What to Say in a College Interview: Responding to ‘Tell Me About Yourself’

 


A person sitting cross legged, pointing to the text, with an abstract monitor behind them  

Your GPA and SAT don’t tell the full admissions story

 

Our chancing engine factors in extracurricular activities, demographics, and other holistic details. We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools — and how to improve your chances!

Calculate your acceptance chances

Your GPA and SAT don’t tell the full admissions story

 

Our chancing engine factors in extracurricular activities, demographics, and other holistic details. We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools — and how to improve your chances!

Calculate your acceptance chances

What’s Covered:

 

Are you worried about your admissions interview? If so, you’re not alone. Many students stress over their admissions interview, and well-prepared students, like you, want to do as much as they can to prepare for the questions they will be asked ahead of time.

 

Fortunately, there’s one question you can always prepare for—the classic, “tell me about yourself.” Although this question may seem open-ended (and daunting), there is a specific formula you can use to answer this question with ease!

 

In this post, we’ll outline why this question is important, the topics you should cover in your answer, and a few example responses to inspire your preparation!

 

Setting the Tone

 

You should see the “tell me about yourself” prompt as an opportunity to show the interviewer your most important qualities and to describe how you might contribute to the school community. 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.

 

In brief, your answer should be part auto-ethnography, part forecast. Of course, you should talk about yourself and your background, but mostly as a vehicle through which you can deliver an accurate and appealing portrait of yourself as a productive and insightful member of the matriculating class. Stand-alone details and dead-end stories are rarely relevant in answers to this kind of question. That being said, you won’t want to sound like just another drone looking to fulfill their pre-med requirements wherever they can. While it’s good to avoid pointless details, you should work to connect your more unique experiences with your future goals.

 

Because this may well be the interviewer’s first question, it will set the tone for the rest of the interview. 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 your response, you should discuss:

 

  1. Where you grew up
  2. What you want to study (and why)
  3. Unique personality traits
  4. Academic interests
  5. Extracurricular activities
  6. Why you want to attend the college

 

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.

 

Are your academics and extracurriculars strong enough for the schools you’re interested in? Calculate your admissions chances using our free admissions calculator. 

 

4 Examples of How to Respond

 

Response #1

 

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 details and know how to dig to the core of an issue. 

 

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 the 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.”

 

Analysis

 

In this response, the interviewee touches on the topics relevant to her interests and qualifications for the school. She discusses her background and connects it to why NYU and the candidate are well fitted to each other, explaining her interests in English, writing, and foreign languages, what she has 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 as her ability to persevere and overcome obstacles in a challenging course, also demonstrating her ability to turn a negative into a positive.

 

Response #2

 

“I was born in Los Angeles, but moved to New Mexico during elementary school. I frequently visited family in L.A. during my childhood. During my trips to Los Angeles, my aunt would take me to see musicals at the Orpheum Theatre, which sparked my love for drama and theatre arts. Since then, I’ve been in over 30 musicals at my school and local theatre, including my favorite role, Maria in The Sound of Music. I’m planning to major in musical theatre because I’m a talented singer and dancer, and I’m confident in my own skin, both on-stage and off-stage.

 

I wasn’t always confident, though. Despite my passion for theatre, I was incredibly shy as a child. It took me several years to work up the courage to even audition for a show. I am grateful for how my involvement in theatre has helped me grow into a well-rounded person and skilled communicator. Aside from theatre, I’m really passionate about reading. I started a book club at my high school that meets weekly, and I also run a book blog, where I analyze and review novels I read.

 

I also work as an instructor for elementary-aged students at a local dance studio. I’d love to attend UCLA because the prestigious Ray Bolger Musical Theater Program will give me the opportunity to grow and develop my skills as an actress. As an avid reader, I’m also extremely interested in UCLA’s Comparative Literature minor. Plus, Los Angeles is the ideal location for an aspiring actress to launch into her career.”

 

Analysis

 

In this response, the interviewee explains why her background is relevant to her interests, goals, and the school. She highlights her major of interest, musical theatre, and explains how her involvement in theatre has helped her develop into a well-rounded, skilled communicator—some of her key personality traits.

 

She also shares about her academic and extracurricular interests, how she has explored them both in and out of school, and her plans for continuing them in college. Most importantly, she gives relevant reasons for why she’s interested in attending UCLA related to the university’s programs, classes, and location.

