Rule of Three



Updated June 8, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Admitted by Soundarya Balasubramani. Written by an Ivy League graduate from India, this is the proven guide for students worldwide looking to pursue undergraduate or graduate study abroad in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. Purchase for instant access to the guide and other exclusive resources—including sample SOPs, sample resumes, scholarship lists, and a private community with other readers.

Finally, for all of the questions, follow the rule of three if you can. What is the rule of three?

The rule of three is “a writing principle that suggests that a trio of events or characters is more humorous, satisfying, or effective than other numbers.”* This applies to both written and verbal communication.

Try to begin noticing the occurrence of this (in this book and elsewhere). You will be surprised at how prevalent it can be. During the interview, use this rule to give your response in three parts wherever possible.

You know what you want.

You know why you want it.

Tell this to yourself before you begin the interview. Walk in with the end in mind.

Mostly, but not always. In a brief survey we put out, 75% of the 200 respondents mentioned that their interviews happened via a video call, while the remaining 25% mentioned it was through a pre-recorded system. We have rarely, if ever, heard of a student who was flown to the U.S. for the interview (if you were, let us know!).

When you are done writing down the responses to all the questions in your master list, practice saying them out loud in front of a mirror as well as with a confidante of yours.

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Do you remember we said you choose the university as much as they choose you? Time to say it again.

You choose the university as much as they choose you.

Even if the interview is pre-recorded, it generally ends with a question that asks you for any questions you might have. Use this opportunity to dive into two or three questions that have been on your mind a lot. Below are some common ones:

  • What is the biggest strength of this program?

  • What are the career outcomes for students in this program?

  • What kind of experiential learning opportunities are offered by the department (e.g., TA, RA, co-op, internships)?

  • Is the environment more collaborative or competitive?

  • How easy or difficult is it to customize the program to my area of interest?

Again, the above questions depend on who you’re speaking with and your priorities. If your interview is with a human, don’t forget to send them a thank you note after you finish the interview.

Back to the Beginning

We began this chapter by talking about missions and mascots. It is important that you read the mission statement* of the university before you sit for your interview. Every university, and even departments, have their own mission statements and values. The following is the mission statement of Harvard College for liberal arts and sciences:*

The mission of Harvard College is to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society. We do this through our commitment to the transformative power of a liberal arts and sciences education. Beginning in the classroom with exposure to new ideas, new ways of understanding, and new ways of knowing, students embark on a journey of intellectual transformation.

Through a diverse living environment, where students live with people who are studying different topics, who come from different walks of life and have evolving identities, intellectual transformation is deepened and conditions for social transformation are created. From this we hope that students will begin to fashion their lives by gaining a sense of what they want to do with their gifts and talents, assessing their values and interests, and learning how they can best serve the world.

Even if the language is slightly abstract, you can pick out some key cues from it: Harvard encourages diversity with respect to your background and the majors you pick. They want to build leaders out of you, and appreciate a student who has the ability to adapt and evolve over one who does not.

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