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University interviews

University interviews

Congratulations - you’ve been invited in for an interview!

Although your initial excitement may have already melted away into anxiety over the seemingly monumental interview task ahead of you, it’s important to take a deep breath, relax a little and understand that the fact that you’ve been invited in for an interview puts you in a very strong position. You’ve already impressed the admissions staff with your application. Now you have an opportunity to impress them even more.

What to Expect

A lot of pre-interview nerves arise because you don’t know what to expect. While it’s impossible to know exactly what will happen during an interview, you can calm your nerves by understanding what university interviews usually entail.

To start, there are two types of university interview:

  1. The real interview: This means that the university hasn’t made the final decision to extend an offer to you yet, and the interview will be a factor in this decision. This is more likely to be the case for competitive courses and courses with required interviews (for example, medicine).
  2. The wooing interview: This means that the university has already decided to extend you an offer, but won’t have told you yet. They are using the interview to effectively woo you, by familiarising you a bit more with the course and university, and to give you a sense of achievement when you eventually receive your offer post-interview. This is more likely to happen for less competitive courses.

Of course, it’s difficult to be entirely sure which type of interview you’re going in for. The best thing to do is to prepare as if it’s a real interview and, if you need to motivate yourself to relax, secretly tell yourself it’s a wooing interview.

Interviews vary in content. They can range from an informal chat to an oral exam. They can last 10 minutes or an hour. Usually they will involve only one interviewer in a one-on-one setting, but group interviews are possible, and you could be invited in for multiple interviews with different people, although this is rare and would indicate a special circumstance (i.e., it’s a REALLY competitive course or they REALLY want you to study with them).

An interview should always be a two-way interaction where you demonstrate your communication skills and your ability to handle stressful and new situations. It should also be a platform for you to showcase your enthusiasm for your chosen course and the university itself. Interviews are also a way for the university to get a taste of the real you, so be yourself and let your personality show.

How to Prepare

Although it’s impossible to prepare for the specific content of any interview, preparation is still key to your performance. On the one hand, it will help you to relax as much as possible during the interview. On the other, general preparation will give you well-rounded tools to help you perform at your best.

So, how should you prepare? First of all, you should plan the basic logistics. You should:

  • Carefully read through any information the university provided to you about the interview day and procedure.
  • Decide what to wear. You should dress smartly, but comfortably. You want to show them that you are taking the interview seriously, but you don’t want your clothing to be a liability on the day. Unless otherwise instructed, you don’t need to wear a suit or a formal dress. Nice trousers and a collared shirt or blouse, or a smart knee-length dress or skirt and cardigan combination would work well.
  • Plan your journey well and aim for an early arrival. You want to give yourself plenty of time to get to the interview location. In the unfortunate case that you experience any delays, make sure you have a phone number on hand so that you can call and notify them.

Regarding the content of the interview, these are some things to revise beforehand:

  • The university and course prospectus. Make yourself as familiar with the course content as possible.
  • Your personal statement. You may be asked to expand upon things you mentioned in your personal statement, so make sure you remember what you said!
  • The interview scenario. Do as many mock interviews as possible, with as many people as possible. The experience will be especially useful if you can interview with someone who knows your course subject well (for example, a teacher or advisor). But varied practice is also helpful, because it will prepare you for the unexpected – which is what interviews generally are. And ask your mock interviewer to cover both general interview questions (“Why do you want to study here?”) and more specific/unusual questions.
  • The current news relating to your subject. Recent hot topics relevant to your field are fair game for interview discussion points. Of course, if a lot has been happening, it can be a bit difficult to know what to cover in depth, but do the best you can and follow the news cycle of the past 2-3 months or so. If you can cover the biggest stories of that time period, that should be sufficient preparation.
  • Prepare questions to ask your interviewer. Asking insightful questions will show that you’ve thought seriously about the university and course.

During the Interview

In an interview, your body language says a lot about you. Sit up straight, make eye contact and be actively engaged in the conversation.

If you are given a test or exercise to complete beforehand, then you will likely discuss the exercise during the interview.

If you don’t understand a question the first time around, don’t be shy about asking your interviewer to repeat it or to clarify their meaning. If you’re unsure about how to answer, remember that there is often no perfect answer, and give the best answer you can.

If you have a group interview, strike a balance between listening to what others have to say and making your own unique contributions to the discussion.

Finally, it is worth noting that interviews can often include some challenging and seemingly random questions that, on the surface, you may think are meant to trick you. In fact, these questions are designed to test how well you can think creatively, express your ideas, support an argument, react to new and challenging information, etc. In short, these questions are asked with a specific purpose in mind, so try to give thoughtful, interesting answers. And if you get asked a series of challenging questions, don’t get discouraged. This is usually a good sign that you’ve engaged the interviewer and they want to hear more of what you have to say!

After the Interview

After every interview, it’s a good idea to jot down notes on the questions you were asked and the answers you gave. This will help you reflect on any areas you need to work on.

Oxbridge Interviews

Oxbridge interviews have a reputation of their very own, so it’s worth saying a few things about them in particular.

Firstly, Oxbridge interviews are generally designed to get to know how you think rather than how much knowledge you already possess. Interviewers are interested in your ability to learn and be taught in the Oxbridge system. Of course, it is beneficial to go in with a solid knowledge of your proposed course subject, but you can expect to be presented with new ideas and (very probably) to be taken out of your comfort zone. Be bold about expressing your thoughts and opinions, and don’t be afraid to disagree with the interviewer. The important thing is that you support you points and make your argument well.

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Prepare as much as you can, but go into every interview with an open mind, because every interview (and interviewer!) is going to be different.

Finally, if you’re still feeling a bit nervous, remember that an interview is always a two-way street: at the end of the day, you’re interviewing THEM too, to decide if their course/university is the right fit for you.

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