College Interviews: The Key

By Emilio Joubert, Social Media Intern

Charisma. Many have it, many don’t. Some people are natural extroverts, and others are pensive introverts. Those who are charismatic and outgoing tend to mistakenly believe that they are capable of succeeding in interviews without the preparation and research that their introverted peers may need. College interviews are not an exercise in likability; they are not resume dumps; and they aren’t nearly as bad as everyone makes them out to be. 

1. We All Have a Story to Share.

Colleges in particular want to see how your story sets you apart from the next applicant with similar GPA and standardized test scores. While many people have compelling stories—start-ups and nonprofits they’ve founded, escaping poverty, a commitment to civic engagement, or building an impressive network—most aren’t able to explain exactly why they would be interested in a particular institution. There is one lesson that I’ve learned in particular that has carried me through many important interviews from Georgetown to a Fellowship and an Instagram internship. The key to my interview success has been my ability to integrate the institution's or program’s mission with my own story. Hence, establish a clear connection between myself and the institution or program.

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2. Relate Your Story to the School’s Mission.

A college wants to see how you will be a fit for their community. To show this, most of the preparation for an upcoming interview needs to be figuring out how you have lived out the college’s mission through the work you have done. For instance, in my college interview, I focused on how “Georgetown educates women and men to be to be responsible and active participants in civic life and to live generously in service to others.” This statement resonated with me very closely because of the work I had done with a local soup kitchen and a local afterschool program, where I taught younger students.

While it is not absolutely necessary to focus on service, as not every organization gives it the same importance, it is essential to understand what the program and institution consider an asset. If the school you’re applying to is Columbia, it might be helpful to focus on research since part of Columbia’s mission statement is “[ing] to link its research and teaching to the vast resources of a great metropolis (New York City).” Discussing the research you have done or instances in which you have approached research in an unconventional manner that ultimately has helped you develop critical thinking skills could be very powerful to mention during the interview.

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3. Open up.

The final point that I’d like to make is that it is also deeply important to share your story with your interviewer. You are not just your accomplishments; you are a holistic person whose accomplishments are intertwined with your life events. This means that when the question, “Who are you?” is inevitably asked, you are ready to produce an answer that isn’t just a resume checklist.

For example, when my Georgetown interviewer asked me the aforementioned question, I lead by delving into my background. I come from an underprivileged family, and a rougher city in Massachusetts. Thus, I made sure to discuss these aspects of my story while weaving in the professional experience that I had accrued during my time in high school. By the end of the answer I had managed to discuss how I was highly relevant to Georgetown. I ensured that I painted a narrative that showed I was ready to succeed in academic and campus life at the college level. It is essential that along with your answer, you include your own statement of purpose. “Who are you,” is an incredibly complex and multilayered question that allows you to share a lot about yourself in a short amount of time. Be sure to capitalize on this incredibly question.

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Whether or not your story is similar to mine, your story is what makes you a unique applicant. The key to standing out among the sea of unique stories is to ensure that the story you tell demonstrates that you’ve done your research, worked hard, and mirror the mission that the school is passionate about. This means that it is highly important to find a school with a mission you can identify; discovering commonalities with an institution’s mission means that you’re able to share the same values as said institution, and will also be able to frame your own story in a manner that is influential and effective to your interviewer.