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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.

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.

UCs v. the Ivy League

What Makes UC Berkeley, UCLA, and the UCs Unique

July 30, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | UC, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Ivy League, Admission, Chances


The University of California schools (UCs) are a collection of public universities and institutions located in California, comprised of 10 campuses, 5 medical centers, and 3 national labs.

The Ivy League, on the other hand, is a collection of 8 private universities in the Northeast . They receive far fewer applicants per year — UC Berkeley and UCLA receive 88,000 and 110,000, respectively, while <40,000 apply to Ivy League colleges on average.

However, the Ivies also have much lower acceptance rates , all at <11% versus 16% and 17% for UCLA and UC Berkeley, respectively .


The distinction between the University of California schools and the Ivy League colleges can be most clearly seen by comparing the UC system’s two most famous members UC Berkeley and UCLA — to the Ivy League.

With its close ties to Hollywood and Los Angeles, it’s no wonder that UCLA has a long list of prominent alumni who’ve made strong contributions to music , theatre , and the arts .

The Ivy League has much weaker connections to industry than UCLA, which is why UCLA has the #4 ranked film program and #1 ranked theatre program in the nation.

UC Berkeley is the engineering powerhouse of the group. It is the oldest of the UC schools, having been founded in 1868, and has had a total of 107 Nobel laureates pass through its gates, the 3rd most of any university in the world.

UC Berkeley is mainly known for its strength in engineering and CS , counting Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple) and Eric Schmidt (ex-CEO of Google) among its alumni.

If you graphed the performance of students as a bell curve, the “ tail ” of weak performers at Berkeley and UCLA is probably longer than the tail of such students at a school like Harvard or Yale.

However, at the top of that curve, students at both schools will be virtually indistinguishable , and the faculty at UCLA and UC Berkeley is similarly top-notch (if not substantially better in certain fields).

Both are fantastic schools; just because they aren’t “Ivy League” does not mean they aren’t as good, if not significantly better in some fields, than schools like Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, etc.