Vlogging, a colloquialized mash-up of the words ‘video’ and ‘blog,’ refers to a type of video where a creator documents their day-to-day life. It’s become a rapidly popular section of the internet, perhaps a reflection of younger internet users’ appreciation for relatability rather than celebrity in figures they follow.
The video format has become an industry in its own right. Popular YouTube vlogger Emma Chamberlain makes an estimated $1.4 million per year from ad revenue on her videos. While other prominent YouTubers script and heavily edit their videos, Chamberlain and other vloggers intend to show their daily lives exactly as they are.
The world of college vlogging is an even more specific internet niche in which college students and rising freshmen chronicle their lives at university and provide insight into the sometimes daunting college admissions process. On this platform viewers gain insight from the perspective of someone they can identify with more personally than the older alumni or college representatives who court prospective students.
“With any new or unfamiliar experience, it is exciting to get a glimpse of it. It is even more resonant when you, as a viewer, can relate to this creator,” said human biology major Marlon Washington ’22 of Moments with Marlon on YouTube.
After COVID-19 hit, students were sent home from campus at the tail-end of winter quarter. Stanford cancelled in-person tours for potential students and their families as well as Stanford Admit Weekend in April. These closures came shortly after students were admitted in late March. As a result, the internet quickly became the only outlet where interested students could engage with the Stanford community.
The clearest example of real Stanford life was to be found on, well, YouTube.
Students at elite schools have found massive success on Youtube, with examples including Sienna Santer at Harvard University and Elliot Choy at Vanderbilt University. Santer’s channel has amassed 402,000 subscribers and over 26 million views across her videos. Choy has 725,000 subscribers, and his videos have accumulated over 50 million views. While these channels include content beyond the scope of college vlogging, both Santer and Choy’s most viewed videos — A Day in the Life of a Harvard Student and Giving Harvard Students an iPhone 11 If They Can Answer This Question — center around the college experience.
Stanford plays host to a number of its own college YouTube channels where students document their lives at the university, provide advice to younger students, demystify the admissions process and more. Some of the widely recognized channels include Katherine Waissbluth ’22’s The Kath Path and Arpi Park ’22’s eponymous channel, with more than 61,000 and 238,000 subscribers, respectively.
Park began making college-related videos in the fall of 2018, shortly after the start of his freshman year, with the intention of helping younger students better understand college application essays.
“In hindsight, it was naive of me to think I knew enough to provide meaningful advice,” Park said, but his videos reading his essays and sharing his test scores and high school extracurriculars garnered nearly 1.5 million views combined.
As his channel grew, Park continued creating a wider breadth of content including comedy and satire. Viewers, particularly those outside the Stanford community, increasingly began turning to him and channels like his to try to get to know the university. Even in the pandemic-less world of years past, interested high schoolers and prospective freshmen turned to the internet to get a glimpse of college life.
“[Park] made the application process seem very relaxed rather than stressful. He inspired me to get creative on the essays because he answered the questions in pretty unorthodox ways,” wrote incoming freshman Robert Castaneros. “After I got in, I watched the Kath Path a lot so I could learn more about the campus vibe and culture.”
Art Practice major Dyllen Nellis ’23 (imdyllen on YouTube) was once one of these students herself and watched Waissbluth’s videos during her senior year of high school. As a college freshman on YouTube, Nellis finds now herself on the other end of this relationship.
“When Stanford released who got admitted to their class of ’24, I did get a lot of DMs saying ‘Hey, I got in, thank you so much, I watched your videos!’” Nellis said. “It’s crazy that I helped [them] because I did the same thing, like I watched the Kath Path. Once I got admitted I sent her a DM. Now it’s so funny that I’m that person on the other side of it.”
While viewers might be searching for a general idea of what Stanford is like, for these college YouTubers, their experience is inherently personal.
“I just try to show myself. I don’t think I have the authority to decide what a typical Stanford student is, nor do I have the authority to portray the perspectives of other people,” Park said.
Immersive design student Cyan D’Anjou ’22 (Cyan D’Anjou on YouTube) echoed this sentiment.
“I think that at its core, everyone is trying to portray their own personal experiences as accurately as possible,” she wrote in an email to the Daily.
D’Anjou, like Nellis, focuses on the experience of an arts student at Stanford. Nellis “didn’t know what the art scene was like” at Stanford when she was applying, and “wanted to make videos that showed that side” of the school.
As each of these Stanford vloggers documents their personal Stanford experience on Youtube, the cumulative depiction of the university on the internet grows.
“The more YouTubers begin to make videos, the more diverse representation in experiences there will be for new students to be able to relate to,” D’Anjou wrote.
Viewers’ ability to identify with these college vloggers in some regard — a shared sense of humor, a comparable high school course load or a similar upbringing — makes the intimidating and sometimes exclusionary college admissions process feel a little more accessible. Stanford YouTubers make their insights into day-to-day life at Stanford or even how admissions officers evaluated their applications freely available on the internet, a tool that proves more accessible than other avenues students use to maneuver the admissions process. Not every high schooler has access to SAT tutoring or a private college counselor, but many of them are on social media.
“I think that the college admissions process is inherently a system catering to those with more privilege,” D’Anjou wrote. “I have a lot of privilege myself to have all of these different experiences relating to the process to share with people. Social media can play a part in either leveling those differences, or in heightening them.”
“I hope that I can contribute to helping make this journey more equitable in small ways by offering some kinds of advice or perspectives or a view of student life, expectations without the viewer having to spend anything monetary,” she added.
This sentiment extends to international applicants as well, whose high schools’ systems and classes vary from those of American schools.
“I’m not from the US but your videos are really motivating, it’s kind of a dream of mine to get into [university] there and I’ve been looking into the process and stumbled across your channel. Your videos are really inspiring!!” read a comment on Iris Fu ’23’s video, Top 5 At-home Extracurricular Activities for College Applications.
In light of pandemic-induced closures, Stanford’s admissions team launched Stanford Engage as a hub of virtual opportunities for those outside the Stanford community to learn about the university. These include representative-led Virtual Visits, self-guided virtual tours and virtual appointments available on request.
However, the way Stanford exists on the internet right now depends largely on the outputs of its own students, on platforms like Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and Youtube.
While the campus remains closed, interacting with students themselves is “the closest you’re going to get” to understanding the culture of the university, Nellis said.
“In that case, yeah, watch the videos.”
Contact Sariah Hossain at sariah.hossain19 ‘at’ gmail.com.