Tips on preparing for a university interview

UK University – Some Tips On How To Prepare For Interview

The deadline for UCAS applications for most courses at UK Universities falls during January. Many applicants might find themselves being invited for an interview or assessment day for some of their chosen courses in the next month or two, so here are a few tips for parents to run through with them, by way of preparation for the day.

Before the interview

Find out what form the interview will take – How many people will be ‘on the panel’? Will it be formal or informal? Knowing what to expect upon arrival will be reassuring and lead to less nerves.

Read your invitation letter carefully. Have you been asked to prepare anything or bring anything with you? Will there be a test or practical assessment on the day?

Read the prospectus – You should be able to answer all the obvious questions about why you wish to study the course for which you have applied and explain what appeals to you about studying it at this particular university.

Read over your UCAS form – This will often form the basis for the questions you are asked so make sure that you are familiar with what you said and can talk knowledgeably about everything that you ‘claimed’ as your talents, interests and experiences. If you exaggerated some of these, make sure you do some research, so you can talk about them in convincing detail during the interview.

Consider the current progress of your sixth form courses of study – you may be asked why you took a particular A-Level, the IB or what parts of your studies you enjoy the most and why?

Read a quality newspaper or magazine related to your subject – interviewers may ask for your opinions on current affairs or developments in your field.

Have a mock interview – Ask a teacher or someone who you do not know well to conduct a formal mock interview. Having practised answering questions in a mock interview situation beforehand will help you to be more relaxed and comfortable with your answers on the day. If you feel you did not answer some of the questions well in the mock interview, you have time to re-think and prepare another response before the real thing.

Speak to peers who have already had an interview at a university- ask them what to expect or if they have any tips regarding difficult questions that came up etc.

Visit the university for an open day – It will be much easier to talk knowledgeably and enthusiastically about the course if you have looked around the university beforehand as part of your course selection process. Often current students of the course are on hand at Open Days so you will have had the opportunity to ask them about the course and what they particularly enjoy so that you have plenty of information on which to draw during your interview.

Think of points which you may want to make during the interview – prepare specific opinions or thoughts on things which you would like to discuss, incase the opportunity arises.

Think of some questions of your own – For example how is the course assessed? What teaching methods are used? How many hours of contact time are there? What are the opportunities for work placements? What kind of jobs have previous graduates of this course moved into? Do make sure however that any questions you plan to ask are not already answered in the prospectus.

On the day

Go to bed early the night before so you are well-rested – be ready for your interview

Arrive early – allow at least 20 minutes for traffic and finding where you are going. If you have extra time, take a look round the university or talk to other applicants in the ‘waiting room’.

Take contact numbers with you to your interview. Contact the university as soon as possible if a problem arises e.g. if you are going to be late or unavailable due to circumstances beyond your control. If you are proactive in doing this and have good reason, you should be able to rearrange the interview.

Dress smartly, but comfortably, presentation gives the first impression.

Turn off your mobile phone – distractions in the interview will not impress the interviewer.

During the interview

Be aware of your body language -say good morning/afternoon politely and smile. If you are seated during the interview, be aware of your body language and posture. Maintain eye-contact and if there is a panel of interviewers, maintain the eye contact with the person who asked you the question.

Be enthusiastic about your chosen course – make sure that the interviewer/panel gets the impression that you are keen, interested and engaged.

Take your time with questions – There is no need to feel pressured to answer immediately, take time to consider how you will present your answers logically and try to avoid saying the first thing that comes into your head and then waffling around until you finally say what you meant to say.

If you do not understand a question, ask for it to be explained – interviewers will not expect you to know everything and will often prompt you or rephrase a question if you ask them to.

Give full answers – the interviewer is trying to find out about you, so make sure you tell them things that are of interest. One sentence answers will not engage interesting conversation.

Do not try to bluff questions – admissions tutors will know a lot more about their subject than you do so if you don’t know the answer to a question be honest and admit it. They will respect your honesty.

Listen to the interviewer – answer the questions as they are asked, rather than the ones you have prepared.

