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How to Answer "Gotcha" Questions in Your Interview

August 22, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Interview, Admissions

How do I answer "gotcha" questions during a college alumni interview?

The typical answer is that most interviewers won't try to give you "gotcha" questions. Their primary job is to get to know you better, and to add color to your admissions file, not to make you look foolish.

The real answer? If you don't adequately prepare for your interviews, then every question will feel like a "gotcha" question no matter how simple they seem.

So how do you avoid that?

In this article, I'll first explain how to properly handle 3 simple questions that often become "gotchas" for unprepared high school interviewees.

Second, I'll show you how to handle "gotcha" questions in general, and explain the simple process for turning difficult, tricky questions into softballs you can knock out of the park.

The 3 Most Common "Gotcha" Questions

1. “Tell me about yourself”

Because this question is so simple and obvious, the expectations for your answer are sky high.

If you can’t deliver a coherent, 2-minute story about yourself, your motivations, and how you intend to use the next four years of college to explore those interests, then you haven’t prepared enough.

The trick?

Look at (or create) a resume of your most notable achievements/experiences in high school. Once you get that on paper, go through the list and practice telling one coherent, unified story of your experiences.

Time yourself. Practice reciting your story out loud with a friend or parent.

By the time of your interview, you should basically have this story memorized.

That's how you'll know if you've prepared adequately enough.

2. “Do you have any questions for me?

Trick question.

There is only one answer, and it’s always Yes.

You should prepare some specific questions about the college in advance.

If you run out of specific questions, fill in the blanks below by mix-and-matching words from Group A and B:

What was your A B ?

  • A: Favorite, least favorite, most memorable, most unexpected, most surprising, most popular, least popular, most enjoyable, least enjoyable, most unusual, most common, least common
  • B: Class, extracurricular, club, volunteer activity, academic experience

3. What would you change about your high school/extracurricular/class you’ve taken?

Don’t fall for the negativity trap.

The trick here is to stay positive .

There are 2 parts to this question:

  1. Identify a problem you’ve encountered

  2. Say how you would solve it

It’s all too easy for your answer to Part #1 to be overly negative and critical of the status quo.

Don’t use this question to bash your teachers or fellow students. That reflects poorly on you.

It takes practice to toe the right line, but the key theme that should come across in your answer is your positivity (even when faced with a negative situation), problem-solving skills, and initiative.

The General Strategy for Tricky Interview Questions

What if you get a truly "gotcha" question that you couldn't have possibly prepared for?

One wrong answer can ruin an interviewer’s impression of you.

The trick to answering tricky questions is to go with the flow. Easier said than done, yes, but a skill that can be learned.

Out-of-the-box questions require out-of-the-box responses . If you take yourself too seriously, you won’t be able to give a good answer to these sorts of questions.

Let’s take the above scene from Will Smith’s The Pursuit of Happiness as an example.

Will Smith’s character is interviewing for a job at a white collar finance firm.

He’s severely under-dressed.

The interviewer pointedly asks him:

“What would you say if a guy walked in for an interview without a shirt on, and I hired him?”

Why is this question a “gotcha”?

It’s posed fairly rhetorically — the premise is that hiring someone dressed like Will Smith would not be smart , and thus he should not be hired. The question is delivered to make it seem like the answer is obviously “no.”

Any answer that takes this question at face value would implicitly be acknowledging and accepting this, damaging Will Smith’s chances of landing the job.

The best way to defuse a “gotcha” question is to identify the premise that makes it a “gotcha,” and then deflect from that premise.

So, instead, Will Smith flips the question on its head.

What if the premise were false? What if hiring someone without a shirt was actually the smart move?

And that’s why the answer:

“He must’ve had on some really nice pants.”

Comes off so well.

Use this strategy in your college interview if asked a “gotcha” question.

For example, in the question:

“What did you dislike most about your school?”

The underlying assumption is that there is something wrong with your school. Maybe a teacher you hated, or a class you thought was terrible.

That’s a fairly negative premise, and one that will reflect poorly on you if you use this opportunity to bash your teachers or fellow students.