 

Response #3

 

“I come from three generations of farmers. My family lives on a corn farm in a small town in Nebraska. I always thought I would be a farmer, just like my dad, until my family took a vacation to Hawaii after my freshman year of high school. We went snorkeling almost every day, and I became fascinated with marine life. When we returned home, I started researching marine biology majors, and since then, I’ve been set on studying marine biology at the University of Maine.

 

Aside from my interest in aquatic life, I’m very observant and good with numbers. I think these qualities will make a marine biology major a good fit for me. Last year, I became scuba certified, and I started bi-weekly diving lessons at the nearest scuba diving school in Nebraska. It’s a 75-minute drive from where I live, so I’m proud of my determination to continue attending the classes, even when they conflict with my busy schedule. I also play on the football and basketball teams, am the student council secretary, and help my dad on the farm on the weekends.

 

I’d love to attend the University of Maine because it has such a large concentration of professors who specialize in marine sciences who I can learn from, and access to two research centers, the Darling Marine Center and Aquaculture Research Center. And after spending 18 years of my life landlocked in Nebraska, I am excited for the chance to live near the coast!”

 

Analysis

 

In this response, the interviewee explains how his background has impacted his interest in his major, marine biology, and his interest in the university. Aside from sharing that he is observant and good with numbers, this student also shares a personal story that showcases one of his best character qualities, determination.

 

The student also shares some of his on-campus and off-campus extracurriculars to showcase that he is well-rounded. He ends with a compelling argument for why the University of Maine is a great fit for him, and why he is a great fit for the school.

 

Response #4

 

“I grew up in Atlanta, and my family spends every summer at Tybee Island. I love that Savannah offers a small-town feel with plenty of history, art, and culture. It’s a refreshing reprieve from the big city, and it also provides ample opportunity for an aspiring artist.

 

I’ve been artistic for as long as I can remember, and growing up, I was always painting, sketching, or drawing. When I was young, my dream was to move to Paris after high school to be an artist. I started taking French in eighth grade, and now, I’m nearly fluent. However, as college neared, my pragmatic side convinced me to attend college and get a degree that led to a secure career path. Graphic design seemed like a great option because it would give me an avenue to pursue art while still fulfilling my entrepreneurial spirit.

 

SCAD’s graphic design program is appealing to me because I would have access to an esteemed network of alumni, learn from industry-leading entrepreneurs, and have the chance to work in the in-house design studio for well-known brands. Plus, I’m also interested in studying abroad at SCAD Lacoste to practice my French and fulfill my dream of creating art in France!”

 

Analysis

 

In this response, the interviewee explains how her background led her to discover both her major, graphic design, and SCAD. The student highlights her qualifications as an artist, while also highlighting the qualities that would make her a great businesswoman—practicality and an entrepreneurial spirit.

 

The student also highlights why she’s interested in attending SCAD, and highlights how she’s a great candidate for a specialized program the university offers, a study-abroad program in France.

 

Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.

Topics to Avoid

 

Although the “tell me about yourself” prompt may seem vague, there are specific things the interviewer wants to learn about you as a candidate, while other aspects of your life may be irrelevant and even inappropriate to mention. Your interviewer does not need to learn everything there is to know about you.

 

Don’t tell your interviewer about personal hobbies that aren’t relevant to the school or interview, or talk too much about friends, family, and other aspects of your life that don’t show how you might contribute as a student. You should also avoid saying anything negative about the school, or indicate that you are not particularly invested or interested in attending it. 

 

Example

 

I grew up in a small town in Connecticut, but I don’t necessarily want to stay here. It’s just a little too small. Connecticut College is really my safety school, because my parents went here. I’m thinking of majoring in Hotel Management because I’m really friendly and open. Do you guys have that? Outside of school I like to go to the beach and watch a lot of Netflix. I’ve been binging House of Cards lately. It’s so good. I also hang out with my boyfriend, mostly on weekends because my mom doesn’t like it when I go out on weeknights.

 

Analysis

 

In this response, the applicant spends no time explaining what she might bring to Connecticut College. Instead, she focuses on irrelevant hobbies like watching television and spending time with her boyfriend. While your interviewer wants to know about your interests, he or she doesn’t need to know about what kinds of things you do for fun that don’t demonstrate how you will contribute to the college.

 

The interviewee also expresses a negative attitude towards the school. Even if the college at which you are interviewing is not your first choice, you still need to show that it interests you. Your interviewer doesn’t need — or want — to know if it is your backup school.

