‘Day-in-the-Life’ Videos Add Impact for UVA Admissions

January 24, 2023 By Renee Grutzik, amn8sb@virginia.edu Renee Grutzik, amn8sb@virginia.edu

For many prospective University of Virginia students, the college search process involves all the usual avenues: the official website, a visit to Grounds, and maybe a brochure or two that show up in the mailbox.

But there’s another source that high school students are increasingly seeking when they want a less glossy peek inside life at UVA, a backdoor channel not sanctioned by administrators that reveals what it’s really like to be a Cavalier: YouTube.

Dillen Chung is among a growing and unofficial group of students bringing viewers along on digital journeys into UVA. She uploads her video dispatches from Grounds under the YouTube handle @dillenn.

“I moved to Virginia in the middle of high school,” said Chung, now a second-year psychology major who has 1,500 YouTube followers. “During that transition, I was having a hard time, so I turned to YouTube as an outlet and a way to express myself.”

While the University’s admissions materials and guided tours of Grounds are generally curated and scripted, YouTubers offer more of an unfiltered and authentic view of Wahoo life, often through “day-in-the-life” videos.

Chung’s expertise as a video blogger – or vlogger – began in eighth grade, when she taught herself the ropes of video production and editing, posting her videos to a private YouTube channel. Her now-public channel features short films, vacation montages and vlogs of her life on Grounds. A four-minute retrospective of her first year at UVA has more than 1,700 views.

“I really liked editing, just putting the pieces together and watching the final product come to life,” Chung said. “I just fell in love with that process.”

Her look at move-in day as a second-year student generated comments like, “You make UVA look so lovely. I’m obsessed with this video,” and “Bro, you make me so excited to go back to college.”

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That’s much the same story for recent UVA graduate Sam White, known as “Swite” on social media.

He’s been creating videos on YouTube for more than seven years, posting travel montages, tutorials and technology reviews. When he entered Grounds as a first-year student, White knew he wanted to make UVA lifestyle content to share with prospective students.

Portrait of Sam White with his skateboard on grounds

Sam White is one of several video bloggers – or vloggers – who have created “day in the life” videos that serve as an informal look at UVA for many high-school students. He’s met UVA students who said the videos helped them decide where to go to college. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

“I had seen a bunch of other college YouTubers making day-in-the-life [videos of] their own experiences, a lot of which I actually watched before coming to UVA,” the economics major said.

One of White’s most-watched videos, with more than 40,000 views, is “Day in the Life of a College Student.” It showcases a detailed account of a day in his life as a first-year student before the pandemic.

“It really excites me to see other people comment on those videos,” White said. “I’ve even … had three guys randomly come up to me, saying they committed to UVA, not necessarily by my video alone, but that it was a factor in their decision.”

The students said his videos “helped them visualize what it’s like at this school.”

The behind-the-scenes genre is one that Jeannine Lalonde, associate dean of undergraduate admission, appreciates and embraces. As an extension of her blog “Notes from Peabody,” Lalonde creates UVA admissions content on several platforms, including Twitter, TikTok and Instagram. The goal is to promote transparency in the admissions process at the University.

Portrait of Jeannine Lalonde with Cav Dog and Cav Pup
Jeannine Lalonde, associate dean of undergraduate admission, says the videos showcasing UVA can be beneficial for students deciding on college. “I think that seeing a student share their day-to-day life can make someone already interested in UVA feel more interested and like this is a place where they can fit in.” (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

“Anytime I talked about the application process on my blog, I noticed the internet traffic jumped,” Lalonde said. “I realized … people were interested in knowing what’s going on behind the scenes in the admissions process.”

In that vein, she said, students who publicly detail their lives as Wahoos can be a beneficial, if unofficial, recruiting tool.

“I think that seeing a student share their day-to-day life can make someone already interested in UVA feel more interested and like this is a place where they can fit in,” Lalonde said.

Carrie Walker, a third-year nursing student, also strives to let people see the real UVA. She’s another student content creator focused on productivity, journaling and wellness in college.

Since starting her YouTube channel in August 2019, Walker has gained more than 69,400 followers, with some videos reaching over half a million views.

Portrait of Carrie Walker
Carrie Walker, a nursing student, said she at first just posted random videos before focusing on her adventures as a Wahoo. She’s also met students who came to UVA because of her videos. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

“Originally, I was just making random content, but I eventually narrowed my focus to journaling videos with some lifestyle and college videos mixed in,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to have a positive impact on as many people as possible and having a social media platform is a great facilitator for that goal.”

Walker has posted several videos highlighting her experiences as a recent transfer to UVA’s School of Nursing. Her UVA content ranges from question-and-answer-style videos to full accounts of her daily routine as a student.

“I’ve had a few students recognize me from my channel and the UVA content that I’ve made,” Walker said. “A couple of people in years younger than me have told me that they used my UVA videos as a deciding factor to come to UVA.

“They liked being able to see what a day in a UVA student’s life was like because it made them feel more comfortable when making such a big decision like committing to college.”

When it comes time to make those decisions, Chung often sees a flurry of viewers.

“I can definitely tell that my views go up during college admissions season,” Chung said. But, she added, she’s not using her video channel as a hard sell to get people to come to Charlottesville. She hopes her adventures alone accomplish that.

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“I don’t really talk about anything specific to UVA, just because I think that showing my experiences is enough,” Chung said. “But I like to show places around Grounds, like where I live, the places I like to study, or the dining halls I go to.”

Ultimately, Lalonde said, the UVA vloggers often provide that extra push to get prospective students comfortable and committed, which is a good thing.

“Most students, once they get to the application point, know that this school has the departments, academic experience and student life they want,” she said.

“They can help make UVA real, not just brochures and emails.”

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