You’ve probably heard a great deal about the admissions interview, including various perspectives on its relative importance as part of your college application. It’s a good idea to look into interview options at the colleges on your list, because not only does it provide a good opportunity for the admissions committee to learn more about you as a person, but it also gives you a chance to learn more about the school itself.
Once you’ve scheduled an alumni or on-campus interview with a college, how do you prepare? While you have no way of knowing exactly what an interviewer will ask, you can — and should — expect and be prepared for certain types of questions.
At CollegeVine, we specialize in guiding students through the admissions process, including holding mock interviews with tons of practice questions to be as prepared as possible. Learn more about how our College Applications program can help you ace your interview.
Starting the Interview: What your Interviewer Wants to Know
The interviewer will most likely begin with some form of the question, “Tell me about yourself.” While this may seem like a fairly open-ended prompt, and perhaps even a bit daunting, there are certain ways to answer effectively, as well as topics to avoid.
Setting the Tone
You should see the “tell me about yourself” prompt as an opportunity to show the interviewer your most important qualities and describe what you can contribute to the school community. Just as with any interview you will have over the course of your career, college years and beyond, this prompt is meant to give the interviewer an idea of what qualities you offer that are relevant to the position at hand — in this case, as a member of that college’s matriculating class.
Because this may well be the interviewer’s first question, it will set the tone for the rest of the interview, so be ready with a strong, but not overly rehearsed, answer. Keep in mind that this is not an invitation to share your life story or overly personal information with your interviewer; doing so will make you appear unprofessional and unprepared.
Topics to Cover
In general, it is a good idea to begin by mentioning the area in which you grew up. Don’t spend too much time discussing the intricacies of your hometown and home life, but mention if you’ve lived there your whole life or moved around a lot, and, if possible, connect it to your interest in the college’s area, size, or campus.
Tell the interviewer about your prospective major, if you have one, or what your main area of interest is and what you hope to study. Also, describe a few personality traits (roughly three), which will allow you to segue into your academic areas of interest and extracurricular activities and why they are important to you. End your answer with why you want to attend that college.
Since you should have researched the school thoroughly before the interview, you will have a good idea of how your personality and academic and extracurricular interests will fit in there, so make an effort to connect what you know about the school with your personal strengths and the topics you’ve covered in your answer. Keep in mind that, if the school offers you admission, the admissions officers want you to choose them as much as you wanted them to choose you, so you should express how interested you are in attending.
I grew up in a small town in Connecticut and have lived there my whole life, so I’d really love to experience city life in college. Since I live relatively close to New York, I’ve had the opportunity to visit a few times, and it has so much to offer, especially in terms of the literary scene. I love reading and writing, so I’m planning on majoring in English or journalism. Journalism seems like a good fit because I’m good at noticing the details and know how to dig deep.
I’m proud of my ability to persevere and overcome challenges. This year I was having a hard time in trig, but I met with the teacher outside of class and committed to studying for two hours a day, and ended up with an A in the class. I’m also really passionate about my interests, especially writing and foreign languages. That’s why I’m a columnist for my school newspaper and the president of Spanish club.
I also tutor English and Spanish at an after-school program in my town. I’d love to attend NYU because it has such strong English and journalism programs. I’m also interested in foreign languages, and I hear NYU has an amazing study abroad program. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, New York is such an amazing city, especially for an aspiring writer.
In this response, the interviewee touches on the topics relevant to her interests and qualifications for the school. She discusses her background a bit and connects it to why NYU and the candidate are mutually good fits, explaining her interests in English, writing, and foreign languages, what she has to done to explore them both inside and outside school, and how she can continue to pursue them in college.
She also makes it clear what attributes of NYU appeal to her. Additionally, she reveals some attributes that make her unique and avoids offering cliché personality traits. She provides examples that illustrate these attributes, such has her ability to persevere and overcome obstacles in a challenging course, also demonstrating her ability to turn a negative into a positive.
By Stacey Wonder
29 October 2015
Describe Yourself Essay. What’s It All About?
Whether you’re applying to a community college, a four-year college or university, or graduate school, you may be asked to write an essay describing yourself. A “Describe yourself” essay may also be required for applications to extracurricular programs, special experiences, and certain types of employment.
So, where do you begin when describing yourself in writing? Do you talk about your weaknesses, or just your strengths?
Make Preliminary Notes
Before you begin writing the essay properly, take some time to jot down a few thoughts. You don’t have to include everything you write down here in your final draft; this is merely a brainstorming exercise that will give you some material to work with.
First, make a list of your strengths and weaknesses. These can be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual qualities. While you’re at it, add any special talents or hobbies. If you have any personal heroes, list those names, whether they’re celebrated figures or not. Next, write down any significant experiences you’ve had, such as witnessing the death of a pet or family member, winning an award, traveling, or becoming sick or injured. Add dates to refresh yourself, in case you plan to write a chronological account. Finally, list some adjectives that you think other people might use to describe you, as well as words you’d use to describe yourself.
Pick a Format
Some institutions will give you details on how to compose your essay. In the absence of such instructions, it’s always safe to go with a standard five-paragraph essay. This consists of an opening paragraph, three solid paragraphs, and a conclusion.
Don’t Be Too Negative
While it’s fine to mention rough times or personal weaknesses, some things are better left unsaid. A run-in with the law or a battle with a serious mental illness is generally not the kinds of things you want to talk about in your essay. Always try to use negative characteristics or events to highlight your good points. For example, if one of your parents abandoned your family and you had to become a caretaker to your younger siblings, you can talk about how that experience made you more mature, responsible, and compassionate. But focus more on the outcome than the bad experience. The more skilled you are as a writer, the better you’ll do at turning negatives into positives.
Whether or not you have the option to give your composition a title, you’ll want your first sentence to reel the reader in. You could mention something that other people say about you, refer to a favorite quote, or make a joke that shows your personality.
Write a Thesis Statement
A thesis statement, which also belongs in your introduction, is different from a hook or a headline. The thesis is your overall description of what you’re writing about. Here are some examples:
- “__________ was the most significant experience of my life.”
- “The three values that best define me are __________, __________, and __________.”
- “My lifelong dream has been to __________.”
- “If there’s one thing I regret, it’s __________.”
- “If I can accomplish these three things before I die, I will have lived a good life:”
Compose Three Distinct Paragraphs
There are several ways you can arrange your essay. You might write one paragraph about each of your most important values, memories, or goals. Or you could devote one paragraph to describing yourself physically, one to describing yourself psychologically, and one to describing yourself socially. Again, the construction of the essay may be part of the assignment, so be sure to follow any instructions you receive.
In your closing paragraph, sum up the basic point or points you want the reader to remember about you. What did you strive to say in the body of the paper? Recap it here by saying something like, “Whatever happens, I know I will have my __________, __________, and __________ to guide me.”
Finally, remember that this is not a research paper or book report. Keep the tone casual, and make sure it sounds like the real you. If you’re naturally a serious intellectual, that’s fine. But if you’re a clown, it won’t serve you well to write a stuffy-sounding paper.
Tags: college essay