Making a good first impression in the interview

When practicing for interviews, students need to tiptoe that fine line between bragging about their accomplishments and sharing significant information.

Admissions officers want students who can think about and reflect on who they are and how they will benefit the college community they hope to join. Colleges want to know how students spend their time outside the classroom, when they are not doing their homework. The interview provides a great opportunity for a student to elaborate on their interests.

Since the interview is a face-to-face, give and take session and not just a one dimensional application, students should be prepared to share insights on who they are, what’s important to them and why. Additionally, students need to do their homework on each specific college so they can articulate what they’ll contribute to the college and why that college is a good fit for them academically and socially.

What can you anticipate?

It’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll be asked a very general question such as; “Tell me about yourself.” This sounds like a complete softball question. It is, if a student is prepared.

  • Pitfalls –You need to stay away from sounding generic. Don’t talk about being hard-working or motivated unless you can back-up each adjective with a brief anecdote. What student wouldn’t say they “worked hard, persevered, were friendly, responsible, etc.” They are empty words without a specific reference.
  • Opportunities – Students need to reinterpret or redefine this question and ask themselves, “what makes me special, distinctive and different from other applicants?” It’s important to have a few key items you know you want to talk about that are memorable. Do you have an interesting hobby? Do you think you make the best muffin around? Do you have an “obsession” with old toys, scour yard sales every Saturday and have amassed 25 Etch-A-Sketches? Have you and your father visited 18 different ballparks over the last several years? What does that mean to you? Why is it important? It’s a fine idea to begin your response to this question with “I’m one of __ children and have lived here for the last __ years.” And then go into something interesting or quirky about you or your family. Remember to focus on uniqueness and stay away from being predictable.

You can also count on being asked “Why are you interested in our college?”

  • Pitfalls – If you haven’t prepared for this question you might find yourself tongue-tied and feeling awkward. Don’t say you’re interested in the college because it’s prestigious or because you want to make lots of money. This is such a basic question from interviewers that if your response doesn’t demonstrate that you’ve done your homework on the college, it could ruin the interview.
  • Opportunities – On the other hand, if you have done your homework, this is your time to shine. This is where you can talk about specific majors, study abroad programs that appeal to you, courses and/or professors that intrigue you and clubs in which you hope to be actively involved. Again, the more specifics you can share, the better.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;