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University interviews: how to prepare

Been asked to attend a university interview and juggling feelings of satisfaction, panic and terror all at once? Here are some top tips to get you interview-ready.

While it’s natural to be nervous, having an idea of what to expect can help you to shine on the day. Remember that receiving an interview invite means that admissions tutors are impressed with your application so far and you're in the running for receiving an offer.

To help you prepare we've also asked students to share their stories on what a uni interview is really like, as well as some of the more unusual interview questions you may be asked.

What will the interview be like? 

Interviews can range from an ‘exam out loud’ (it’s safe to expect this from an Oxbridge interview) to an informal chat designed to encourage you to choose that course. They can last anything from ten minutes to an hour and are usually, though not always, conducted by one interviewer.

They can also vary depending on the subject you’re applying to study – for example, English students may have to discuss a poem with their interviewer, while maths applicants might be asked to solve an equation.

Whatever the format of your interview, there should be a two-way interaction. Make sure you not only respond to what your interviewer asks you, but contribute to the discussion. There is no such thing as the perfect interview, or the perfect answer to a question an interviewer might throw at you. As much as possible, just try to relax and see it as an opportunity to discuss a subject you and your interviewer share an interest in.

Asking good question will impress your interviewer just as much as good answers. Careers coaching experts Eyes Wide Opened explain more in this short video...


What are interviewers looking for?

Above all, tutors want to see that you’re genuinely enthusiastic about your subject. Your application has done enough to persuade them so far, so try to just be yourself.

Tutors may ask you to expand on any claims you made in your personal statement which demonstrate your particular interest in the subject – any extra research or work experience you’ve done, for example – so make sure your statement stands up to scrutiny.

Here are some tips from universities on what else interviewers want to see:

University of Bristol: ‘Among other things, they will ask you about your reasons for wanting to study that particular subject and make sure you are aware of what the course involves and what the career options are. They will also assess your ability to communicate and to cope with stress.’

University of Kent: ‘Interviewers will expect you to show some knowledge of the course and university, and have the ability to present your ideas and arguments well.’

University of Oxford: ‘They are looking for evidence that you are thinking independently, that you are willing to engage with new ideas beyond the scope of your school or college syllabus, and that you are committed to your subject.’

Interview tips: what you might get asked about

  • Revisit the university prospectus and course details, thinking about how you’d answer questions such as  ‘why this course?’ and ‘why this university?’.
  • Re-familiarise yourself with your personal statement and be prepared to elaborate on anything you’ve said.
  • Get someone (who hopefully knows a bit about your subject) to give you a mock interview. Having some interview practice beforehand will help to boost your confidence and expose areas you need to work on.
  • Make sure you’re aware of the latest issues in current affairs relevant to your subject – tutors may bring these into the discussion.
  • Prepare some questions to ask tutors – just make sure that they haven’t already been answered in information you’ve been sent by the university.

Interview tips: the practical prep

  • Look carefully through any material that is sent to you before the interview, so you know what to expect when you arrive.
  • Make sure you have something suitable to wear. The university may offer dress code recommendations, but if not, dress in something you feel comfortable in that won’t distract the interviewer from the points you want to make.
  • Plan your journey. If an overnight stay is involved, plan for this as well. To avoid extra stress, give yourself plenty of time on the day.

Take a look at what other tips students shared with us about how best to prepare for a university interview

Pointers for on the day

  • It’s not just what you say that’s important – body language is key to the impression you’ll make. Sit up straight, make eye contact and look (and sound!) interested. It’s important to engage with the interviewer right from the start.
  • Let your interviewer take the lead when it comes to handshakes, sitting down, starting to talk, and so on.
  • Listen carefully to the question and don’t be afraid to take some time to think about your answer or ask them to repeat it – you won’t be penalised!
  • Remember, an interview is a two-way process. Make the most of it by finding out as much as you can about the course (including teaching methods) and getting a feel for whether the course and the university are right for you. 


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