Flip the premise on its head.

Don’t list things that are wrong about your school.

Instead, list ways that you’ve improved your school.

Or, list things at College X that you are excited about since your school did them differently.

The content of your answer will be similar, but by re-framing your answer in a more positive light, you can avoid the trickier nature of these critically-oriented questions.

How to Pick Which Colleges to Apply To

August 22, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Choosing a College,

Picking the right school is like picking the best dance move – you better feel comfortable with what you choose.

Otherwise, it may be uncomfortable for you and everyone else in the room.

When deciding what school might be the place for you, ask yourself the following questions:

Wait, do I even like this city?

This shouldn’t be the only factor. But if you hate the feeling of living in a bustling metropolis like New York City, it’s probably going to make your time at Columbia or NYU a lot more difficult.

You can learn to love a city (I learned to love Boston) – but it should cross your mind that you’re signing on for a 4-year deal (usually), and that comes with the city.

Who the heck even are these people?

Check out the college kids, of course! See if they’re nice, see if they’re friendly, see if they are welcoming to the new class or resentful that you are taking over.

One of the reasons I didn’t choose Duke is that I noticed a lot of people walking around with headphones compared to other places I visited.

Maybe it was just me, on that day. Maybe that’s just normal campus culture. I’m not saying Duke is bad, I just didn’t think I’d want to be part of that crowd.

Decide if you like the vibe those colleges kids are giving off, because you’re likely to act just like them.

Does the library feel like a place you could study for 4 hours a day?

Comfortable libraries are always a plus, since you'll spend way more hours studying there than you expect (or hope).

Is the food good?

Good food is always a plus.

Does it pass the classroom test?

This is the question I asked myself a lot. It’s sort of, like, my “academic” check.

Basically, I found an empty classroom and imagined it to be filled with students on a busy day. Then I examined how I felt – if I was excited to be hearing from some professor at the campus or pulling out my laptop in that space.

It’s not a hard rule, but it can be a really solid gut check.

Going to a live class is a good idea too.

Those are just a couple of questions I would ask myself when deciding what to get out of a college campus.

Hopefully you bring your best dance moves along too.

7 Simple College Interview Tips and Tricks

Here are 7 simple tips for having a great college interview.

August 06, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Interview, Admissions

How do I ace a college admissions interview?

First off, breathe.

Because below, I’m going to hit you with seven of the best interview tips for really nailing your college interview.

1. DON’T Suit Up

(Unless they tell you to.)

A big mistake is overdressing the part.

Just because you’re doing an interview with Princeton doesn’t mean you should show up like you’re giving a presentation to a Fortune 500 CEO.

But what’s wrong with dressing in my best duds? Doesn’t looking better mean doing better?

Not always.

Overdressing can make both you and the interviewer uncomfortable. You want to match the level of attire of your interviewer, not overdo it.

That also doesn’t mean show up in a graphic T and pastel shorts.

But if the interviewer says it’s casual, trust that it will be casual (especially if you’re meeting in a public place).

A nice button-down or a simple dress will do just fine.

Here's another tip: Take 3 seconds to Google your interviewer and figure out when they graduated. The age of the interviewer tends to make a difference in terms of the formality you should expect.

Younger alumni interviewers typically prefer a more casual vibe when interviewing prospective students. Older alumni, however, may appreciate a more conservative, traditional button-down look.

2. DO Keep Your Guard Up

Even though you don't want to be too formal in how you dress/approach the interview, you also don't want to be overly casual.

No matter how "laid back" or "chill" your interviewer seems, you must remember that the interview is evaluative and you are always being judged.

I don't say that to make you nervous.

But don't let your guard down.

Don't try to appear "more vulnerable" or show your "human side" by talking crassly or discussing something that reflects poorly on you.

The interviewer is not your therapist.

The interviewer is not your college counselor.

The interviewer is not your friend, to be quite frank.

Yes, the interviewer should like you as a person. But their job is to write up an honest report of you to the admissions committee.

Don't give them something bad to write about.

