Tip 7: Do find a way to stand out from the crowd

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

The prodigal son returns - great crowds greet Bobby Jones as he arrives at City Hall with 3 new major golf titles, Underwood & Underwood (1930)

When you think about the situation from the interviewer’s perspective, it’s clear you need to find a way to be memorable.

This is especially true if you’re interviewing with an admission officer, who meets with dozens of students every week. If she asks you, “What’s your favorite book?” and your answer is, “The Great Gatsby,” you’re unlikely to stand out.

Take a moment to think about why this is. Just about every American kid gets assigned The Great Gatsby in high school. With that choice on your part, you just won’t stand out from the dozen or so other students who said the same thing in the past month. For the interviewer, these frequently occurring answers all start to blur together into one generic composite student.

Still, if you insist on going with The Great Gatsby, you can qualify your choice by saying, “This is probably a book that a lot of kids my age say is their favorite, but my reasons for choosing it are a bit unusual.” Then your explanation why it’s your favorite book needs to really pop.

Maybe the tragic protagonist Gatsby helped you to see how so many of your fantasies about the future—like wanting to be an obscenely rich investment banker—are based on class envy—or the desire to crush your father in symbolic combat. Offer one specific insight into the book, and how it relates to your life in an unexpected way.

Just to double-check, ask yourself: is this a connection my friends or classmates would have to this book? How unusual is what I have to say about it, really? You want to show depth—that you’ve thought about the book and its nuances for a while now.

That being said, you don’t want to come off as trying too hard to stand out by giving provocative or obscure answers just to show off how quirky you are. This goes back to the Do tip to Prepare. You need to think about who you are and what you care most about. Pick a book you like and get down a paragraph explaining why you like it so much. Now write another paragraph on why this book—and your insight into it—would matter to someone other than yourself.

If you’re not sure how to get started with this, feel free to drop me an email.

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