Tips for university interviews

University interviews and how to succeed in them
Find out how to beat your nerves and perform your best with our tips on how to prepare for your university interview.

The key to interview success is good preparation. It’s only natural to be nervous, but feeling that you are well prepared will help you to stay calm and present yourself in the best possible light. Nerves can even sharpen your performance, as long as you don’t let them get the better of you.

Knowing what to expect will help you to feel more in control and less apprehensive. We’ve put together some advice to help you understand what university admissions tutors are looking for and how to prepare, so you can start thinking about your answers in advance.

What do university admissions tutors want?

Try to put yourself in the admissions tutor’s shoes. What is he or she looking for? Trying to imagine the interview from the other side can help you understand how you need to come across to make a good impression.

Are you enthusiastic about your subject? Are you interested in your subject outside of the classroom? Do you keep up with the latest developments and does your enthusiasm come through in your out-of-school activities?

Do you have what it takes to learn and develop, and cope with the demands of the course? Do you have good academic knowledge of your subject? You might be applying for a subject you haven’t studied before, such as law, in which case you might be expected to have some background knowledge. You might also be asked questions that test your knowledge of the subjects you have studied at A level or equivalent, as well as questions intended to assess your ability to think.

Can you cope with stress – for example, being put on the spot by an unexpected question? Can you think for yourself and present your ideas well? Are you a good communicator? Have you found out about the course and the university and can you explain why you want the place?

How to prepare for your university interview

Stay on top of your subject knowledge. Your interviewer may wish to gauge your subject knowledge and assess how well you cope when you are pushed out of your comfort zone and presented with new information, or if you are challenged to look at something from a different perspective.

You won’t be expected to have detailed knowledge of a topic you haven’t studied at school and if you are asked about something you haven’t covered in your studies, it’s fine to say so. However, your interviewer will be looking for evidence of your enthusiasm for your subject, and you can get this across by showing that your interest goes beyond schoolwork, for example by discussing your reading or activities outside school.

Review the university prospectus. You may be asked, ‘Why this university?’ and ‘Why this course?’

Read your personal statement. Some interviewers may use this as a starting-point and ask you for further details about experiences you’ve mentioned.

Keep up with current affairs, especially if they relate to your subject. Check the headline news on the day of your interview. It’s a good idea to keep up with news and current affairs generally and to be aware of any significant or important developments that are relevant to your subject.

Organise a mock interview. If you can find someone who is willing to help you with a practice interview, this will help you to familiarise yourself with the experience. Your mock interviewer could be a teacher or someone who has some knowledge of your subject, but should not be someone who knows you well.

Prepare questions to ask tutors. You may have the chance to ask some questions of your own, but don’t come up with these for the sake of it. Is there anything you would actually like to find out about the university or course? Do check that your questions aren’t already answered in the information you’ve been sent.

Think about what you want to get out of the course and how it fits in with your long-term goals and aspirations. You might be asked if you’re aware of the career options that will be open to you when you graduate.

Read any information about the interview carefully and find out what you can about the format. For example, you could be set a group interview as well as an individual interview. Group interviews, in which you are part of a group of students being asked questions, are relatively unusual, though they are sometimes used for care-related courses. If you find yourself in this situation, make sure you listen to what the other candidates say as well as contributing yourself.

The multiple mini interview is a format used by a number of universities for medicine and dentistry courses. It involves making your way round a circuit with different bases at which you are asked questions by a series of different interviewers. Some of the questions may be about hypothetical scenarios, while others may involve role play.

Make practical arrangements. Sort out your travel and accommodation arrangements in advance and make sure you can get there on time. Remember to take anything you are expected to bring with you, such as a portfolio of work.

What to do on the day of your university interview

Aim to turn up for your interview well rested, having had a good breakfast, and ten minutes early.

Wear something smart that is also practical and comfortable. Take note of any information your university provides about what to wear. You are unlikely to need a suit. Smart trousers or a skirt and a shirt or blouse should do the trick.

Positive body language will help you to create a good impression. A couple of deep breaths before you go in will help to steady a racing heartbeat. Don’t slouch or yawn. Make eye contact and smile.

Be confident – which is not the same thing as being arrogant. ‘Fake it till you make it’ is a good trick for interviews; if you act as if you are confident, you will begin to feel more at ease. Your interviewer wants to see what you’re like and what you could bring to the university, so show them.

If you don’t understand a question, you can ask for it to be repeated or clarified.

What to do after your university interview

Don’t worry if you felt stretched. This can be a good sign, as it suggests your interviewer has been trying to find out how you would cope with the academic challenges of the university environment. While it’s still fresh in your mind, make notes about the questions and what you feel went well or not so well. It might be helpful to review what happened before your next interview.

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