3. Just Take the Dang Bottle of Water

This is one of the biggest (and most hilarious) problems that students worry about.

What happens if they offer to buy me a water or cup of coffee?

I don’t want to spend their money!

What if they think I’m using them?

Oh no, they're going to think my entire interview is a sham to get free water from schools that have billions in endowments!

Chill out. Play it cool.

If they offer you something to drink, graciously accept.

For one, this makes you seem more receptive right away. The interviewer is there for you, let them treat you in a friendly way!

Don’t make yourself seem closed off because you’re too humble to accept a drink from someone else.

And for another, you might actually need a drink! Nothing worse than chopping up the flow of a good answer with a dry mouth. Get your free liquid on!

Heck – if you see that they don’t have something to drink, offer them a water. The buck-fifty you spend might start you off on a positive note.

4. Go Ahead and Have A Big Mouth

This is SO important. KEEP TALKING!

You are meeting with a person who has never met you and essentially needs to know about every aspect of your life.

This is different from a regular interview – where they might inquire about your ability for a specific position.

The person you are going to meet (usually a school alum) is trying to figure out if you – as in a whole person – would be a good fit for the campus.

Don’t cut yourself short by giving minimal answers! It may seem awkward to share so much, but it is actually very helpful for the interviewer.

Tell stories, talk about interests, and make sure you have a bunch to say when they hit you with the opening line “So Tell Me About Yourself.”

5. Ask Some Interesting Questions

This last one is obvious. Do some homework about the campus and be prepared to return the favor and ask questions at the end.

Don’t just ask something you could have found out by Googling.

Here's a great list of 80 interview questions to start.

6. Small Talk Makes a Big Difference

The cliche that people hate small talk is misleading.

Sure, small talk can feel trite.

But it's a heck of a lot better than the alternative -- awkward silence.

Have a bit of small talk prepared for filling in the natural awkward silences that will occur during your interview, especially at the start and end of your interview.

These moments are like the "on" and "off" ramps to the metaphorical highway of you cruising through your interview at 80mph. Even if you do great on the actual "interview" (highway) portion of your interview, it doesn't mean much if you total your car getting on or off that highway.

When you've just entered your interviewer's office, or you're just getting seated with your interviewer, or you're waiting in line for coffee, or you're walking back to your car...

None of these situations are part of your actual "interview." You won't be getting grilled on your love of biology while you're waiting in line at Starbucks.

However, you're still being evaluated during these moments, and if they feel awkward that will reflect poorly on you.

The solution? Small talk.

OK, great.

But how do you "get good" at small talk?

Like anything else, practice makes perfect.

The night before your interview, take 20 minutes to do a quick Google search for:

  1. The weather
  2. Local sports scores
  3. Front page of the New York Times
  4. Front page of the college's student newspaper

Are there any TV shows you've recently seen, or books/articles/magazines you've read and enjoyed?

Just be mentally ready to unleash your small talk when needed, and you'll be able to avoid awkward silences and lulls in conversation.

7. Show up Early

Don't be late.

It's that simple.

But if you are late, be honest and stay positive, like one of our Essay Mentors did when his 150-pound English Mastiff got in the way of his Harvard interview.

And that’s it! Those are my seven biggest points to nailing an interview.

Put in the time and remember, the interview process is not about luck.

Luck is just when preparation meets opportunity.

The College Admissions Myth of Being a Well-Rounded Student

Why is being "well-rounded" a disadvantage in college admissions?

August 04, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | GPA, ECs, Spike, Essays

What does it mean to be a "well-rounded" candidate for college?

In elite college admissions, “well-rounded” is code for “not getting in.”

Selective colleges have historically shown a tremendous preference for students who demonstrate depth of ability rather than breadth of ability.

Here is former Stanford Admissions Officer Grace Kim to explain:

“They are looking for a well-rounded class even if not each individual student is well-rounded.

You can think of it like a dinner party.

You want to invite people to the party who you know are going to add value to the conversation, people who are going to bring their perspectives and experiences and enrich the dining experience for the people around them. People who are going to ask interesting questions and really are curious to get to know about the experiences and stories of the people around that dinner table.”

