College Interview Tip: Keep your Answers Short and Focused

While most students think that the college interview is intended to provide information about you to the college, in actuality, the interview is more evaluative than substantive. In other words, colleges are not trying to learn more about your activities and accomplishments; they are trying to evaluate some of your intangible qualities. In particular, colleges are very interested in evaluating your leadership, your resilience, your confidence, and your personality. Therefore, you should focus more on how you answer questions than on what you say. In fact, most students tend to say too much in the interview, which makes it much more difficult for the interviewer to evaluate your interpersonal characteristics.

Keep your answers short and focused. Never speak for more than one minute when answering a question. Don’t think that you have to use every question as a platform for getting out all the information you want to provide. Once again, the interview is not about learning about your accomplishments. It is about evaluating your interpersonal characteristics. Answer the question directly and don’t provide any more information than you are asked. Give the interviewer the opportunity to ask follow-up questions. If you do this correctly, the interview will feel much more like a discussion than an interview. Here’s an example of a correct and incorrect response to the same question:

Question: “Have you decided on a major?”

Incorrect response: “Yes, I want to major in economics. I have always loved economics ever since I was a really young child. In fact, last summer, I took a micro- and macro-economics class at Harvard, and I also did some extracurricular research with my economics teacher. During that research, I studied trends in international trade policies…

Correct response: “Yes, I want to major in economics.”

Follow-up question: “How did you get interested in economics?”

Now, you can elaborate, but again, don’t say too much. Allow the interviewer to lead the discussion.

Your goal should always be to make the interview feel conversational. This makes the interview feel much more comfortable for the interviewer and for you. This is likely to lead to better answers from you and a better report from your interviewer. One way you can do this is to begin your responses with phrases such as:

“That is a really good question” or,

“Well I hadn’t really thought of that, but…”

Since most interviews are conducted by college alumni, you should give the interviewer the feeling that you are excited about the prospect of attending his/her alma mater. If you give off a vibe that you really don’t want to go to school here, that will most definitely negatively impact your evaluation. Be respectful, polite, warm and open.

While there are as many as 20 factors that go into a perfect college interview, the most important of these is to make the interviewer like you, for him to respect you, and for him to believe that you will be a positive addition to the college campus and culture. Be humble and appreciative of the interviewer’s time. Do not try to boast too much, but it is perfectly okay to discuss anything about your background, culture, or accomplishments of which you are proudest.

Neil Chyten