A self-introduction question is the easiest to answer because it is the broadest, allowing you to respond with nearly any topic in mind. But, what really makes you stand out ultimately is your personality with the kind of content you choose to share.
Content can rock their world, but without a personality and an amazing story, you can get lost in the crowd. Therefore, even though this is the easiest answer to give, you will want to get it right with the one shot of a response you are given.
Life Story From Anyone Younger is Amazing
In life, there are accidents and then there are happy accidents. Some events you have experienced can be particularly embarrassing, shameful or filled with stupidity. However, you need to realize that college interviewers are human too. They make mistakes and so do you.
College is a time where you enter as young kiddo and graduate as a man (or lady). Thus, any life story works here and you can elaborate on any episode because the mistakes you made were when you were young (you still are!) and it is forgivable. Any memorable life episode is worth talking about.
Many times, stories from applicants under age 20 are the most comical and kiddish. But at the same time when speaking from the interviewer's perspective, "I was a kid too, and I was in your shoes when I was younger!" and they remember that.
Elaborate Your Personal Story from Your Essays
Remember back when you had to brainstorm about your personal essay a few weeks before?
The more vivid, involved and detailed the story was, the better it was! You could further elaborate on the narrative you already built - like if you had watched Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, then you would be even more keen to find out what happened to Voldemort in the Chamber of Secrets.
If you don't want to continue the trilogy, then use the second-best idea in your essay brainstorm list. Common examples would be to talk about a battle, an adventure, a problem you had faced in your life, or a time when you helped someone. You would want to select an episode that is memorable in your mind and tell them that. Where possible, you want a great story from your past that is hilarious because they will remember that.
No Fairy Tales. Only Original Stories.
The tendency of regurgitating (repeating) a story you found from the internet is strong since all the work is already done for you. However, using sample answers and regularly reused content where anyone can retrieve online is not the best strategy. Surely if they have heard the same story from another applicant, you won't sound very credible. Avoid generic answers like the plague.
How do you create your own original story? The trick is to tell your story in your own words, be creative and bring engaging content to make an impact on the college interviewer.
You can try adapting or rephrasing some parts, but for the bulk of the story, add original content, like:
- Localised references (maybe a famous bowling alley in the area, or include names of a well-known church pastor, etc.)
- Your leadership mistakes as a 20 year old. Mistakes make you human, and stories from "kids" are pretty hilarious (when you are an adult), and also humanizes the story.
- Use the STAR method - Setting, Task, Action and Result. This will help you to present a story more effectively by putting into perspective each event instead of simply saying what happened.
- Change the order of story. Start at the end and work backwards, leaving the key conclusion out at when you first start sharing. This engages and grabs the interviewer's attention.
- Use unique and intriguing details because they help break up monotonous content.
- Throw in some humour - but run the ideas by a friend prior to make sure they are genuinely funny or witty (and not some cold joke)
You may also want to consider doing a mock interview with a friend to run through your new and original story before the actual interview day. Reviewing your practice answers will tend to make your story more convincing and believable.
Repeat The Interviewer's Words to Flatter Them
Listen closely👂and remember what you and the other guy (a.k.a. interviewer) said. When you refer to the same phrases & ideas later in the conversation - repeat to flatter - the interviewer will use it as a gauge for how interested you are in maintaining the conversation.
If the topic is about a case study on a company's customers and your face lights up, as an interviewer, I would likely assess that the respondent enjoys talking about the customer's needs and wants. The interviewee is able to engage with "my" clients. My clients won't think my people are bored or disinterested. These are all good signs that I have a great candidate in front of me, and I will sway towards hiring him.
Conversations you choose to remember tells an interviewer of a great deal of passion for the subject. Passion, interest, and consequentially effort are qualities unique to each applicant. Such qualities and positive traits are worth dollars and cents (a.k.a financially valuable) to the company and truth be told, people like these are hard to come by.
College Interviewers Love Stories About Family Life
Teachers and school administrators work in education because they love kids. They love the experience of sharing great memories with their parents and students.
So, if you have a story about your parents in particular or the whole family in general, this would be a great gift to them and they will love you more as an applicant.
To trigger your thoughts, here are some suggestions:
- Camping, fishing or any outdoorish trip you spent with your family
- Vacation 🏖️, cruise or holiday with your parents
- Possibly an unplanned road trip 🚘 with your siblings
- Backpacking with your cousin
- Scuba diving, wakeboarding or surfing in a tropical country
- First time at a night market trying insects, which are a local delicacy
- How you coped when caring for a grandparent post-surgery
- Returning to your first childhood home after a very long time
- Stories where you got into trouble and got bailed out by your parents
- Accidents at home: fire, flooding, etc. and how you handled as a family
Link these stories to your current and future goals. Colleges then get a sense of who you are as a person through storytelling and how that will matter in their classrooms and around campus.
