How to ace university interviews (non-Oxbridge and non-Medicine)
Tips on preparation, practice, and the event itself
Interviews feel like a lot of pressure - like your whole future is riding on them! But you don’t need to just feel stressed and helpless. Here are steps you can take to sail through your university interviews with confidence.
How to prepare
Preparation is the difference between sitting in your interview in a sweaty panic and calmly answering questions that you’ve already planned answers for. Here’s how to get yourself ready well before the interview starts.
Reread your application
Reread your application materials thoroughly and prepare answers to questions you imagine could be asked from what you have written - there are some examples of common questions at the bottom of this guide. The interviewer is likely to base much of their questioning around your Personal Statement, CV, and Covering Letter or portfolio, so make sure you’ve brushed up and won’t be taken aback by anything they decide to mention - for example, books you may have referenced reading, or classes you particularly liked.
They’ll also likely ask you about your current studies, so be prepared to talk about what’s currently of interest to you, or going particularly well.
Research the university
Interviewers want to see that you’ve done your research and chosen this university for a reason. Look back over their website and materials for applicants and make note of their values - what do they say they’re looking for in a student? What are things that they offer that other universities don’t? Come up with a few genuine reasons why you’d be really excited to attend this university and why you think you’d fit in well there.
You should also take this opportunity to prepare any questions you have for them about the university or the course. It’s a great chance to get first-hand information from the tutors themselves, and also shows that you’ve really been thinking about the university. However, don’t ask questions you easily could answer by just looking at the university website or brochures, or questions that are just about the social side of university.
Think about your course
You’re not just applying to the university generally, though - you’re applying to a specific course. Make sure that you’ve brushed up on any books, writers, or topics that you mention in your personal statement, as they’ll be likely to ask about them. If your subject has been in the news lately or there have been any recent developments in the field, you should try to keep on top of those, too - they may ask you your views.
You want to demonstrate that you’re keen and passionate about the topic you’ve chosen, and that you’re the type of person who reads and thinks about it beyond what your teacher assigns.
Think up answers to common questions
The goal here isn’t to memorise the answers by heart; by going through a list like the one at the bottom of this guide and brainstorming the basic topic you’ll cover if asked it, you’ll spare yourself that moment of scrambling and panic when you’re asked a big question in the room. It can be useful to practise answering them out loud as well, just to get a feel for how you’ll respond - but again, don’t try and memorise the perfect response. You don’t want to sound scripted in the interview!
Ask your family and teachers
Your school or college may offer practice interviews where you can work through the whole experience and get some feedback. If they don’t, ask a teacher in the subject area you’re applying for if they’d be willing to run one for you. You can even just give a friend or family member a list of common questions and ask them to give it a try.
Make sure to ask for feedback. While the act of practising itself is really helpful, having another person do it with you is a great chance to get some tips for how you could do even better next time, and in the real thing.
- Work out where, when, and how you’re getting there. If you need to stay the night, make sure you have your trains and accommodations all sorted. If the interview location is nearby, you may even want to take a quick trip in advance of the actual interview, just so you’re sure you know how to get there and how long it takes.
- Be on time. That actually means at least ten minutes early. This gives you time to settle in and keeps things on track for the interviewers.
- Dress smartly. But make sure you’re comfortable, too. A suit or smart jacket and trousers / skirt are usually appropriate.
- Make a strong first impression. Enter the room confidently and with a smile. Be ready to shake hands and make eye contact! You’ll be nervous, but don’t stare shyly at the floor.
While body language is important, you don’t want to get too in your head worrying about what you’re doing with your hands or whether you’re sitting up straight enough. Here are some simple tips for carrying yourself when actually answering questions.
- Look at the person who posed the question. There will probably be several people there, but you can just address the person who actually asked it.
- Pause to think. Leaving silences will feel weird, but it’s absolutely fine and much better to take your time than just blurting out the first thing to come to mind. If you feel weird about just pausing, feel free to say, ‘Let me think about that a moment.’
- Be direct. You may be tempted to make jokes, but it’s best to just stay straightforward. Definitely don’t attempt to be flippant or sarcastic - you don’t know how they’ll take it.
- Be concise. This is where some practice can come in. It’s so easy to just keep rambling on, especially if your interviewers aren’t really responding verbally - which they may not do! Reach the end of your point and end the sentence confidently, resisting the urge to just keep talking.
- Don’t be scared if the interviewer challenges you. If they point out a contradiction in your thinking or suggest something you’ve said isn’t correct, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed. They want to give you a chance to clarify, so accept what they’ve said and calmly reply.
- Don’t interrupt. Even if you think you know what they’re about to say, or if they’ve misunderstood something you’ve said.
- Stay confident! Don’t ask ‘Is that right?’ or give up part way through an answer if you suddenly realise you’ve gotten it wrong. If you need to backtrack, just calmly say, ‘let me try that again,’ or ‘on second thought, let me start that answer again.’
- Let your enthusiasm shine. It’s great for interviewers to see that you genuinely like your topic and really want to come to their university.
Common interview questions
- Why did you choose this subject?
- Why did you choose this university?
- Why did you choose your particular A-Level / BTEC subjects?
- What are you reading at the moment?
- What can you bring to the university?
- What work experience have you done? What did you learn from it?
- What do you see yourself doing after university?
- Tell me about yourself
- What are your strengths?
- What's your biggest weakness?
- What motivates you?
- What achievement are you most proud of?
- Discuss your personal statement
Unifrog Insights monthly email
Progression-related teaching materials, and insight from the Unifrog platform, emailed to you once a month.