Yale: The musical

By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 19, 2010; 5:18 PM

A new Yale admissions video released Friday starts as most campus tours do: an uncomfortable question-and-answer session with an over-caffeinated admissions officer. Some kid asks what year the school was founded. A dowdy mom elbows a nerdy dad.

And then a sultry young woman in a red sundress in the back row asks: "Why did you choose Yale?"

There's a reflective pause. A reflection piano overture. Reflective looks around the room. And then -- bam! -- the boring admissions video turns into a musical. The admissions officer serenades the no-longer-bored students: When I was a senior in high school, colleges called out my name. Every day I debate where to matriculate, but every place seemed the same. Yet after I went through the options, only one choice remained. I wanted to hail from a college called Yale . . . .

It feels like an episode of Glee, the popular TV show that overnight made it socially acceptable and even sexy to sing in the high school show chorus. Those involved admit they watched the movie "High School Musical" for inspiration. And since the video was posted on YouTube on Friday evening, it has been viewed nearly 50,000 times.

"We were hoping people would realize this is a bit tongue-in-cheek. It's campy on purpose," said Andrew Johnson, a 2006 Yale graduate who works in the admissions office and came up with the idea for the video, which was first reported by the Yale Daily News.

The admissions office had retired its previous recruitment video, which was professionally filmed nearly a decade ago and features in-line skaters, students in baggy T-shirts and two people who have since died.

Obviously college has changed a lot since then, and so has admissions. Today admissions officers friend potential students on Facebook and lightheartedly blog about application pet peeves. Some colleges hire social media experts to take control of their Wikipedia page, Twitter feeds, Facebook fan pages, YouTube videos and anything else that might come up in a Google search; and more students are looking farther from home for a school that perfectly fits, above all else, their personality.

Johnson got the okay from higher-ups to script, score and produce the video with his undergraduate friends on a shoestring budget.

"I figured the worst case would be a low-cost 'nice try,' " Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said in an e-mail. "The outcome went beyond the best case I could imagine. It's campy, clever and extremely entertaining, especially when you consider that the audience for it is generally subjected to an unending parade of admissions videos that all look the same."

Two minutes into the video, the walls of the admissions office disappear. The beat picks up. The suit-and-tie clad admissions officer -- played by Kobi Libii, a 2007 graduate and actor in New York -- is suddenly dancing through campus. Others join him, including student singer Sam Tsui, whose YouTube video mash-ups of him singing Michael Jackson and Glee songs have been viewed millions of times.

Together the singers tell prospective students everything they need to know about Yale, like how their dorms have "such great facilities to hone your abilities you'll never want to go outside."

They dance through a lab, music practice room, laundry room, gym, library and an art gallery where an electric guitarist is rocking out. There's a cameo appearance by NBC news anchor Brian Williams (his daughter is a student), and a long montage counting off the college's sports and extracurricular activities.

The video goes on and on -- and on and on and on -- for 15 minutes, which the admissions office says is standard for a recruitment video. Toward the end, more than 200 Yalies are dancing and singing on the steps of the library: Whoa, whoa, whoa! That's why we chose Yale!

The video ends back in the conference room with the breathless admissions officer and straightening his tie. The visitors give him a standing ovation. And as the epic video ends, one of the high-schoolers mutters: " 'Cats' was better."

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