talking about subjects like racism, climate change, developing world debt, veganism, or other such worthy topics come with significant risk – preaching, and even more specifically – preaching to the choir. Unless you have a very unique angle, a specific experience, or some other specialist knowledge to offer, talking about these areas could just come across as worthiness for worthiness sake. If you want to make a real contribution that will make a real impact, find your niche.
Podcasts can be the kind of really powerful project that will get a higher education recruiter’s attention. Just take care to make sure what your producing is the kind of professional, polished, and powerful podcast that really could mark you out as a world-class student.
This post is a guest post.
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