How to prepare for a university interview

If you get invited for an interview as part of your undergraduate degree application, the chances are you may be a bit worried. Calm your nerves with our top 5 tips for preparing for a university interview.

Getting invited for an interview by your preferred university is a good sign: it means your application is strong and the course tutors want to find out more about you. If you take the time to prepare for a university interview through research, practice and planning, it will make a world of difference to your confidence and performance on the day.

You’ve earned this interview and it’s your chance to demonstrate the qualities that will make you a good student. So, make yourself a cuppa and dive into our comprehensive guide to giving your best at your university interview…

What is a university interview for?

Interviews are used later in the university application process to help admissions departments compare students before offering places. They are usually held with the tutors of the course that you’re interested in.

Interviews vary between subjects and universities, but they fall into two main types – discussion interviews and task-based interviews. Regardless of the format, the purpose is the same: to enable staff to assess your enthusiasm for the subject, your academic abilities, your interpersonal skills and your suitability for independent study.

Regardless of the format, the purpose is the same: to enable staff to assess your enthusiasm for the subject

Discussion interviews

Most university interviews take the form of a fairly informal discussion with staff. By talking with you about your application, the subject and possible careers, tutors will make a judgement about whether or not you will thrive on their course. They will expect you to demonstrate some subject knowledge, fresh thinking and the ability to communicate your ideas in a coherent way.

Task-based interviews

This type of interview involves some doing as well as talking. You will usually be told beforehand if the interview will involve an exercise. For the performing arts, the interview may be in the format of an audition.

For other subjects, there may be a particular task that you are required to do – such as discussing a poem or solving a problem. Although this can be nerve-wracking, try to remember that staff are not trying to trip you up; instead, they are giving you the opportunity to show what you know. Just keep calm and do your best.

remember that staff are not trying to trip you up; instead, they are giving you the opportunity to show what you know

Courses for which interviews are more likely

Not all candidates are invited for an interview – in fact, most aren’t – but an interview is more likely for certain courses and universities. Interviews are more likely for creative courses (such as Drama, Dance, Music or Art & Design) and for professional, care-related training degrees (such as Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing, Education and Social Work). Interviews are less likely in humanities and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects.

Universities where interviews are more likely

It’s well known that the vast majority of Oxbridge applicants will be invited for interview, but there are other institutions where an interview is more likely – notable examples are University College London and Imperial College London. The main reason is that there is stiff competition for places at these prestigious universities – at Oxford University, for example, there are on average six applicants per place.

Receiving your interview invitation

Although a university may contact you directly with extra information about an interview, you will usually receive your invitation via the UCAS Track tool, where you’ll see the options of accepting, requesting a different date/time or declining the interview.

you will usually receive your invitation via the UCAS Track tool

Prepare for your university interview: 5 tips for success

Whatever your course or university, the preparations you should make to ensure a successful interview are essentially the same – here are our top 5 tips:

1. Do your research

To sound informed, you’ll need to be informed! Undertake thorough research, making notes if it helps you, into:

  • The course – read the information available on the university’s website and in its prospectus again. How is the course structured and which modules interest you the most? Be prepared to explain why you’re interested in the subject and to demonstrate this by relating it to current world affairs, perhaps using examples you’ve seen in the media.
  • The university – find out what makes it special and if your subject department is involved in any interesting research projects that you might be able to bring up in the interview.
  • Your personal statement – read it over and over until you’re really familiar with it. Think about what the university staff might ask you about it, such as any books you’ve mentioned or any subject-specific activities you’ve completed.

2. Practise answering common university interview questions

Think about what questions you might be asked and plan how you’d answer them. Practise your answers with a friend, family member or teacher. As well as rehearsing the content, it will give you the chance to work on your delivery and body language. Ask your mock interviewer to be brutally honest with their feedback.

Practise your answers with a friend, family member or teacher.

Common university interview questions include:

  • Can you tell us about yourself and your career plans?
  • Why do you want to study this course?
  • Why have you chosen this university?
  • Why should we offer you a place?
  • What have you enjoyed about your A level studies?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Which of your achievements are you most proud of?

3. Plan the practical stuff

Think through the logistics of the interview and make your preparations in good time.

  • Plan your journey and book your transport – and overnight accommodation, if required – in advance.
  • Check the university’s instructions and look at their website for directions and maps.
  • Make sure that you allow some contingency time, in case of delays, and have the phone number of the admissions department handy so you can let them know if you’re going to be late.
  • Aim to get to the campus about half an hour before your interview to give yourself time to find the right building and use the toilet if needed.
  • Decide what you’re going to wear and make sure it’s clean for your big day. Your outfit needs to be smart enough to show that you’re taking things seriously but comfortable enough to help you feel relaxed.
  • Get a good night’s sleep, eat breakfast and keep hydrated – it’s all common sense but easy to forget when you’re feeling nervous!

As well as whatever you’ve been advised to bring with you for your particular subject – such as a portfolio of your work – take any documents the university has specifically requested and a notepad and pen, in case you need to jot something down.

4. Be distinctive

You want to try to stand out from the other candidates, but in a good way – so think less hot-pink jumpsuit and more blue-sky thinking! If you’re asked to talk about yourself, try to say something memorable. You may need to think on your feet if they ask something unexpected – staff will be keen to see how you perform under pressure.

…so think less hot-pink jumpsuit and more blue-sky thinking!

5. Relax and be yourself

If you try to be someone you’re not, it will show. Be as confident and relaxed as you can, but be yourself. Think about your body language – sit up straight, make eye contact and look interested.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, as this shows that you’re curious and engaged with the process.

Try to smile and even introduce some humour, if you can manage it – tutors are only human and will want to have students who are likeable and fun to be around. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, as this shows that you’re curious and engaged with the process. For example, you could ask about the various teaching methods used in the department or grade expectations for particular modules of the course.

What happens after a university interview?

After the interview, the university will make a decision about whether to offer you a place and inform UCAS, which will then update Track. If the interview didn’t go as well as you’d hoped, put it down to experience and make some notes that you can learn from for your next interview.

Coronavirus (Covid-19) and university interviews in 2020

While face-to-face interviews remain suspended due to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, you may be asked to participate in a virtual interview instead, using a video-calling platform such as Skype or Zoom.

You should approach a virtual interview with the same degree of preparation as a face-to-face one, so the advice in this guide still applies.

In addition, however, you should test the technology you’re using beforehand, so that you don’t experience any last-minute gremlins that will distract you and cause unnecessary stress.