Interview Strategy: What Are Your 5 Things?

As a former interviewer for both Harvard and University of Pennsylvania, I have interviewed countless students who have vied for a spot in the freshman class of these Ivy League universities. Although most of the students I interviewed were smart and talented, few of them left a lasting impression on me. That means that few of them received an enthusiastic letter of recommendation that may have made the difference between receiving a letter of acceptance and a rejection letter.

So, what was the key difference? The students who motivated me to extol their many virtues in my recommendation letter are the students who realized it was they, not I, who was in control of the interview. I will repeat that in case you missed it. It is you – the student – and not the interviewer who is truly in control of the discussion. How do you take control? Keep reading.

Students who successfully ace the interview go in with a strategy in mind. Instead of waiting for questions to be asked and struggling to search for an answer, successful candidates approach the interview with the five things the interviewer should know about them by the end of the discussion.

Remember that colleges will have a list of your grades and accomplishments so think about how you want to enhance the picture they see. How can you demonstrate your character, your personality, your sense of humor, your enthusiasm, your passions, your thought process, etc.

Here are some questions to help you get started on developing your five things:

  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What impact do you want to have in the world?
  • What people and/or experiences most contributed to your intellectual and character growth?
  • What are your defining moments?
  • What are your academic interests and/or career goals?
  • Are there any obstacles you have overcome?
  • What makes you different from other smart and talented kids?

Take a lesson from our politicians. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican (or Libertarian, Green Party, etc.), our politicians are expert in stating their platforms regardless of the question being asked. Once you know your five things, you can do the same.

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