Tips for the College Interview Question "Who Has Most Influenced You?"

Superhero on a City Rooftop
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Interview questions about influential people can come in many variations: Who is your hero? Who deserves the most credit for your success? Who is your role model? In short, the question is asking you to discuss someone you admire.

Good Interview Answers About an Influential Person

So, who should you name as a hero or influential person? Speak from the heart here. There is no right answer other than a sincere answer. Also, realize that unlike a "hero," an influential person isn't always a positive example. You may have grown and changed as a result of someone whose mistakes or inappropriate behavior taught you what not to do with your life. Answers to the question can draw from lots of different options:

  • A Family Member—For most of us, parents and siblings have a huge impact on our lives. Answering with a family member is fairly predictable but also perfectly appropriate. Just make sure you can articulate the specific ways in which the family member influenced you.
  • A Teacher—Is there a particular teacher who got you excited about learning, a subject area, or continuing your education? Since you're interviewing in an effort to continue your education, focusing on an educator can be an excellent choice.
  • A Friend—For good or bad, your close friends have a huge influence on your decisions and behavior. Do you have a close friend who has helped you succeed in high school? Or, depending on how the question is worded, do you have a friend who influenced you in a negative way?
  • A Coach—Coaches often teach us leadership, responsibility and teamwork. As long as your response doesn't reveal that you value athletics more than academics, a coach can be a great choice. Try to articulate how your coach has helped you succeed in areas other than sports.
  • A Community Member—Do you have a mentor in the church or some other community organization? Community members often teach us to think outside of the narrow sphere of our families.

Bad Interview Answers

This question about an influential person, like many common interview questions, is not difficult, but you do want to think about it for a few minutes before your interview. A few answers can fall flat, so think twice before giving responses such as these:

  • Myself—In truth, you probably are the person who is most responsible for your success. You may, in fact, be self-reliant with no real heroes. However, if you answer this question with yourself you will sound self-absorbed and selfish. Colleges want to admit students who help each other out and work as a community. They don't want solitary egotists.
  • Gandhi or Abe Lincoln—If you have great respect for an admirable historical figure, that's wonderful. Such answers, however, can come across sounding like you're trying to make a good impression, not like you're answering the question sincerely. In your day-to-day life of classes, extracurricular activities, tests, and relationships, is Abe Lincoln really influencing your behavior? If he is, fine. If not, rethink your answer and work to speak from the heart.
  • Donald Trump or Barack Obama—Here, as with the example above, is the president (or Senator, Governor, etc.) really influencing and guiding you in your day-to-day life? This question has an added danger. Your interviewer will do his or her best to be unbiased, but interviewers are human. If you name a Democrat and your interviewer is a staunch Republican, your response could create a subconscious strike against you in the interviewer's mind. Both Trump and Obama can be polarizing figures, so be aware of the inherent risks before choosing a prominent political figure for your response.
  • God—At a college with a religious affiliation, God could be a fine answer. At many colleges, however, the answer is a crap shoot. The admissions officer may admire your faith. Some interviewers, however, will be skeptical of students who attribute their successes to prayer and divine guidance rather than commitment and hard work. That said, you certainly don't need to shy away from your faith in your interview, and a priest or rabbi can be an excellent choice for this interview question.
  • My Dog—Fido may be a great pet who has taught you responsibility and unconditional love, but keep your answer in the world of humans. Colleges are made up of humans.

A Final Word

Whatever your answer, bring the influential person to life for your interviewer. Avoid vague generalities. As with an admissions essay on an influential person, you'll want to provide colorful, entertaining, and specific examples of how the person has influenced you. Also, keep in mind that a strong answer provides a window into your life and personality, not just the admirable qualities of the influential person. The ultimate goal of the interviewer is to get to know you better, not the person you admire.

Finally, make sure you dress appropriately and avoid common interview mistakes. College interviews are generally congenial exchanges of information, so try to relax and have a good time chatting with the college representative.