Do schools want a well-rounded student body?

Of course! Their goal is to get as many future leaders of business, science, politics, arts, humanities, etc. as possible.

But do well-rounded students make up such a class?

No. This is where many people get confused.

Colleges want students with "spikes," not “spheres.” Students who poke and prod and create change and achieve greatness, not students who are merely good at most things they do.

As Jeff Selingo, former editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, writes:

“The problem with well-rounded students is that they usually don’t focus on any one thing for a prolonged period of time.

Too often they seem to participate in activities just to check off a series of boxes, instead of showing the deep and sustained involvement…and dedication that employers seek. Their résumés are filled with what some recruiters refer to as ‘sign-up clubs.'”

For students who excel in a lot of different areas but not at a world-class level, your application essays can be one of the best opportunities to frame your application in a way that gives you that oft-desired “uniqueness” and “spike.”

As Stanford Admissions Officer Grace Kim continues:

“We always said when I was an admissions officer, we want [the essay] to be so personal to the student that you couldn’t put anyone else’s name on that essay and have it still be true about that other student”

Now, this is easier said than done for most students. In my personal experience mentoring students 1-on-1 through their college essays, framing that authentic voice in the format required for college applications (formats for which most students have never had to previously write) can be challenging.

As college admissions expert Danny Ruderman writes:

“I think the essays are the most stressful part of applying to college. Because the kids know that they count, and they don’t fully understand what colleges want to see.”

Hopefully, though, you’re now prepared to avoid at least one common mistake — Now that you understand why selective colleges don’t want to admit “well-rounded” students, use it to your advantage when crafting your essays by emphasizing your spikes and not your rounded edges.

Common App 2020-2021 Updates: What You Need To Know

August 02, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | COVID, Common App, Essays

Common App, the non-profit organization that provides the eponymous college application tool, launched its 2020-2021 application on August 1st. Below, we cover the three main changes you need to be aware of if you are applying this cycle:

1. COVID-19 Question

Due to the unprecedented global pandemic coinciding with this years college application cycle, the Common App has included a new, dedicated question allowin students to elaborate upon the impact of COVID-19 on their lives.

With any new application questions, students are often confused as to the best way to approach them. Luckily, we published a blog post with guidance on how to answer this question, which you can find here.

2. Additional Schools

In improving upon the Common App's goal to provide students with a frictionless application to a variety of colleges, 42 new colleges and universities have been added to the Common App. These include Texas Tech, Clemson, and Georgia Tech -- a full list is reproduced below.

  • Bryn Athyn College (PA)
  • Carlow University (PA)
  • Holy Family University (PA)
  • Point Park University (PA)
  • Medaille College (NY)
  • Baker College (MI)
  • Buena Vista University (IA)
  • Bethel University (MN)
  • Cornerstone University (MI)
  • Lake Superior State University (MI)
  • Indiana Wesleyan University (IN)
  • Loyola University Chicago (IL)
  • Northern Illinois University (IL)
  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (WI)
  • Wilmington College (OH)
  • Arkansas Baptist College (AR)
  • Auburn University (AL
  • Augusta University (GA)
  • Clemson University (SC)
  • Coastal Carolina University (SC)
  • Lees-McRae University (NC)
  • Milligan University (TN)
  • Palm Beach Atlantic University (FL)
  • Richard Bland College of William and Mary (VA)
  • Spalding University (KY)
  • Texas Tech University (TX)
  • Trevecca Nazarene University (TN)
  • University of Georgia (GA)
  • University of Louisville (KY)
  • University of Texas at Dallas (TX)
  • University of Texas at San Antonio (TX)
  • University of South Florida (FL)
  • Virginia Tech (VA)
  • Winthrop University (SC)
  • Fresno Pacific University (CA)
  • University of Colorado Denver (CO)
  • University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (CO)

3. User Experience Updates

Common App has updated the technical side of the application, including a "new recommender system, a new mobile app coming this fall, and an update of the transfer application personal statement prompt to align with first-year application essay prompts."