How to ace your university interview

A dartboard with darts in the bullseye

This article was written by the Great British Mag content team on 21 April 2021.

Securing a place at your chosen university might not be as simple as just getting the right grades. Depending on the uni or course, you might need to attend an interview, too.

Popular courses and universities have limited places and are always over subscribed, so you need to make sure you stand out against the other applicants. To do this, preparation is key.

Although it might sound daunting, if you do your research and prepare properly, you can give yourself great odds at acing the interview and getting onto that dream course. Keep reading for our tips on how to make sure your interview goes as well as it can.

Why do some universities ask students to attend an interview?

World-leading universities in the UK – like Oxford and Cambridge – use interviews to select the students with the very best prospects. It’s likely that the interviewers will want to get an idea of your ambitions, dedication and interest in the subject you’re applying for.

If you are applying for a creative course, such as music, the interview will also be an opportunity for you to demonstrate your talent.

As an international student a university may also want to interview you to check your English language skills are up to scratch!

What if I can’t go in person?

It’s common for universities to conduct interviews online these days, especially for international students who aren’t in the country – platforms like Zoom and Skype are often used. If you have been invited to an interview and cannot attend in person, ask if this option is available.

How should I prepare for my interview?

Think about the questions you’re likely to be asked

Look carefully at the correspondence you received from the university about the interview. Does it state what the purpose of the interview is, or what they’ll be looking for? Use any clues you find to determine the kind of questions that are likely to come up.

Otherwise, think about more general things that the interviewer will likely want to know about you. Questions such as ‘why do you want to study this subject?’ and ‘why do you want to attend this particular university?’ are common, as are questions about you as a person, like ‘what are your weaknesses’ and ‘what are your career ambitions?’.

Write down the questions you come up with and prepare answers for them so you’re not taken by surprise on the day. You can also checkout videos on social media by students that have got into your dream university. In these videos students often talk about what the interview process was like.

Re-read your personal statement

The interviewer is likely to ask you to expand on what you said about yourself in your application’s personal statement. So be ready to talk in greater detail about the points you included in it, like your achievements and your ambitions.

Prepare questions

While an interview is a great way for the university to learn more about you, it’s also an ideal opportunity for you to learn more about the university.

Not only that, but asking questions will reflect well on you – it shows that you’re taking the decision of where to study seriously.

So be sure to prepare smart and thoughtful questions before your interview about the course, the university and even their track record of helping graduates secure jobs in their chosen field.

Think carefully about your portfolio

Not everyone is asked for a portfolio of work by their prospective university, but if you are it’s important to put it together carefully. Follow any guidelines given and be ready to talk about what’s included – your interview questions will likely be shaped around what’s in there.

Get your sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep the night before your interview really is key. Feeling well-rested will help you to stay calm and relaxed, and will help you react well to questions and remember all the things you’ve prepared.

What should I do on the day?

Think carefully about how you dress

First impressions are important, so looking presentable is key – even if your interview is happening virtually. That said, you won’t generally be expected to dress very formally, just make sure what you wear makes you feel confident and comfortable, to expresses who you are are and doesn’t distract the interviewer.

Arrive early

Plan your journey ahead and get to the university at least 30 minutes before the interview starts. Campuses can be big and when you’re unfamiliar with the layout, they’re easy to get lost on.

Arriving early will not only ensure you’re on time for your interview, but will also mean you’ll be going in calm and collected instead of flustered and stressed. And if you are doing your interview remotely then make sure all the tech is ready, and you’ll be sat somewhere comfortable, with good lighting and a strong internet connection.

How should I act in the interview?

Think about your body language

What you say isn’t the only way you’ll be communicating during your interview – your body language will be giving the interviewer certain signals, too.

Think about how you’re sitting – try to keep yourself sat up straight and looking alert, instead of slouching and appearing too casual or uninterested – and never yawn. Keep your arms unfolded and make eye contact with your interviewer, so they know you are focused and listening to what they’re saying.

Stay calm

Try to keep calm and appear comfortable and relaxed. Your interviewer wants to get to know you, so it’s important your personality shines through.

With this in mind, they may intentionally ask unexpected or seemingly random questions – but remember this is simply to see how well you act under pressure. They’re not deliberately trying to catch you out.

Take your time when speaking and don’t be scared to pause to think about how to answer a question. There’s no rush.

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