In this second post on university interviews, we look at the questions you may get and possible answers you could give. And we give you 10 more tips to help you prepare and do well in your university interview.
1. What Are the University Interview Questions?
The first thing to say is that there isn’t one single list of university interview questions that you can use to prepare. Of course, there are some ‘standard’ questions that you can and should practise answering.
However, keep an open mind because questions can vary from course to course. Remember, the type of questions you have to answer will depend on the information that the university wants to find out about you during the interview.
This can include the following.
You should prepare to answer questions about the subject that you are applying for. The interviewer may want to judge how well you know and understand the subject, what experience you have with it, and where your interest in studying the subject comes from. They may also ask about the topics you have covered in your previous studies of the subject.
There may be questions to test whether or not you have the right abilities to do well in your future studies. For example, you may be given one or more scenarios by the interviewer to test if you can analyse and interpret information, make logical arguments, or solve problems.
In the last post, we mentioned that if you’re applying for a performance-based course you may have to give a practical demonstration of your skills in an audition. Besides this, you might get a ‘practice-based’ interview for other subjects, such as Media, English Literature, Computing, Maths, or History. You could be given a task and asked to create a short programme, analyse a piece of writing, interpret a poem or translate a text.
Portfolio, Written Work, Test
If you have had to submit a portfolio, essay or any other samples of your work, you should be prepared to discuss them during your interview. You may have to explain your ideas, talk about your methods and why you used them. Also, if you did an admissions test before your interview, you may be asked some questions about this.
The interviewer is likely to want to hear about any work experience you have, even voluntary or unpaid.
They won’t want you to give them a list of your task and duties. Rather, they will want to hear what you’ve learned from the experience.
Try to think of some examples of how your work experience has helped you develop and grow – and how this could help you to be a better student.
Attitude & Personality
The interviewer could ask you some ‘behavioural’ questions. These questions are related to how you reacted in particular situations in the past – giving the interviewer an idea as to how you might react in the future.
For instance, you might be asked to talk about a time when you had a major problem with something or someone. The interviewer will want to hear how you dealt with the problem, what actions you took, what the outcome was and what you think now about the situation.
You may be asked questions like ‘What has been your best achievement?’. Usually, these questions are to test if you can reflect on things in a mature and well-thought way. For instance, what do you think about these two answers:
I ran a race for a charity and raised 500 dollars.
I ran a race and raised 500 dollars. With the money, the charity was able to support the education an 8-year old girl for an entire year. Without the charity’s support, she would have had to work to support her parents.
The second answer is much more concrete and shows a positive outcome that you can truly be proud of.
Make sure to prepare some convincing and well-considered reasons for, ‘Why have you chosen this university, this course?’.
Try to avoid answers like ‘because it’s a great course’ or ‘because you’re a famous university’. Instead, you need to show that you have done your research and you have a good idea as to what exactly the university can offer you.
Use specific examples from the course modules and any special opportunities the university may offer, for example work placements or student exchange programmes. Whenever possible, connect your study plans to your future ambitions.
This brings us to another typical question and that is about your future plans.
You could be asked this type of question when applying for any subject. But especially so if you are interested in taking a subject focused on a specific profession, such as medicine, law, teaching and so on.
Avoid weak answers like, ‘because my father is…’ or ‘because it’s well-respected’. Make sure your answer demonstrates your passion, interest and commitment to your chosen subject.
Tell Me About A Book, Film, Story…
The interviewer might also ask you a question like:
What is the most interesting story you’ve read or heard in the news recently?
If there is one book you could recommend to anyone, what would it be and why?
These types of questions can take students by surprise as they don’t seem to be related to your subject. But, universities want students who are interested in the world around them and have an understanding of life outside of the classroom.
Tell Me About Yourself…
‘Tell me about yourself’ is another question that can take you by surprise – most of us find it difficult to answer.
But the interviewer won’t just be interested in you as a student and in your academic abilities. They will also want to know what type of person you are – what are your interests and what sort of person are you? What will it be like to have you on their course?
Prepare some examples that show your positive character traits and habits. Demonstrate that you like challenges, you can be persistent and don’t give up easily, you are proactive and you try to be the best you can.
2. What Is the Correct Way to Answer?
When the interviewer asks you a question, they’re not so much looking for the right answer, although sometimes that may matter. But most of the time they’re looking for proof that you’re the right candidate for the course you’re applying for – to make sure that you’ll do well in your studies. They will want to see:
Your Are Interested
Showing that you’re interested in the subject that you have applied for is one of the top factors that the admissions staff will take into consideration when making their decision on your university application. Make sure your answers include examples that prove your interest in the subject and that you’re committed to do your best during the degree.
The interviewer will want to see that you can think logically in order to produce good answers and solutions.
