Answering "If You Could Do One Thing Differently, What Would It Be?"

A Discussion of This Frequently Asked College Interview Question

Student at an Interview
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This interview question is a bit trickier than most. You'll want to make sure you don't wallow in regret or draw attention to really bad decisions you've made.

You have a tough balancing act to negotiate with a question like this. The best interviews are ones in which the interviewer feels like he or she has really gotten to know you. If all of your answers are calculated and safe, you'll end up making a tepid impression at best. At the same time, providing too much information is also a danger, and this interview question can easily lead to TMI.

The Best Answers to the Interview Question

The most effective answers to this interview question will put a positive spin on the issue you've chosen to discuss. A strong answer doesn't express regret about a bad decision; instead, it presents regret over not seizing all the opportunities available to you. For example, the following would make good responses:

  • Classes: You wish you had taken calculus instead of an easier math class. Be specific and explain why taking calculus would have been a good idea.
  • Work Experience: You wish you had looked for a more challenging job than the local burger joint. Explain what you would like to get out of a job, but also be sure to consider some of the benefits of work experience even with an unskilled job.
  • Extracurricular: You wish you had discovered earlier in high school that you really enjoy theater. If you weren't fortunate enough to discover an extracurricular passion in middle school or early in high school, this interview question gives you an opportunity to explain your passion and address why you didn't have an extracurricular activity that you pursued for all four years of high school.
  • Grades: You wish you had worked harder in your freshmen year. This isn't an unusual situation. Some students are late bloomers, and your interviewer shouldn't hold this against you.

A more personal response is also appropriate as long as it presents you in a positive light. Perhaps you wish you had spent more time with your grandmother before she came down with cancer, or perhaps you wish you had helped your brother more when he was struggling in school.

Avoid These Interview Answers

In general, you'd probably be wise to avoid answers related to topics such as these:

  • Your relationships. It wouldn't be surprising if your biggest regret from high school was a disastrous relationship. However, if you answer the interview question with details about that nasty boyfriend or girlfriend, you'll be introducing a lot of negativity into your interview. This type of response can easily sound immature, ungenerous, and spiteful. Steer clear.
  • A class you hated. Do you really regret taking that class with that bad teacher? Fine, but keep it to yourself. The best students can navigate all kinds of classroom environments, and your interviewer won't be impressed if you start bad-mouthing your teachers. In college, you'll have bad professors, and you'll need the composure and maturity to succeed in those classes despite the instructor.
  • Your problems with drugs or alcohol. If you got messed up with drugs or alcohol in college, hopefully you do wish that you could go back and do things differently. That said, the college interview is not the best place to address this issue. While your interviewer may be impressed with your ability to confront your substance abuse, he or she may also feel uneasy about admitting a student who abused alcohol or drugs. Your interviewer may question your judgment or feel that you represent too great of a risk to the college. After all, colleges have enough problems with substance abuse without admitting students who have a proven track record of abuse.

    You may also find it useful to consider some of the bad application essay topics, for some of these topics are ones that you'll want to avoid in your interview as well as the essay.

    A Final Word About Discussing Regrets

    Think carefully about this question before you set foot in the interview room. It's not a difficult question, but it does have the ability to go astray if you draw attention to an action that reveals foolishness or poor judgment. If you focus on an opportunity you wish you had seized, you can also discuss how you look forward to seizing that opportunity in college.

    Finally, keep in mind that the interview is nearly always a congenial exchange of information. Interviews aren't meant to trick you or make you uncomfortable. Try to relax, be yourself, and enjoy sharing information with your interviewer.