What to wear for a university interview

What to wear for a university interview
Discover what is appropriate to wear for a university interview and what clothes you should avoid.

If you’ve been invited to a university interview you’re probably wondering what you should wear. Clothes strewn across the floor, face in hands, trying to choose between two identical shirts? Don’t worry, we’re here to ease the struggle. We’ve put together a handy list of do’s and don’ts to help your experience pass a little more smoothly.

Do I need a suit for a university interview?

One of the most commonly asked questions regarding dress code for university interviews is whether or not applicants are expected to wear suits. The simple answer is no: it’s not necessary for you to wear a suit and if you don’t wear one it won’t hurt your chances of getting a place at the university of your choosing. Peter, a lecturer at an East Midlands university, explains: ‘Because suits are expensive it would be unfair to expect all applicants to own one, so you certainly wouldn’t be judged for not wearing a suit.’ However, that said, you can’t really go wrong with a suit – if you already own one, or don’t mind splashing out, it’s a safe option and you run no risk of being dressed inappropriately.

When picking out what to wear with a suit, there aren’t any particular rules to follow: if you’d like to express your personality by picking a shirt with some jazzy buttons then that’s great, but if you’d feel more comfortable in a conventionally plain one that’s just as good. If you’re a woman, a smart top is equally as acceptable as a shirt.

Alex Savage, a third-year PPE student at Oxford University, recalls what he wore to his university interview: ‘I wore a charcoal suit with a burgundy shirt and a plain black tie. I saw a lot of other students who were being interviewed that day though, and there was a wide range of clothes from women in casual skirts to formal office dresses. I remember people wearing quite interesting and individual outfits – so while I wore a suit, it was a personal choice and definitely not a necessity.’

University interview dress code: the basics

So if it’s not necessary to wear a suit, what are the alternatives? Lecturer Peter advises: ‘Applicants should aim for office-casual, ideally wearing simple clothing that is slightly formal.’ For men, this could mean a standard trousers and jacket combo with a smart pair of shoes. For women, there are trousers, skirts and dresses to choose from. No matter what you decide, there are a few basic rules that you can follow to stop you making a faux pas on interview day.

Avoid the jeans

Jeans are a form of leisurewear, and if you’re lucky enough to have been invited to interview you need to be upping your game from leisure to business. A pair of smart trousers is more appropriate for the situation and will show you’ve taken time over your appearance.

Keep piercings and jewellery discreet

Ear-piercings are most likely fine, but if you have a number of facial piercings you might want to consider removing some of them so as to not distract your interviewer. The same goes for jewellery – a necklace or bracelet is fine, but too much tinkling and twinkling might become a distraction.

Dress modestly

Low-cut tops and short skirts are not appropriate for an interview. If you choose to wear a dress or skirt, make sure that the hem falls no higher than just above the knee and that it remains a respectable length when you’re sitting down. Keep your cleavage and your bra straps covered, and don’t wear leggings without a skirt or dress on top of them.

Be comfortable and happy

It’s absolutely fine to wear religious dress during interviews. Wear shoes that you know won’t rub and if you decide on high heels, think about bringing a spare pair of flats with you. Don’t dress in anything that you feel uncomfortable in – if you’d feel better in a cardigan rather than a suit jacket, that’s fine. As long as the clothes you pick are reasonably formal, you’re welcome to wear whatever you feel best in.

How much should I spend on an interview outfit?

It’s not expected that applicants should spend any money at all, let alone a particular amount. However, if you’re going through a round of interviews it might be worth picking up some staple pieces that will last you throughout the process, for example a new pair of trousers or a skirt.

Unless you really want to, it’s probably not worth spending more than £100 on clothing even though it’s easy to do so – the additional cost won’t get you the place at university, it’ll just leave you out of pocket. Of course, if you’re happy to spend the extra money then you’re welcome to, especially if you view the purchase as an investment. Oxford University student Alex Savage remembers: ‘I spent £150 on a new suit from TK Maxx for my interview – but, as I still wear it today, it was worth it in the long run.’

Does the degree subject I am interviewing for affect what outfit I should wear?

In most cases, the degree that you are interviewing for does not play a huge part in deciding what clothes to wear. However, Dr Margaret Barnes-Davies, the admissions tutor for medicine at the University of Leicester, advises: ‘It is best if applicants for traditionally academic studies, for example medicine, don’t wear anything too outlandish and stick to colours and clothes that are smart, neat and tidy.’

Applicants for artistic degrees are a bit freer when it comes to choosing their interview outfits, and if you’re applying to such a course you might be someone who enjoys demonstrating a sense of individual style. Keep the above rules in mind but feel free to bring a little more of yourself to the clothes. If you love all things vintage, wear something that shows that! Just make sure that, whatever you wear, you are still dressed respectfully and appropriately.

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