Don't Wear the Puffy Shirt — and Other Advice on Nailing that College Interview


At least Jerry had a good reason to wear The Puffy Shirt. —Seinfeld, Season 5, Episode 2

I was a high school sophomore that rainy day I was to interview at Blair Academy as a transfer student. I laid out multiple outfits. The navy wool skirt and the white blouse with the Peter Pan collar. Or maybe the sweater with rainbow hearts woven with hints of gold metallic. Why couldn’t this be as easy as it was to dress in the fifth grade, when my go-to was always those double-zippered jeans and horse hair belt? I settled on a teal taffeta shirt over dress slacks despite that fact that the blouse was itchy and was similar to Seinfeld’s Puffy Shirt. Looking back, I should have given that decision more thought. And while I don’t often field queries from students on what they should wear to college interviews, the angst surrounding the prospect of those interviews is very real: What will I talk about? What if they ask about that bad Spanish grade? I don’t like to read; what if they ask me to recommend them a book? I don’t know what I want to major in. I have no idea. Is an interview required? Are you sure? Here’s what I tell them: You don’t have to know everything, 1 percent of everything, or even 0.1 percent of everything. You know why? Because that’s impossible. However, I continue, you must add value to the conversation. How? Easy. Well, okay, maybe not easy. But definitely manageable.

  1. Share a story. If you have a pulse, you have a story to share. Each and every one of us is unique and capable. If you spend 15 hours a week bombing about town in the old KIA delivering pizzas, that's a story. If you folded 800 origami hearts to raise money for the American Heart Association and only incurred two paper cuts, that's a story. You've got stories. Thousands of them, likely.
  2. Connect academic or intellectual ideas. If you have an interest in something—anything—read an article or two and see if you can connect it to something you have either done in the past or encountered in school. For example, last year I had a student interested in engineering who was prepping for an interview at Lehigh. I handed her copies of the engineering school publications from Hopkins and Lehigh (alums get these things) and said, "Start reading. When you find something that catches your eye, think about other areas of your life that explain your interest—that might be an idea you had, a class you took," Colleges are interested in students that are interested in them.

During my Blair interview, the interviewer asked about my terms as class president. I shared that the role was mostly about raising money for the junior prom. I told her all about the watermelon stand that I had convinced the committee to host at the county fair for ten straight days and how we decided that people were going to flock to us to purchase fresh slices of watermelon on a hot summer’s day. About how we were going to clear two thousand dollars and pay for that banquet room at The Adam Todd outright. And as I got into my story, I forgot all about how itchy that darn shirt was.   Turns out that most fair attendees, like Templeton the Rat of Charlotte’s Web fame, go to gorge on funnel cake, cotton candy, and cheese fries. Definitely not fruit. So on day three, when were sitting on two pallets of watermelon, I ended with a lesson learned—and a pretty good story. In spite of the puffy shirt, I received an offer of admission. And if watching the Seinfeld clip will make you laugh, have at it.     



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