December 24, 2014

College Interview | Tips to Prepare for Questions They Ask

or “Tell Me About Yourself…”: Dos and Don’ts for Answering that Inevitable First Question

They say that first impressions are everything. Perhaps, then, it's good that you can prepare well for that first question of the college interview because it's almost always the same one: “Tell me about yourself.”

This question may seem like a no-brainer---obviously, you know yourself pretty well. Still, you should give some thought now to what you'll say, because your answer will set the tone of the interview and determines the first impression you'll leave. Here are some dos and don’ts to help you prepare to answer this question, and examples of good and bad responses to use as guidelines.

DO be confident. I know talking about yourself can be hard, and you might worry about seeming boastful. However, the truth is that interviewers like people who are comfortable with themselves and proud of their accomplishments. So, please, be confident, or at least fake it! Practice talking about yourself in a self-assured voice and channel that pretentious guy in your chem class. While these cocky people may not make any friends in the lunchroom, the sad truth is they are the ones who do best in interviews!

DON’T be too brief or vague. Just stating your year in high school and where you are from will not intrigue anyone. You want to captivate the interviewer’s interest, and make him/her fascinated by you. If you give details that the interviewer can ask follow-up questions about, it makes their job easier, and they will like you better for that! So, don’t be afraid to be specific.

DO give a hook. Your answer to this question should be like a teaser, making the interviewer want to know more about you. Talk about what makes you tick and be sure to include one or two of your main passions. Paint a picture for the interviewer. Make him or her feel like he already knows you, and make him want to get to know you better.

DON’T recite your resume. Yes, I said to give specifics, but this does not mean reciting your resume! If you do this, you're wasting your interviewer’s time—they have the resume in front of them, and they do know how to read. Worse, it will bore your interviewer. Instead, focus on a couple main passions, with specific details about those. Questions about the rest of your resume will come, don’t worry.

Now, for the examples of what not to do:

Bad response #1: “Um, I’m a senior at Springfield High.”

This makes you seem shy and uninteresting, and gives the interviewer nothing to work with.

Bad response #2: “I am a senior at Springfield High, on the volleyball team, in the Eastern dance troupe, a volunteer at the soup kitchen, on the yearbook committee and am Vice President of Students for Economic Justice. I have a 3.72 GPA and a 2160 on the SATs. I am in the top 10% of my class.”

This is boring, and despite all the activities listed, makes the speaker seem like a drone. Focus more on your passions, and who you are. Don’t present yourself as a bunch of stats, and don’t mention your SATs or GPA unless asked!

Good response: “I was born in Egypt, but grew up in Springfield, and am currently a senior at Springfield High. I spent every summer since I was two in Egypt. These experiences have made me obsessed with ancient history and archeology, and I hope to double major in anthropology and history in college. I loved my summers, but one consequence of them was I saw the depths of global poverty. During the year, I have spent a lot of time addressing poverty right here in Springfield, through volunteering at a soup kitchen and being Vice President of Students for Economic Justice. I have also gotten into Egyptian dance, and have performed with a belly dancing troupe at the Springfield theatre!”

This response gives insight into what makes the interviewee tick, and it gives specifics the interviewer can work with, without boringly reciting the resume. The interviewee seems self-assured and confident. They will probably wow their interviewer, as will you after you apply what you’ve learned here in the interview!


  1. I see you point and I am very thankful for the advice, but I have a problem with the example of a good response that you gave. It describes an overachieving student with a lifelong passion. But what about normal students who don't have this type of love for something? What should WE say?

    p.s. I also want to thank you for writing this blog. I'm a freshman and this blog has helped me understand a little bit of the whole college "thing"

  2. First of all, I'm so glad to hear that you're enjoying the blog! It's great that you're starting to think about the process very early in high school.

    Yes, it's true that the example of a "good response isn't typical of "normal students." However, students who successfully gain admissions to top colleges tend to refine their "stories" to sound something like this.

    Passion is exciting and contagious - admission officers love it, but even if you don't have passion for something yet, there's hope.

    As a freshman, you have plenty of time to figure out what interests you. Everyone can get *something* like the example above - the earlier you figure out what that "thing" is, the better. I talked more about this in Extracurricular Activities | How to Demonstrate Commitment.

    I'll definitely talk more about this issue in future blog posts - stay tuned!

  3. Allowing the interviewer to get a glimpse of your personality set apart from your work ethic and good credentials can give you a great chance at connecting with them personally, and not just on a professional level.

    This was very informative with great tips! Thanks!

  4. The topic of this post is a great thing to think about; this is a question you'll not only be asked in college interviews but also in job interviews. If you don't think about a thoughtful response ahead of time, it's easy to either freeze up and not know where to start or ramble on and on since it's such a broad topic-- something I've unfortunately done before. Thanks for the tips!

    Also, I agree with your response to 'ppou'. Even if you haven't been born in Egypt/been able to travel, everyone is passionate about something. So think about what makes you excited and reflect on experiences that made you that way in your life, no matter how big or how small.

  5. Hi!
    Thankyou for posting this, its really helped me to think of a few things to say although in the example of a good response, wasn't it slightly long.. Wouldn't the interviewer get bored?

    **Merry Christmas xox**

  6. Great blog! Thanks for the advice!

  7. Be confident with career college admissions staff. They're going to want to see the same person represented in your admissions essay. It will be a big help.

  8. I agree that the good response isn't typical of every student's life but it shows us that we have to take some of our past and develop it while in college or explore what else is out there. Thanks for sharing- I look forward for more posts!

  9. College is a place to get education after the school standard and there a person may get his higher studies also. Sometime there is a rule in some colleges that they may see some sites like or ask some interview question to the student to check his mentality or level of intelligence and may give admission on that base.