"Tell me about yourself." It seems like such an easy college interview question. In some ways, it is. After all, if there's one subject you truly know something about, it's yourself. The challenge, however, is that knowing yourself and articulating your identity in a few sentences are very different things. Before setting foot in the interview room, make sure you put some thought into what it is that makes you unique.
Don't Dwell on the Obvious Character Traits
Certain characteristics are desirable, but they are not unique. The majority of students applying to selective colleges can make claims such as these:
- "I'm hard working."
- "I'm responsible."
- "I'm friendly."
- "I'm a good student."
- "I'm loyal."
Granted, all of these answers point to important and positive character traits. Of course colleges want students who are hard working, responsible, and friendly. That's a no-brainer. And ideally your application and interview answers will convey the fact that you are a friendly and hard-working student. If you come across as an applicant who is lazy and mean-spirited, you can be certain your application will end up in the rejection pile.
These answers, however, are all predictable. Nearly every applicant could give the same answers. If we go back to the initial question-"Tell me about yourself"-we need to recognize that the answers any applicant can give do not successfully define what characteristics make you special. The interview is your best opportunity to convey your unique personality and passions, so you want to answer questions in ways that show that you are you, not a clone of a thousand other applicants.
Again, you don't need to steer away from ideas such as your friendliness and the fact that you work hard, but these points shouldn't be the heart of your response.
What Makes You Uniquely You?
So, when asked to tell about yourself, don't spend too much time on the predictable answers. Show the interviewer who you are. What are your passions? What are your quirks? Why do your friends really like you? What makes you laugh? What makes you angry? What do you do best?
Did you teach your dog to play the piano? Do you make a killer wild strawberry pie? Do you do your best thinking when on a 100-mile bike ride? Do you read books late at night with a flashlight? Do you have unusual cravings for oysters? Have you ever successfully started a fire with sticks and a shoelace? Were you ever sprayed by a skunk taking out the compost in the evening? What do you like to do that all of your friends think is strange? What makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning?
Don't feel that you have to be overly clever or witty when answering this question, especially if cleverness and wit don't come to you naturally. However, you want your interviewer to come away knowing something meaningful about you. Think about all the other students who are interviewing, and ask yourself what is it about you that makes you different. What unique qualities will you bring to the campus community?
You'll find that after a campus interview, you often get a personalized note from your interviewer thanking you for your interest in the college. An interviewers is also likely to comment on his or her conversation with you and point out something memorable from that conversation. Think about what that letter is likely to say: "Dear Your Name, I really enjoyed talking with you and learning about __________________." Think about what will be in that blank. It certainly won't be "your high grades" or "your work ethic." Let your transcript convey that information.
A Final Word
This truly is one of the most common interview questions, and you are almost guaranteed to be asked to tell about yourself. This is for good reason: if a college has interviews, it has holistic admissions. Your interviewer truly is interested in getting to know you. Your answers need to take the question seriously and you need to answer sincerely, but make sure you are actually painting a colorful and detailed portrait of yourself, not a simple line sketch. Make sure your answer to the question illustrates a side of your personality that isn't obvious from the rest of your application.
Also keep in mind that you want to dress appropriately for your interview (see suggested interview dress for men and women) and avoid common interview mistakes. Finally, keep in mind that while you are likely be asked to tell your interview about yourself, there are several other common interview questions you are also likely to encounter.