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If you could do one thing in high school differently, what would it be?

A Discussion of This Frequently Asked College Interview Question

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"If you could do one thing in high school differently, what would it be?"

This interview question is a bit trickier than most. You'll want to make sure you don't wallow in regret or draw attention to really bad decisions you've made.

You have a tough balancing act to negotiate with a question like this. The best interviews are ones in which the interviewer feels like he or she has really gotten to know you. If all of your answers are calculated and safe, you'll end up making a tepid impression at best. At the same time, providing too much information is also a danger, and this interview question can easily lead to TMI.

In general, you'd probably be wise to avoid answers related to topics such as these:

  • Your relationships. It wouldn't be surprising if your biggest regret from high school was a disastrous relationship. However, if you answer the interview question with details about that nasty boyfriend or girlfriend, you'll be introducing a lot of negativity into your interview. This type of response can easily sound immature, ungenerous, and spiteful. Steer clear.

  • A class you hated. Do you really regret taking that class with that jerk of a teacher? Fine, but keep it to yourself. The best students can navigate all kinds of classroom environments, and your interviewer won't be impressed if you start bad-mouthing your teachers.

  • Your problems with drugs or alcohol. If you got messed up with drugs or alcohol in college, hopefully you do wish that you could go back and do things differently. That said, the college interview is not the best place to address this issue. While your interviewer may be impressed with your ability to confront your substance abuse, he or she may also feel uneasy about admitting a student who abused alcohol or drugs. Your interviewer may question your judgment or feel that you represent too great of a risk to the college. After all, colleges have enough problems with substance abuse without admitting students who have a proven track record of abuse.

The best answers to this interview question will put a positive spin on it. A strong answer doesn't express regret about a bad decision; instead, it presents regret over not seizing all the opportunities available to you. For example, the following would make good responses:

  • You wish you had taken calculus instead of an easier math class.

  • You wish you had looked for a more challenging job than the local burger joint.

  • You wish you had discovered earlier in high school that you really enjoy theater.

  • You wish you had worked harder in your freshmen year (some students are late bloomers, and your interviewer won't hold this against you)

A more personal response is also appropriate as long as it presents you in a positive light. Perhaps you wish you had spent more time with your grandmother before she came down with cancer, or perhaps you wish you had helped your brother more when he was struggling in school.

Think carefully about this question before you set foot in the interview room. It's not a difficult question, but it does have the ability to go astray if you draw attention to an action that reveals foolishness or poor judgment.

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