If asked an open-ended question, think creatively and intuitively about how to answer it. For example “Why do you think an English student might be interested in the fact that Coronation Street has been running for 50 years?” This question, when asked in an Oxbridge interview for an English course, was designed to get students thinking about how ideas of storytelling, depicting characters and keeping readers on the edge of their seats can work across different types of media. The interviewer will be evaluating your ability to think through a theory and form a viewpoint which draws your own knowledge and experience led by information in an open-ended statement. Other example Oxbridge open-ended questions are:

Music: If you could invent a new musical instrument, what kind of sound would it make?

Biological Sciences: Here’s a cactus. Tell me about it.

Theology: Is someone who risks their own life (and those of others) in extreme sports or endurance activities a hero or a fool?

Psychology: What is ‘normal’ for humans?

Biomedical Sciences: Why do cats’ eyes appear to ‘glow’ in the dark?

Ask questions of your own – use ones you prepared earlier, or new ones you have thought of during the interview. It shows you are enthusiastic and will help you to get more out of the interview.

Try to relax – interviewers will expect you to be nervous and will try to make you feel comfortable.

Be yourself – interviewers want to know about you.

After the interview

Don’t worry if you found it hard – some interviews are designed to stretch candidates.

Think about what you have learned – the interview also allows you to find out more about the university and course. How have your opinions changed? What lessons can you take forward to improve your performance at the next interview?

Write down your answers to questions – this will come in handy for other interviews you may have.

Discuss your interview with other people – they can give you feedback on how they think you did and give you advice for other interviews.

Sample general interview questions

  1. Tell me about yourself?
  2. How would you describe yourself?
  3. Tell us about your current sixth form courses?
  4. What are your best attributes?
  5. What are your main interests?
  6. Why do you want to study for a degree?
  7. What do you think university can offer you?
  8. What else, other than studying, interests you about university?
  9. Why do you want to study?
  10. What do you know about the course?
  11. What attracts you to this course?
  12. Why did you select the subjects you studied for A Level/IB?
  13. What do you like about the subjects you studied for A Level/IB?
  14. How rewarding did you find the subjects you studied for A Level/IB?
  15. What courses have you taken, other than A levels/IB, either at school or outside?
  16. What have you gained by the use of courses you’ve taken other than A levels/IB, either at school or outside?
  17. Why did you apply to this university?
  18. Why have you chosen this subject?
  19. Why have you chosen this department?
  20. What features of this course do you find attractive?
  21. Why should we offer you a place here?
  22. How would you define your subject?
  23. Why is your subject important?
  24. What are the most important current developments in your subject?
  25. What work experience have you had?
  26. What did you learn by any work experience you have done
  27. What practical skills have you acquired?
  28. What are your career plans?
  29. What qualities do you possess to follow your chosen career?
  30. Why are you taking a gap year?
  31. What are you planning to do in your gap year?
  32. How did you arrange your gap year?
  33. How does your gap year fit in with your career plans?
  34. What do you hope to achieve on your gap year?
  35. Why have you decided not to take a gap year?
  36. Does not taking a gap year put you at a disadvantage in any way?
  37. What really interests you?
  38. What are you interested in reading?
  39. What was the last book you read?
  40. How did you choose the last book you read?
  41. What is your favourite newspaper or periodical?
  42. Do you follow a particular columnist in a newspaper or periodical?
  43. Describe your most interesting experience abroad.
  44. Have you been abroad?
  45. What do you believe to be the functions of a good university?
  46. What are your views on the funding of universities?
  47. How do you think universities should achieve a good social mix in their intake?
  48. Can you describe the interests listed on your personal statement in more detail?
  49. What positions of responsibility have you held?
  50. What have learned by any positions of responsibility you hold?
  51. What have you most enjoyed at school?
  52. What do you dislike about school?
  53. What do you think you can offer this university?
  54. Are you good at working on your own?
  55. What opportunities have you had for exercising leadership?
  56. Describe a situation where you were put under pressure?
  57. How did you react to a situation where you were put under pressure?
  58. What was the outcome of a situation where you were put under pressure?
  59. What are your strengths?
  60. What are your weaknesses?
  61. Tell me an achievement of which you are proud.
  62. How do you think you will benefit by the use of university education?