Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills

College Interview Tips: “I Dunno” and One-Word Answers Won’t Cut It

2 Comments

A college interviewer is looking over a student’s transcript:

College Interviewer:  “I see you really improved your grades over the last few years”
Student: “Yes.”
College Interviewer:  “That’s a nice accomplishment.”
Student:
“Uh huh.”
College Interviewer: “Was there something that motivated you?”
Student: “…I dunno. I hadn’t really thought about it.”
College Interviewer: “…Okay, then.  Well, let’s move on to something else.”

Can you hear the sounds of an interview crashing? This student has offered zero information, and the interviewer hasn’t learned a thing. All she can do is move on to the next question. It’s probably going to be a torturous half-hour — for her.

Don’t give one word answers. Do make your college interview a conversation.

Think of a conversation as a circle. You’re responsible for completing half the circle and the interviewer is responsible for completing the other half. One-word answers don’t complete the circle; you need to provide information. And not just any information. Unlike the student in the example who tells the interviewer that he “hadn’t really thought about it,” it should be apparent that you’ve given some thought to many of these ideas before hand. Let’s try that conversation again:

College Interviewer: “I see you really improved your grades over the last few years”
Student: “Yeah. It was tough for a while because I had to learn how to balance school work with being on varsity. But it turned out to be a pretty good lesson. Now I’m more focused with things I want to do.”

Much better. Look at what’s changed. The student has engaged in a conversation by offering information, and the interviewer has learned some interesting (and positive) things about him. Now she has a starting point for her next question and the conversation can continue:

College Interviewer: “That’s right. I remember seeing that you made varsity your freshman year. Tell me more about that.”

The interview is off and running.

Think of your college interview as a two-way street. You’re a participant, and your job is to provide good information and ask good questions. Make it a conversation, and you’ll make a good impression.

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Author: Sharon Epstein

College consultant, teaching students how to write memorable college application essays, grad school and prep school essays, and succeed at job and college interviews.

2 thoughts on “College Interview Tips: “I Dunno” and One-Word Answers Won’t Cut It

  1. Well, if you don’t want one word answers, don’t ask closed questions.

    • True, but since we can’t choose our interviewers or their questions, it’s always best to answer in a way that leaves a good impression and provides additional information, even if the question is closed-ended.

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