I am an ivy league graduate and have been an alumni interviewer for over 15 years. I ask this question, in various forms, to all my applicants. Having heard hundreds of replies to this question let me first address how not to answer the question. All of the following are actual responses I have gotten over the years.
- Do not say I am “hard working, conscientious” etc. This is by far the most common answer. Virtually all applicants are academically successful, and this answer will not serve to differentiate you from them.
- Do not say you are a “good person” etc. Self analysis of personality traits is always suspect, and in reference to number 1, I would assume all applicants think that they are good people.
- Do not say “I will make the University famous and enhance their reputation.” This is actually a fairly common reply. While in some cases this may ultimately prove to be correct, by no means can anyone reliably predict this outcome. Also while some element of self confidence is good, this type of response borders on arrogance.
The ivies, and likely most elite schools want to have a diversified class. This does NOT mean that they want of lot of diversified students, rather they want students that are exceptional in many different areas. For example they would much rather have someone who excels in one area e.g. : number one tennis player in their state, national science fair winner, or nationally renowned violinist, rather than someone who has all A’s, plays on a few varsity teams, and was in the chorus. Also please know that your interviewer has heard hundreds of answers and can recognize “bullshit” even before it has completely left your mouth. Above all be honest!! Choose an area that you are accomplished in and try to show how the Universities resources can help you achieve a particular goal in this field. The following a some examples of the more successful answers I have received: One applicant started his own successful software company in high school, and was familiar with the University’s strengths in this area and gave specific examples of the courses he would take to further his career goals. Another student started a charity to support a particular school in the caribbean. Her interest was in third world economics, and she was able to show how her acceptance would allow her to work with certain professors to make a difference in this world.
In short, you need to find an area in which you excel, and then show how this University has unique resources to help you achieve specific goals related to this area. If you are honest, the interviewer will see how your acceptance will be mutally beneficial.