how to prepare for a university interview

How to Prepare for a University Interview

Congratulations – you’ve been invited to a university interview, but now what?

This guide will take you through when you’ll normally be offered an interview, what to expect, and how to succeed at an interview.

An interview is an ideal way for a university to find out if you’d be a good fit for the course, and also for you to find out if the university and course is a good fit for you. It will give you an opportunity to expand on the written parts of your application, show how you think about your subject, demonstrate an interest and commitment to your subject, and show your ability to think independently.

Which Subjects require interviews?

Interviews may be offered in a wide variety of contexts, but some courses are more likely to require you to attend an interview as a part of your application. These courses include creative courses in the Arts, such as Music, Art and Design, as well as care related courses such as Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and Education. Courses which are less likely to require an interview include STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and Social Sciences. Oxbridge is an exception to this, requiring interviews for all their programs.

Which universities require interviews

Universities that are more popular or competitive may require you to attend an interview for all their courses. University of Oxford and Cambridge will not offer candidates a place without an interview, and UCL and Imperial College will often invite candidates for an interview. 

Types of interviews:

Universities do not all conduct interviews the same way, it is important to understand the type of interview you have been offered before attending, to allow you to prepare accordingly. You will be provided information about the interview format before attending so make sure you read this.

There are normally 3 types of interviews:

1-Conventional discussion-based interviews

 These involve a discussion between you and the course tutor for your chosen subject, mainly covering your reason for wanting to study the course and why you think you’re a good candidate. This interview may also require you to complete a task such as a numerical or aptitude test, for example.  Some interviews may be in a group setting, while the majority are individual. Most universities will let you know what to expect in advance.

2-Oxford and Cambridge interviews

These interviews have a reputation for being difficult. The aim of the interviews is to surprise the candidate to see how they react to new situations, so expect to be surprised, prepare extremely well and approach with confidence.

3-Mini interviews (MMI’s)

These are usually used for candidates wishing to study Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and other similar courses, and are used to see if applicants have the required character traits to succeed on a course. Candidates will be asked to complete a series of ‘stations’ to test for different skills.


How to prepare for an interview:

The worst thing you can do at an interview is to arrive late, get lost, and not know who is interviewing you or what format the interview will be. Preparing in advance and knowing what to expect will calm your nerves while arriving on time will make a good impression on your interviewer. Here are some steps you can take to do this:

  •       Sort out your travel and accommodation in advance
  •       Find out exactly where the interview will be taking place, arrive at the venue a day before to check its location if you can
  •       Prepare your outfit. Although you will not be assessed on the clothes you wear, it probably isn’t a good idea arriving with a vest, shorts, and shoes that are hard to walk in. Prepare to wear something professional and comfortable – smart trousers or skirt, along with a shirt or a blouse will make a good first impression.
  •       Make sure that you have had a good meal and taken care of all personal needs in advance
  •       Plan to arrive to your interview at least 15 minutes in advance
  •       If information has been provided about who will be interviewing you, perform an online search about them and read their academic interests and publications. This will help you feel more familiar with your interviewer and can help ease your nerves. It may also impress your interviewer if you have read and understood their work


How to show your skills and interest at an interview:

So often, students who are very academically capable may not be able to get a position at their university of choice purely due to their inability to show their skills and interest at an interview. What you know can be just as important as how you present it. Follow these tips to shine at an interview.

  •       Research the University:

Research about the university you have applied to, and be prepared to answer why you have applied to this institution compared to other options. Make sure your information is objective and based on facts e.g. I want to study at UCL due to its academic excellence. I am also inspired by the alumni who have studied here in previous years, Mahatma Gandhi is my personal idol for all the work he did in… or I want to study at City University due to its large employer network and job support, you have one of the lowest unemployment rates amongst alumni compared to other universities.

  •       Why this course?

Think about why you have applied for the course in question, there are 2 elements to this: why do you enjoy studying this, how is it going to help you do what you want to be doing in the future e.g. I want to study law as I have an aptitude for reading and memorizing things. I studied law for my A-levels and it was my favorite subject. My uncle was a lawyer and I interned as his personal assistant, it really helped me understand what lawyers do. I love being able to defend people and I hope to be a human rights lawyer working at a company like Bindmans LLP.

Alternatively, you may have a story as to why you want to study a specific course. E.g. My motivation for studying genetic engineering is my brother, he was born with a genetic deformity. I want to study genetic engineering so that I can help find a cure for this deformity.

  •       Re-read your personal statement:

Re-read your personal statement as references might be made to it at the interview, make sure you believe and can express what you have written

  •       Read the news and current affairs relating to your subject:

The best way to demonstrate an interest in your chosen subject area is to be up-to-date on news and current affairs relating to it. You can find online journals on a variety of subjects relating to all kinds of subjects. If you are unsure where to look, you can simply google your subject area and “news” or “developments” or “online journals” e.g. Marketing news, marketing development, marketing online journals.

  •       Carry out a mock interview:

Have a mock interview with a family member, friend, teacher or careers advisor, to get you used to the pressure of having an interview so you can perform better for the real interview. This can be good practice to ensure you’re adopting the right body language and tone of voice, such as an open posture, sufficient eye contact, a smile, and a clear, confident tone of voice. If English isn’t your main language you may also require to work on your pronunciation beforehand.

  •       Write down the question you may be asked

Writing down the questions you may be asked will help you brainstorm and find the best responses. However, you can never guess all the questions you are going to be asked, so go in the interview confidently and show your ability to think on your feet or, in the worst case scenario, to improvise.


What to take with you:

A notepad may be handy at an interview to write down important points about the interview, especially if you are choosing between multiple universities to attend.

For arts and design courses you may also need to take a portfolio of your work when you attend your interview, which you will need to display and discuss. This will usually contain research examples, completed pieces and work in progress pieces. It can be housed in an A3 or A4 folder depending on the size of content. For any particularly large pieces, you can take a picture instead.


How to calm your nerves:

It’s natural to feel anxious before an interview, but there are certain steps you can take to reduce your anxiety and pave the path for success.

  1.   Prepare well

Good preparation for an interview can naturally reduce your stress levels. Make sure to start preparing early. Youtube videos and resources can also help you prepare.

  1.   Avoid caffeine and get enough sleep

If you know you have a natural tendency to get anxious before interviews, avoid caffeine which can increase your stress levels, and get enough rest before the interview.

  1.   Visualize success

Close your eyes and visualize yourself being successful in the interview. This method helps prepare your mind to behave a certain way to achieve success, and is used by many successful people including athletes before competitions.

  1.   Reduce stressors

This has already been discussed in previous sections and refers to not getting lost, showing up late, hungry, or wearing uncomfortable clothing. Planning for these in advance is several less things to worry about.

  1.   Take your time answering

If the interviewer asks you a question, you don’t have to answer immediately. If the ideal answer doesn’t come to mind, take a moment of silence to think, you can even ask the interviewer if they’d allow you a minute to think before answering.

  1.   Ask questions

Don’t forget that this is a 2-way street, the interviewer is assessing your ability to study at their institution as much as you are analysing the suitability of the course and university for yourself. Ask questions that show you are curious to know how the course and university will fit with your goals and ambitions.

  1.   Pretend to be confident

Fake it till you make it. According to clinical psychologists, pretending to be confident will let confidence come to you – something to take into consideration.


If you’d like more preparation advice for your UK university application, or if you’d like help applying, get in touch with us today by filling out a contact form, and we’ll be in touch within 24 hours.



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