Tip 5: Do reflect on who you are and what you want

This article is part of a series, 10 Tips for Acing Your College Interviews.

Le femme révées Ideal beauties ; Contemplation = contemplation / / compose & lithog. par M. Alophe ; Imp. lith. de Jacomme & Cie.

“Just be yourself” is a code.

Whenever I hear the advice, “just be yourself,” I have to fight back the urge to roll my eyes. What’s that supposed to mean? Especially since I’m not exactly sure who “I” am exactly. And I’m middle-aged. Teenagers practically reinvent themselves every week.

“Just be yourself” is a code. It really means, “be more or less what I expect you to be, but make it feel natural.” What interviewers are hoping to see and hear is someone who has the confidence to be spontaneous, but more important, has thought about who they are and what they want out of life.

So better advice is this: reflect. Think about who you are, where you come from, and where you’re going in life. In other words, don’t just be yourself—be self-aware. Know yourself.

Part of this self-awareness is being able to honestly assess your own strengths and weaknesses. Part of it is being able to take criticism (especially constructive criticism). Part of this is understanding yourself on many levels—in the context of your family, your community, your country, the world at large. How are you different from those around you? And how are you the same?

This is something you need to make a habit of doing continuously. You can’t cram for an exam on self-awareness. You need to be able to express these hard-won insights to others. And that means there’s no substitute for depth of thought over time.

As you may well know, often, thinking—about things that have happened, what people have said, feelings you’ve had—isn’t enough. At times, thoughts flit about like moths in the wind. At other times, they meander in circles. Or they get lured into the bright lights of distraction.

Sometimes we need to do more than think. We need to write our thoughts down. This is especially helpful when it comes to self-reflection. Writing gives your thoughts substance. And writing provides a reference point for moving on—for your thoughts to grow deeper and more potent.

As you study up on college interviews, I really—yeah, really—encourage you to jot down your thoughts. Feel free to use the Note feature in our app, Foyl.

Dr. Sean

Dr. Sean

Co-Founder at Readerly
Dr. Sean has over a decade of teaching experience at universities in the US and Asia. He earned a BA with honors from Columbia University and a PhD from the University of London. You can read more about his teaching and research here.
Dr. Sean