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“What other schools are you looking at?” is a tough question a lot of high school seniors face during college admission interviews. When preparing students for such all-important interviews, I ask them the same question preemptively. A majority dutifully recite their entire list, but there’s a better way to go.

Although it’s technically none of the interviewer’s business, you certainly can’t say that without being rude; nor can you say, “None,” as it wouldn’t be honest. However, you do have a right to privacy. Prepare a truthful answer that is concise but doesn’t spill all the beans.

Here’s a successful strategy devised years ago that answers the question honestly and briefly, and guides the conversation back to its purpose: how you and that particular college are a good fit.

Mention one other college you’re applying to that has similar admission requirements (such as ACT scores or GPA) and that is, preferably, in the same region. As an example, use Harvard for an MIT interview, then circle back to the school at hand, giving a specific reason for your interest. For example: “I’m also applying to Harvard, but I’m particularly interested in MIT because their biology major involves a chance for undergraduates to participate in research.” This is where your own pre-interview preparation is crucial, as your reason must be real with specific details. End your answer with a simple question like “Can you tell me more about that?” Ending with a question throws the ball back into the interviewer’s court, so the interviewer has to think and answer. In the process, the interviewer will likely forget the initial “what other colleges” issue altogether.

If the interviewer doesn’t know the details of the specific program or major you inquire about and seem stymied, you can gently change your question to something like “What made your experience at MIT particularly fulfilling for you?” This works especially well at those one-on-one interviews in coffeehouses with an alumnus or alumna who has volunteered for interview duty simply out of love for his or her alma mater.

Clients from the last 15 years have provided feedback that this strategy works very well, quickly defusing a question you don’t really want to answer while helping you learn more about the college and keeping the conversation on track. A triple win – try it!

Janis Murray is president of Murray Prep LLC, providing communication training for individuals seeking college admission and career advancement. She works with students and professionals, creating successful strategies, résumés, cover letters, essays, and image and interview/presentation performances. Contact her at jmurray@murrayprep.com.

Janis Murray is president and owner of Murray Prep LLC, providing communication training for students and professionals seeking success since 1999. Based in St. Louis, she currently works with clients in nine states, Europe and Asia.

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