How to prepare for university interviewsby Caroline Hardaker
Whether you do a university interview or not will depend on where you want to study and the course you're interested in.
If you’re expecting to interview for a place at university, read on to discover answers to some of the most commonly asked questions from applicants.
Invited to interview? What now?
So, you’ve got an interview at a prospective university. The good news is admissions tutors have clearly been impressed with your application so far, and want to find out more about you!
It’s normal if this part of the application process is particularly nerve-wracking for you, but rest assured if you prepare carefully and be yourself during the interview, then you’re sure to do well.
Do universities interview every applicant?
No. Although interviews play a large part in the application process for the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the majority of universities - including Russell Group universities - reserve interviews for specialist degree subjects, such as Medicine and Dentistry, Music or Fine Art.
Are you a Fine Art applicant in need of more specific advice? Refer to our video below. Alternatively, if you're a music student you can find specific advice on your interview process in our latest blog: How to Write a Personal Statement for Music.
When are university interviews?
When your interview will take place depends on when you applied. However, in the majority of cases, university interviews will start in November and be held throughout the academic year.
Your prospective university will be in touch with specific details about your interview after you have applied through UCAS.
How do I prepare for a university interview?
Preparing for your university interview should start at least a week before you’re scheduled to have the interview itself, and preparation should cover transport arrangements, clothing, portfolios (If applicable) and more.
1. Find out where the interview is, and prepare travel arrangements
Make sure you know how long the journey will take well in advance. Punctuality plays a huge part in how interviewers see applicants, and arriving early is a great way to get your interview off to a good start. Add an extra hour to your travelling time as a contingency to account for train delays, traffic or any difficulty finding the right building. It may feel like an inconvenience having to leave so much earlier, but once the nerves kick in, you’ll be glad of a little breathing room!
What’s more, if you arrive at the university without a hitch, you have extra time to compose yourself, double-check the documents you may have brought with you and maybe call a friend or family member for some words of encouragement.
2. Prepare loose notes that you can form into answers on the day
Something that works really well when preparing for interviews is making a list of your hobbies and work experience, and then writing down the different skills and traits you gained from them.
For example, you might have had a summer job as an office assistant. The skills and traits gained from that experience might be time management, administrative skills, self-motivation, and more.
You can also list successes and challenges you experienced throughout these hobbies or experiences. Using the previous example again, a challenge you may have had as an office assistant could be a disagreement you had with a colleague. This disagreement may have taught you how to facilitate open discussion and listen to other people’s perspectives.
The tricky part is then collating all of your notes, and thinking about how you can match these skills and experiences to the subject you’re applying for. The connections may not always be obvious, and it’s likely that a lot of the time the experiences won’t directly translate, but you should find some key examples and references you can rely upon during your interview.
3. Get a good night's sleep the night before, and make sure you have eaten well and are hydrated
If you’re sleep-deprived, dehydrated or hungry, you may struggle to stay focused during the interview. Unfortunately, eating and sleeping often go out the window once nerves and anxiety kick in. But there are lots of things you can do to unwind before the big day. For example, have a hot bath or shower the night before, and drink chamomile tea before bed.
If you struggle with suppressed appetite or feelings of sickness when you're nervous, why not try eating on a schedule in the run-up to interview day? Eating at specific times will get your body into a routine of being hungry at certain times of the day, which may help overcome any upset stomachs.
What to wear to a university interview
Your university interview outfit should be formal and smart and show that you're taking the interview seriously. But make sure you're comfortable with what you're wearing so you're not distracted during the interview itself.
What questions could I be asked at a university interview? How do I answer them?
1. Why do you want to study at this university?
The interviewers will be looking for candidates who are passionate about their institution and haven't just chosen their university because their friends are going there, or it was the first one they found online.
This is a test of your knowledge of the university, and at this point, you should lean on any statistics you know about the university. For example, if you're applying to Newcastle University, you might say you'd read some research by our university that inspired you.
2. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Lots of interviewees, whether in higher education or in a professional context, fall back on saying their weaknesses are something along the lines of "I'm too much of a perfectionist" or "I'm too hard-working."
Claims such as these are transparent, and don't show you can self-critique. Be honest about your flaws, but follow them up with the steps you're taking to rectify them. For example, if you're not confident with public speaking, you might have volunteered for virtual events, have taken up part-time work to improve your people skills, enrolled on public speaking courses, or even just gotten into the habit of practising how you present yourself in front of the mirror. The steps don't need to be monumental, as long as you can show that you're self-aware enough to know your weaknesses well and have a clear idea of how you can improve.
When it comes to your strengths, this is your chance to show what you have to offer. Make sure you have some examples of when you have exercised these skills. For example, if you're a team player and perform well in group work: prove it. Was there a school group project that you managed and excelled in? Do you play football in your spare time and know how to leverage each player's individual skills to motivate your team? Anyone can claim they have strengths, but being able to explain how you have refined those strengths and put them into practice throughout your life is key.
3. What do you like to do in your spare time?
This is an opportunity for you to introduce the interviewers to who you are on a personal level. Don't be afraid to talk through what you're passionate about and how you started out with a particular hobby or interest. This is also a great opportunity to discuss your extracurricular activities, such as volunteering or part-time work.
It's likely this question will lead to more specific questions about how your hobbies and interests might translate into your studies. So, if you're a gym-goer in your spare time, you might say the time management and self-discipline the gym has equipped you with will make you an asset to your chosen course.
4. Why do you want to study this subject?
This question is very important, as interviewers are looking for you to show passion for your subject area. Use this portion of the interview to talk about your career aspirations and what drew you to the subject in the first place.
A reason for this might be that you studied it at A Level and enjoyed it, or you've always had a natural talent and love of that particular subject area. What's important is to avoid reasons such as how much money you could make in your career, or that your parents suggested you apply. Your reasons need to show you're independent and passionate about forging a career in your chosen field.
5. How do you think your friends would describe you?
Questions like this are there to dig deep into your personality, and how you think others perceive you. Keep your responses honest and sincere, but try to avoid generic replies.
For example, avoid answers such as ''they would say I'm funny" or "a good listener," and think about more practical descriptors that the interviewer will remember. Some examples might be a collaborator, a creative, a natural leader, or a voice of reason.
How to stand out at a university interview
You can stand out during interviews by being confident, showing that you have reflected on your experiences and that you have understood and answered the questions asked, as opposed to reshaping them into something that matches your pre-prepared answers.
As much as preparation is good, there is such a thing as over-preparing, and an element of the interview will be about thinking on your feet and handling pressure.
Avoid answering the question you have prepared for, rather than the question you have been asked. This can come across as over-rehearsed and robotic.
Published By Caroline Hardaker on 28/10/2020 | Last Updated 12/09/2023