Here’s a tip: if you are given a task but aren’t sure what to do, try to let the interviewer know that you’re thinking about a solution. You could say something like, ‘Let’s see…’ and go on to talk the interviewer through your thoughts and the steps you’re taking to find a solution to the task.
Use Your Knowledge
The interviewer will want to see that you can use what you know in new situations. In other words, you haven’t simply learned how to pass exams and answer questions.
If you are given a question or task that isn’t familiar to you, think about what you already know. See how you can use your knowledge to build a convincing answer – even if the answer is not perfect.
Independent and ‘critical’ thinking is an important academic skill in the UK education tradition.
Try not to simply repeat what you read or hear, instead say what you think of this information. Do you agree or disagree with it? What are the strong or weak points of the argument? If you think the information is not clear or logical, say it – the interviewer could be testing you to see if you will do this.
Deal With Challenges
You could be asked difficult questions or be given a tricky task on purpose. Not because the interviewer wants ‘the right answer’, but to see your reaction. How do you deal with challenging moments, are you able to stay calm and find a solution? Will you ask for clarification and further information to better understand what to do? Or, will you simply give up and say you don’t know?
3. Final Tips for a Better Interview
In addition to preparing for the above university interview questions and answers, you should try to remember these 10 tips before and during your interview.
#1 They Are Interested
Remember, if you’ve been invited to an interview, the university is interested in you for their course. They have shortlisted you because they believe you could be a good candidate and they want to know more about you. The interview is your opportunity to convince the interviewer to offer you a place.
#2 Read Your Application
Before your interview, make sure to re-read the application you sent the university – especially your personal statement and any essays. A large section of your interview will probably focus on what you included in your application. So be prepared to explain in more detail some aspects of your written application.
#3 Keep Up With the News
Make sure that you to keep up with the latest news and developments in your subject area. If you have applied to study politics and there has recently been an important United Nations vote – be prepared to talk about it and share your opinion. Follow this advice whatever your subject.
#4 Ask Questions, Too
Prepare at least 1 or 2 questions to ask during your interview. But avoid obvious questions that you could easily answer yourself by just looking on the university’s website. Instead, you should try and think of information related to the course content, staff that will teach on the course or the typical student profile the admissions staff think is best suited to their course.
#5 Arrive Early
One thing interviewers almost never forgive is being late.
If you’re travelling to the university for your interview, make sure you arrive about 30 minutes early. This will give you time to find the building and room where your interview is being held. If you have to rush this could affect how you come across in your interview.
If your interview is by phone or video link, check before the interview that all your equipment is working. Test the connection with a friend or relative before the interview at least the day before and again an hour before the interview starts.
#6 Make a Positive Impression
When you meet the interviewer, you should greet them using their formal title, for example ‘Dr.’ (academic), or Mr/Mrs (staff from the Admissions Office). Shake the interviewer’s hand firmly and try to keep eye contact throughout the interview – don’t forget to smile.
At the end of the interview, thank the interviewer for the opportunity and tell them that you look forward to hearing from them soon.
#7 No Vague, Short or Negative Answers
Try not to speak negatively about anything, even negative experiences. You should have a positive attitude during the entire interview.
Also, don’t simply answer questions with ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The interviewer wants to find out more about you, so always try to provide more detailed answers and examples. Short or vague answers are not helpful and won’t give the interviewer the information they need to make you an offer.
#8 Say if You Don’t Understand Something
If you don’t understand a question, you can ask the interviewer to repeat or rephrase the question. You shouldn’t simply try to answer the question as your answer probably won’t be correct and this could make you look worse.
Also, don’t rush into giving an answer. If you need a moment to think about your answer, simply say, ‘I’m going to have to think about that…’. But try not to pause too long, it can be uncomfortable and won’t help you to make a good impression.
#9 Practice, Practice, Practice
If you’ve never been interviewed or you haven’t in long time, we recommend that you try at least one ‘mock’ interview before the real interview. Your school may offer this service. Or, you could ask someone that you know and trust to pretend to be the interviewer so you can practise the question and answer format.
Most people don’t like the idea of having an interview, but everyone can get better at interviews with practice. This doesn’t mean you should learn your answers ‘by heart’ as you will need to keep an open mind. But you can prepare some examples and the information you could use – as long as you try to sound natural during the interview.
During your university interview, the staff interviewing you will ask you some ‘standard’ questions. However, as these questions can vary from course to course, it could be helpful to think about the type of information the interviewer wants to learn about you from your interview.
Think of your interview as an opportunity to tell the university more about you. Remember, their questions will not be designed to trick you, but rather to assess that you have the right abilities, knowledge, qualities and approach.
Ultimately, every university wants to pick the best students for its courses. Bear this in mind when preparing for your university questions and answers. Show in your interview that you have what it takes to do well in during your studies and to be a great person to join the university.