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 tips to get you interview-ready.
Here are some tips to get you interview ready, including what you should wear, question ideas to prep for and how to perfect your interviewing technique.
What are university interviews actually 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.
Our uni interview subject guide offers some subject-specific tips, from chemistry to classics.
Some top university interview tipsAbove 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.’
Questions you might be asked in a university interview
These are hard to predict, so:
- 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.
What questions should you ask in a university interview?
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, which gives you two easy ideas to stand out - with the help of a former Scotland Yard hostage negotiator...
Watch now: University interview questions to ask
University interview preparation - including what to wear
- Look carefully through any material that is sent to you before the interview, so you know what to expect when you arrive.
- Choose 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. Think smart!
- 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. Plan to get there 15 minutes early and have contact details available in case you need to phone.
Interview techniques 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.
- Whatever the format of your interview, try to contribute to the discussion as well as responding to what your interviewer asks you.
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.