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Student YouTubers discuss their “niche,” creative process

Kaiti Yoo ’22, May Gao ’21, Kaito Ran ’23, reflect on opportunities, struggles on platform

When Kaiti Yoo ’22, a former senior staff writer at The Herald, was sent home from Brown in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yoo experienced what she described as an “existential crisis.” All throughout January and February, she was applying to countless internships, all of which were canceled. Yoo felt discouraged and lost, so she decided to immerse herself in a creative practice: creating videos. 

As a modern culture and media and economics concentrator, Yoo had experience working with video editing software from her VISA 0120: “Foundation Media” class. Her mother also once tried to start her own cooking YouTube channel, and as a photography-oriented family, Yoo had all of the supplies she needed to start her own channel. 

At the start of her YouTube career, Yoo focused on content related to college and Brown, but did not find passion in it. She pivoted to creating fashion-related content and now views herself as a fashion content creator. Her most popular video, entitled “what different college majors would wear if they had proper sleep & decent fashion sense LMaO,” has nearly 850,000 views. 

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“I didn’t love talking about college,” Yoo said. 

On a normal week, Yoo uploads on Tuesdays around 11 a.m. EST, and then gets right to work the next day brainstorming. She then films on Fridays and edits oftentimes until 5 a.m. Tuesday to meet her desired post time. 

Yoo frequently interacts with her subscribers through comments and her Discord server in order to gauge what her audience wants to see. 

But Yoo doesn’t do it all alone: She also works with a manager that helps her negotiate brand deals for companies like Skillshare and BetterHelp therapy, among others. 

Yoo has a simple piece of advice for creating videos: “Throw anything at the wall and see what sticks,” she said. “You have to push through the highs and lows and the audience will find you.”

May Gao ’21 started her YouTube channel in 2017, at the end of her senior year of high school. As an Asian American, she felt that her representation in mainstream media was near-nonexistent. The little representation she did see in Asian American YouTubers like Wong Fu Productions and Ryan Higa compelled her to start vlogging (video blogging) on the platform. 

At the time of her channel’s inception, Gao had just finished applying to colleges and realized that there was a lack of content regarding college life at specific universities, so she developed a channel to talk about the application process, mistakes she made and any tips she had. 

Gao has stayed loyal to the niche she has created, developing a narrow focus on academic and pre-med life at Brown and intentionally avoiding her personal life. She has come to value her privacy and disconnecting from social media. 

“After finishing each video, I ask myself if it’s 1) something I’m okay with anyone on the internet seeing, and 2) if it’s helpful in some way,” Gao wrote in an email to The Herald. 

Gao is especially proud of her video “A Day in My Life at Brown University,” which has amassed over 400,000 views and brought her a large portion of her current subscribers. 

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Gao also recently created an MCAT study video complete with a written guide she created with a friend at the University of Southern California, Anuva Mittal. “Every time I open the document there are like 20 people on it, so it’s amazing to know that people actually find it useful,” Gao wrote. “I ran into a Brown student (on Zoom) for a completely random event and she mentioned using the document to study for the MCAT. It was super out of the blue but made my day.” 

She has also engaged in external endeavors as a result of her successful platform, such as starting Collab Culture, a free college essay reviewing and mentorship program for first-generation low-income students and those who do not have college counseling at their high schools. Gao has also worked on a project called CollegeSide Chats with other students from Brown, Yale and the University of California at Berkeley where they have hosted free college panels with current university students. She has even been featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education

“Having my YouTube platform really made this a possibility, and it’s so rewarding to be able to interact and help my viewers in a meaningful way,” Gao wrote. “My goal is always to improve accessibility to higher education and academic resources, and to help students tell their story without feeling like they need to fit in a predefined box to get into college/medical school.” 

For now, Gao plans on taking a gap year before heading to medical school and hopes to continue making videos. 

“I’m really grateful for my experience on YouTube, since it really pushed me to think innovatively and creatively about how I can use my audience for good,” Gao wrote. “It’s also just really nice to be able to look back on my college experience (I vlogged the first time I met two of my now-best friends at Brown… it’s mind-boggling that I captured that moment).” 

Like Gao, Kaito Ran ’23 started his YouTube channel in 2017, while he was still in high school. Ran started off by making study vlogs and college-related content, but similarly to Yoo, he soon realized it was an area he was not passionate about. 

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“I didn't really resonate with those videos,” Ran said. Instead, as someone who lives in Japan, he has developed a following surrounding Tokyo-related content, such as one of his most popular videos, “what highschoolers in TOKYO are actually wearing.” 

Ran has also discovered the harsh realities of being a content creator, like the importance of posting frequently. Since the pandemic, he has not been able to film vlog-style content, and his channel has taken a hit as a result. 

“I've lost a little under 20,000 subscribers since I don't post consistently. It's kind of sad,” he said. 

Still, YouTube has helped Ran discover his passion for working in a creative field. 

“It's helped me realize that I enjoy having creative endeavors and it’s something I can do on my own,” Ran said. “I guess YouTube helped me realize I should just do whatever I wanted to.”



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