“Tell me about yourself”

“Tell me about yourself” seems like a simple request. But when it comes during an interview, it can be surprisingly difficult to give a sharp response. And it’s not just true for high school kids. A friend of mine who recently interviewed for a graduate program said that this was the first question, and in retrospect, he felt that he could have given an even stronger answer.

I’ve written about this before. But for high school students who might be preparing for college interviews, I’d like to add something to that previous entry.

When they ask this question, your college interviewers don’t want you to recite your resume. They don’t want to know your GPA. They don’t want to know how many awards or community service hours or other accolades you’ve acquired. Those are on your application, and they might well come up as part of your discussion. But you can’t tell someone about yourself without talking about you.

For example, “My GPA is 3.8” is a statement about your GPA.

But, “Math is my favorite subject, which makes sense—both of my parents are mechanical engineers”—that’s about you.

“I’ve completed 88 hours of community service” is about the accomplishment.

But, “I really enjoy volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club. In fact, I actually stopped running cross country because I wanted to spend even more time helping there”—that’s about you.

Your objective during a college interview is to have a relaxed, mature conversation with an adult. And this won’t be the last time in your life that someone, perhaps even an interviewer, asks you to tell them about yourself. So this is good practice for the future.

Pick a couple interesting parts of your life that you’d be comfortable discussing in more detail. Interests, hobbies, work, family, etc. Share a couple sentences of detail about each to give the interviewer enough information to decide whether or not to dive deeper into one of those topics. Then let the interviewer decide where to go from there.