The key to this question is providing an in-depth answer that lasts roughly 2 minutes in length. You need to make sure that you give enough info without providing a novel of an answer. You should briefly mention where you grew up, where you attended college (and better why you decided to pick the college), what your major is (and why your choose it). When discussing your college experience, be sure to highlight any summer internships (professional) even if they are non-finance related and any clubs where you have a leadership role on campus. Be sure to focus your response on professional internships (lifeguarding doesn't count) and clubs where you serve as a leader - much more powerful than discussing clubs where you are simply a member.
See below for samples of a poor answer and a great answer.
Poor answers to this question include ones that ramble on. If you are giving your life history to the interviewer, you are surely failing the question. The interviewer is looking to see whether you know how to present a succinct response again in case they ever decide to put you in front of a client. The other purpose of this question is to see whether you know how to separate essential information from non-essential information - an important skill in finance.
Great answers to this question include ones that are planned out. Your response should actually be memorized. You should plan out the response to this question well in advance of an interview because you will most certainly receive it at some point. The best thing to do is literally write out a response hitting the key points you want to make and literally time it.
If you find your answer is more than 2 minutes (give or take 30 seconds), trim down some of the "fat" in the response.
Final thoughts, don't underestimate this question. Believe it or not, it is a deal breaker for some interviewers and is one of the few questions that you can prepare for because you should be expecting it.
Sample great answer
"After graduating from high school in Basking Ridge, NJ, I decided to attend the University of Notre Dame. I chose Notre Dame because of the school's strong academics and strong athletics. Having lettered in three sports in high school all four years, I wanted a school where students pack the stadiums but also take academics seriously. Notre Dame was the perfect choice for me.
At Notre Dame, I majored in finance and was actively involved in student government as a Class Council Rep and as a Senator. I chose finance because I knew that it would lead me to a career that was both quantitative in nature and involved significant interaction with people. During my college summers, I decided to enter the corporate world at the end of my freshman year and started my career at General Electric.
The next summer I worked atand the following . Such experience was invaluable because it singlehandedly shaped what I want to do with my future career. Having been a summer Analyst both at , I know for certain that investment banking is the right career path for me and I'd very much like to work for [insert company name]."