How to introduce yourself in a college interview

“Tell me about yourself!” The interviewer in front of the screen flashed his signature smile.

At this moment, your brain is working rapidly, and the past 17 years of life flashes in front of you like a montage. Which memory should you extract to capture the interviewer’s attention?

It is known that no matter how college interviews change, “tell me about yourself” will always be there. Today, we are going to break down why this question is so important, what interviewers want to hear in your answer, and how to prepare for it.

The secret behind this question

Through this question, the interviewer actually wants to see what you are passionate about as a prospective student. They hope that the students who come to the university will be excited about something, willing to work hard for it, and have a plan for their future.

At the same time, the interviewer also wants to see what you really are like — the essays and application materials can be modified and polished unlimited times, but when the interview begins, the person who communicates with the interviewer face-to-face is the most authentic. They want to see that you are consistent with the image described in your application materials, perhaps even more interesting and lively.

Dos and don’ts in self introduction

1. Don’t list all your achievements

Keith, an alumni interviewer on Unigo, said the driest answer to this question he has heard talked exclusively about achievements. A student listed all his awards in high school while Keith was holding a copy of his resume containing just that. This kind of answer was too plain and boring.

Students shouldn’t expect that the number of extracurricular activities alone can make a great impression and get them a foot in the door. What the interviewers want to know the most is what kind of person you are, so if past achievements are not critical to reflecting your authenticity and uniqueness, don’t use “achievement listing” as your answer strategy.

Remember that quality is greater than quantity. Before the interview, please keep in mind: interviewers probably already obtained your resume and have a general understanding of your GPA, standardized test scores and extracurricular activities. Therefore, it’s recommended that you pick one or two meaningful activities or awards from your resume and briefly talk about the interesting stories behind them and their impact on you, rather than retelling what’s already on paper.

2. Be specific

Many students tend to describe themselves with positive yet broad adjectives, such as “hardworking,” “friendly,” “ambitious.” They are way too predictable because almost everyone can describe themselves this way.

Instead, use examples to demonstrate these positive qualities in you. For instance, instead of saying that you are very smart and won the first prize in a math competition, talk about the time you and your teammates worked on a math problem overnight in a hotel room until falling asleep and drooling on the paper. Or, instead of talking about your professional piano certificate, talk about why you enjoy a certain piece of music and what goes through your mind when you play it. Remember: show, don’t tell.

3. Use templates carefully

Interview answer templates are readily available on the Internet. We have to admit that templates can be useful — they can serve as references when you’re first starting out and help you comb through your own experiences in a structured way. However, it’s not advisable to depend on templates beyond that.

The college interview is a person-to-person communication rather than a test question, which means that templates will not be 100% effective. Different interviewers might have vastly diverse communication styles and preferences. You can’t predict what they want, so the best thing to do is focus on what makes your story unique, and why you want to attend this university.

How to prepare for this question

1. Go over your experiences repeatedly

Just like writing an essay, interview preparation is also a self-reflecting process. Start searching within yourself and see what kind of activities you have done in high school, which courses you are passionate about, and what areas you want to study. What hobbies do you have? Do you prefer academic research or social practice? Knowing yourself is the first step to introducing yourself to others.

2. Do a lot of research on the schools

Most of the interviewers you will face are university alumni. Even with a busy schedule, they still take time to conduct one-on-one interviews with applicants, which means they have deep feelings for their alma maters and are willing to spend time understanding prospective students. Therefore, to be recognized by alumni means that you need to demonstrate your love for this school and prove why you are a qualified “suitor.” You must have a full understanding of the school, the major or program you are applying for, and why you would be a good match.