 

It is also rude to the interviewer, who has taken the time to meet with you. The candidate also appears uninformed, since she does not know whether or not the college has her chosen major. Do your homework for the interview, making sure you research the school thoroughly beforehand. Additionally, the attributes she offers, while pleasant, are not particularly revealing or demonstrative of what sets her apart from other candidates.

 

Want to be sure you’re knowledgeable about the school you’re interviewing for? Explore different schools and learn about admissions, cost and scholarships, majors, and more with CollegeVine’s Hub tool. You can also calculate your chances of admission. Get started for free!

 

5 Tips to Prepare for The Prompt

 

It’s almost guaranteed that this “tell me about yourself” question will come up during your interview. Instead of being caught off-guard, here are some tips for how you can prepare:

 

1. Consider the Past

 

Brainstorm at least five important events in your life that have helped shape you into who you are today. It’s ideal if these events align with your major and future goals. Sift through to decide which story makes the most sense to showcase in your answer, if it’s relevant.

 

It’s especially helpful to showcase an event that demonstrates how you overcame an obstacle and how that experience helped refine one of your prominent character traits. 

 

2. Brainstorm Your Interests

 

What are your favorite classes? What clubs are you a part of on-campus? Did you start a club, or do you have a leadership position? What hobbies do you have when you’re not at school? Do you have a part-time job you love?

 

These academic interests and extracurriculars are all a part of your story, and they’ve likely helped to lead you to choose your major or the college you’re interviewing at. Think of how you can weave relevant academic interests and extracurriculars into your story.

 

3. Pinpoint Your Major

 

If you’ve decided on a major, highlight why you’re interested in this major and why the university is ideal for this area of focus. If you’re still undecided, try to focus on some other aspects of your story, like your background, interests, extracurriculars, and the things about the college that are appealing to you.

 

4. Research the University

 

One of the best ways you can stand out from other students while answering this question is to research the programs, classes, professors, and unique offerings at the college and explain how these resources can help you reach your goals.

 

Not only does this add depth to your answer, but it also demonstrates to the interviewer that you are well-prepared and genuinely interested in attending the college.

 

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

 

After thinking about how you’ll answer the question, it’s important to run through your response with family and friends. Although you don’t want to sound too rehearsed when you’re talking about yourself, those close to you can help you determine if your response feels authentic and compelling.

 

Additional College Interview Questions to Consider

 

In addition to telling the interviewer about yourself, you should also prepare for these popular college interview questions. Read our linked guide for tips on responding to these!

 

  1. What are three adjectives that describe you?
  2. Why do you want to attend this college?
  3. What’s a book you’ve read recently?
  4. Describe a challenge you’ve overcome. How did you do it?
  5. What are your biggest strengths?
  6. What are your biggest weaknesses?
  7. If you could live in a historical period other than this one, what would it be?
  8. What is your prospective major, and why?
  9. Who is your role model?
  10. Where do you want to be in ten years?
  11. What do you like to do outside of school?
  12. What makes you unique?
  13. What’s one project or experience you particularly enjoyed in high school?
  14. Do you have any questions for me?

 

How Much Do College Interviews Matter?

 

College interviews matter, but they won’t make or break your application. In fact, they account for around 5% of an admissions decision. That said, they are a great way to showcase your personality and character, your ability to engage in conversations and answer questions, and your self-presentation. Your college interview, unlike any other part of the application process, is your opportunity to put a face, personality, and voice to your name.

 

You can also use your interview as a way to determine if the university is the right fit for you. After all, you’ll likely be matched with an alum who will be able to answer questions about their experience at the school!

 

Other factors such as academics and extracurriculars will have a much larger impact on your chances of acceptance. If you’d like to know how your profile stacks up, we recommend using our free Chancing Engine. This tool will let you know your odds of acceptance at over 1500 schools in the US!

 

Check out these other CollegeVine posts for more interview tips:

 

Virtual College Interview Tips

What Not to Do At Your College Interview: 4 ‘Don’ts’

3 Questions Your Interviewer Doesn’t Want to Hear

4 Great Questions to Ask Your College Interviewer 


Short Bio
Brittany Sawyer is a graduate of Grand Canyon University, where she majored in Marketing and minored in Professional Writing. She works as a freelance copywriter and lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband and her golden retriever, Sedona. When Brittany isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, trying new coffee shops, and traveling.

Don't miss out on the best high school & college admissions resources!

Join thousands of students and parents getting exclusive high school, test prep, and college admissions information.