Tell Me About Yourself

How to Answer This Frequent College Interview Question

College Interview
College Interview. sturti / E+ / Getty Images

"Tell me about yourself." It seems like such an easy college interview question. And, in some ways, it is. After all, if there's one subject you truly know something about, it's yourself. The challenge, however, is that knowing yourself and articulating your identity in a few sentences are very different things.

Quick Interview Tips: "Tell Me About Yourself"

  • You are almost guaranteed to be asked this question, so be prepared.
  • Don't dwell on obvious traits shared by the majority of strong college applicants.
  • Figure out what makes you uniquely you. What interests or character traits separate you from your peers?

Before setting foot in the interview room, make sure you put some thought into what it is that makes you unique.

Don't Dwell on the Obvious Character Traits

Certain characteristics are desirable, but they are not unique. The majority of students applying to selective colleges can make claims such as these:

  • "I'm hard-working."
  • "I'm responsible."
  • "I'm friendly."
  • "I'm a good student."
  • "I'm loyal."

Granted, all of these answers point to important and positive character traits, and, of course, colleges want students who are hard-working, responsible, and friendly. And ideally, your application and interview answers will convey the fact that you are such a student. If you came across as an applicant who is lazy and mean-spirited, you can be certain your application will end up in the rejection pile.

These answers, however, are all predictable. Nearly all strong applicants can describe themselves in this way. If you go back to the initial question—"Tell me about yourself"—you should recognize that these rather generic answers would not successfully display the characteristics that make you special.

To convey your unique personality and passions, you want to answer the questions in ways that show that you are you, not a clone of a thousand other applicants. And the interview is your best opportunity to do just that.

Remember, you don't need to steer away from the facts that you are friendly and work hard, but these points shouldn't be at the heart of your response. 

What Makes You Uniquely You?

So, when asked to tell about yourself, don't spend too much time on the predictable answers. Show the interviewer who you are. What are your passions? What are your quirks? Why do your friends really like you? What makes you laugh? What makes you angry? What do you do best?

Did you teach your dog to play the piano? Do you make a killer wild strawberry pie? Do you do your best thinking when on a 100-mile bike ride? Do you read books late at night with a flashlight? Do you have unusual cravings for oysters? Have you ever successfully started a fire with sticks and a shoelace? Were you ever sprayed by a skunk taking out the compost in the evening? What do you like to do that all of your friends think is strange? What makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning?

Don't feel that you have to be overly clever or witty when answering this question, especially if cleverness and wit don't come to you naturally. However, you want your interviewer to come away knowing something meaningful about you. Think about all the other students who are being interviewed, and ask yourself what is it about you that makes you different. What unique qualities will you bring to the campus community?

You'll find that after a campus interview, you often get a personalized note from your interviewer thanking you for your interest in the college. The interviewer is also likely to comment on their conversation with you and point out something memorable from it.

Think about what that letter is likely to say: "Dear [Your Name], I really enjoyed talking with you and learning about __________________." Think about what will be in that blank. It certainly won't be "your high grades" or "your work ethic." Let your interview convey that information.

A Final Word

To be asked to talk about yourself is truly one of the most common interview questions, and you are almost guaranteed to come across it. This is for a good reason: if a college has interviews, the school has holistic admissions. Your interviewer is therefore really interested in getting to know you.

You should take the question seriously and answer sincerely, but make sure you are actually painting a colorful and detailed portrait of yourself, not a simple line sketch. You want your answer to be a substantive illustration of a side of your personality that isn't obvious from the rest of your application.

Also, keep in mind to dress appropriately for your interview and avoid common interview mistakes. Finally, remember that while you are likely to be asked to tell your interviewer about yourself, there are several other common interview questions that you will probably encounter, too. Good luck!