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College Interview: How to Answer “Tell Us About Yourself”

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Robert Crystal in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info. 


What’s Covered



During a college interview, there are several types of questions that you might encounter. In this article, we focus on one that is commonly asked at the beginning of interviews and that many students find a bit terrifying. The question is, “Tell me about yourself.”


It often intimidates students because it is so open-ended that they don’t know where to begin to answer it. Read on for strategies to address the “question behind the question” and an example from Robert Crystal, who has conducted more than 200 admissions interviews for Yale University.


Find the Question Behind the Question


When you’re prompted with a question like, “Tell me about yourself,” there is an overall principle that can help guide your response. Whether you are responding to an interview question or an essay prompt, it’s important to get at the question behind the question. While of course, you are going to respond to the actual question or prompt, you also need to think about what information this question is ultimately trying to provoke. 


To identify the question behind the question, consider what type of response the question is meant to prompt and what information colleges are trying to learn about you by asking this question. What is it that they’re trying to find out?


In addition to “Tell us about yourself,” you may see other variants of this question, like, “Who are you?” or, “What are the most important pieces of your identity?” Even though these questions are framed differently, they are all addressing the same question behind the question and therefore, are looking for the same information.


The Question Behind “Tell Us About Yourself”


What Admissions Officers Are Looking For


Through the “Tell us about yourself” question, admissions officers want to see how you describe yourself when given an open-ended choice without any specific leading information. What you choose to share when given an open-ended question like this can reflect strongly on who you are as a person, your priorities, and how you regard yourself.


Respond with an Elevator Pitch


Responding to this question is essentially like an elevator pitch. In about 10 to 30 seconds, you need to be able to talk about yourself and what you think the most salient points of you and your identity are. Don’t make this response too long. You can say things like your name, your school, what class year you are, what your current interests are, and maybe a fun fact or two.


For example, Robert shared his potential response to this question: “My name is Robert, and I’m a recent Yale grad. I’m interested in the classical world and things like food. I work in art and I work in college application advising. I’m left-handed, and I’m unable to whistle or snap my fingers.”


In Robert’s example, you get a great deal of information about him quickly. A short response gives admissions officers key information about yourself without telling a long life story.


Avoid Being Overly Rehearsed


When responding to this interview question, try not to be overly rehearsed. Keep in mind a few salient bullet points of information that you think most clearly represent who you are as a person. One tip is to prepare ahead of time for this question by writing down the prompt on a sheet of paper and brainstorming things about yourself.


After writing down the details that define who you are, the next step is to try to internalize them as much as you can. You don’t need to memorize anything or be overly scripted, but it’s good to have this information in your head readily deployable, as the chances are that you will be asked this question at some point.