Show Unguarded Emotions
Appearing passionate, interested, excited, and eagerness are all positive indicators that you'll enjoy being a student of the college. Educational institutions portray their schools to be a lively, exciting atmosphere and a happy place people will choose to be in. It's about maintaining an image of a great school experience and inviting new faces who will contribute to the school community.
Prospective students who display their natural emotions during a tense interview process are attractive to interviewers since this shows that they are able to match up and are comfortable in the environment of their dream school. Be a personality match.
When a story is funny, giggle.
If there is shock and awe involved, go "woah!" or gasp.
Let loose a little and try less to hold your expression in you.
Make Your Story Stand Out with Ideas from Your Essay
Use the tactics you've learned when you wrote your college essay and how you made your piece of work outstanding - here's a link below to remind you of that.
Similar to what we've shared in this other article, here is a quick 2-point summary teaser (for details, go read the full article):
- Simple Words: Make sure the story you tell does not have difficult terms or specialized words that only you know. Do you know what it means by "an anemone attack"? I sure don't. I had to Google it - an anemone is a colorful sea creature that eats small fish.
- Name-Drop with Context: Don't just mention you met Mark Zuckerberg and think that interviewers will invite you in with open arms. What if you and he were mere one-time acquaintances? The interviewer's reaction will surely do a 180-degree if you had confirmed that Mark is your dad's tennis buddy.
Take the Interviews Less Seriously
The interviewer may want to get a clear sense of your fit and possibly what you will do for your new school. Since every incoming student offers a cool but likely fake story during the interviews, they know not everything is to be believed.
Additionally, it is best to not encourage the sort of self-promotion that will go along with "telling your life story". Rambling your entire life story is not recommended. Who wants to hear a draggy story?
The interviewer is assessing whether you have the right mindset for being a college student, and if you are able to balance that with maintaining a sense of humor, then you got it right! Be true to who you are, but be careful not to take yourself too seriously. So, don't enter the room all stuck up and unnatural. People can tell that this isn't you.
Be Mentally Engaged & Stay in the Moment
In college interviews, many students tend to tense up and get really nervous. Even for such a common college interview question ("tell me about yourself"), the body can overtake the mind. These students end up in a frozen state where thinking stops and their mouth either zips shut or begins rambling nonsense.
Calm down, breathe first. This relaxes your nerves 😬.
Then, count to 5 before you reply to any question or speak about any topic. Practice good communication skills and maintain eye contact where possible. When you are composed and don't get ahead of yourself, you are ready with a solid response. Don't be too eager or over-excited.
You give a better and more complete response with an entire answer without stuttering when you CALM THE HECK DOWN. Being in the moment shows composure. You also capture the interviewer's attention when you pause and wait.
Make Your Every Comment Relevant
Instead of saying something that will cause you to raise an eyebrow and then be answerable to an awkward follow-up comment, keep each answer relevant to what is being asked (college application, specifically), even if it isn't directly related.
A calm, cool-headed applicant is preferable over a babbling fool when you consider who to admit to college, right?
Share & Tell Your Story Well
Have you seen lawyers and ear doctors doing TikTok? Their jobs are repetitive and boring but they share it in ways that their day-to-day work life is interesting. Racking up thousands of likes 👍🏻, the TikTok adult work world is a testament to "you aren't boring, you just said stuff in a way that's boring."
Put life into your words. Smile. Show personality. Your creativity to make your story relevant for your interviewer will make the story resonate with them. These soft skills turn a common question like "tell me about yourself" upside down and allow you to impress the admissions committee.
Keep the Story's Context Outside School
For educators who work in schools, eat in schools and many times sleep in schools when they put in extra hours in school activities, they probably hate listening to another story where it involves school or the school compound. A story revolving around one of your extracurricular activities, a community service project or academic goals won't interest the admissions panel. By choosing a life story of other places and people – where they are not the object of your criticism and they are not in school – it will make you stand out. Why? It shows the ability to think about and express understanding of what they do and how it affects others. When those good points come out, you have a chance to become the best applicant for them.
Win Hearts With a Great Personality
Here is the summary as to how you can tackle this traditionally-asked college interview question. It is a simple formula you can stick to, to sway feelings and win over the emotions of the interviewers.
To repeat the best points in all my earlier paragraphs (TLDR;), here are the points you need to know.
Summary on how you can deliver a stellar response to "Tell me about yourself" for a college interview:
- Stay composed. Give a confident, strong answer.
- Be natural, relatable. So, smile, laugh, or be shocked.
- Tell your story like how you would to a friend. There is no perfect answer.
- Don't fear your own embarrassing or stupid-sounding story.
- Relate the interviewer's comments & questions back to whatever they said earlier.
Trust the college interview process, you'll have a successful interview and get in!