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The university interview: preparation, survival and success

Woman being interviewed

In this section we’re aiming to give your students some tips on how to prepare for and succeed in a university interview. Procedures and formats for interviews do, of course vary between higher education institutions, however we’ll be offering some generic advice here that will be useful to your students.

There are a small number of subject areas where students will be required to attend an interview. Perhaps the most obvious examples are health-related courses (including nursing) and teaching courses – indeed, we’ll look at interviews for these in a little detail later. However, social work and art and design students will also normally go through an interview procedure. Students for other courses may be interviewed if there are limited places on the course or if it is particularly competitive. The university may also ask a student to attend if there is something about their application that requires clarification or if they have a policy of meeting potential candidates in person.

Before the interview

It may sound really obvious but the student needs to confirm their attendance when they get an interview request; the university will not automatically assume they are attending. If the date they are offered is inconvenient, the university should be notified straight away and a different date requested. In fact, if the student knows of any dates when they will not be available (due to exams or other justifiable commitments), it’s a really good idea to tell the university in advance.

In terms of preparing for the interview, students should anticipate questions that they may be asked and prepare appropriate answers. Referring back to the personal statement on the UCAS application form is a good starting point – the interviewer(s) may well ask some questions based on this. It’s also really important for the interviewees to have at least a couple of good questions of their own ready to ask.

So, what are the popular generic questions that a student may be asked during the interview?

The student should highlight relevant skills; these might include being hard-working, having good communication skills, being a team-player, balancing study, work and family life. Wherever possible, it is important to support such claims with examples.

While it may well be the case that a student has applied to a particular university primarily due to its close proximity to their home, this is not a good enough reason in itself to volunteer in the interview. The student should consider the appeal of the course content and structure, the reputation of the University and its facilities. Their decision to apply may also have been reinforced by an open day visit and, if this is the case, they might want to talk a little about this. Other questions to prepare for might include:

Preparing succinct responses to questions like these can help to alleviate the pressure on the day - and increase the likelihood of a successful interview.

Preparing for nursing interviews

The format for these can vary; they may comprise multi-stage interviews, formal interviews, assessments and group discussions (in the case of the latter, students should participate as much as possible to show knowledge of subject area).

Students will be expected to know what branch of nursing they want to enter, show knowledge of this field and an understanding of what nurses do. Students should prepare for the interview by reading health related press and while health-related placements are useful, universities accept that they are difficult to find.

Preparing for teaching interviews

Students will be expected to have researched the sector ideally via work experience and be able to show knowledge of key topical issues in education. An awareness of the demands of the course and a clear career focus are also highly important.

Teaching interviewees may also be expected to sit a test in English, Maths and Science. They should also be aware that the interviewer(s) will not just be looking at academic characteristics – they will also be assessing their potential within the classroom. As a consequence, it is important for students to be aware of their own verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

Immediately before the interview

The student should ensure that they have collected all of the requested documentation in readiness (birth certificate, proof of qualifications, etc). They should research the location of the interview (either via the university website or in person). A good night’s sleep beforehand is obviously beneficial and students should dress smartly (however, anyone with specific concerns about the dress code should check with the university beforehand). Eating before the interview is very important as well as allowing plenty of time for the journey to the university.

During the interview

Naturally, many interviewees are nervous but here are for a few tips for performing well in this situation:

  • Students should try to make eye contact with the interviewer from the outset and maintain it (naturally) during the interview.
  • They should avoid talking too much; it’s good to ask relevant questions but they should not interrupt. Listening carefully to the questions can pay dividends – there may be clues within them as to how the interviewer would like them to respond. If in doubt, they should ask the interviewer to repeat – or rephrase the question for clarification.
  • As much as possible students should try to be friendly and relaxed within this situation – and remember to smile! However, inappropriate jokes should obviously be avoided.
  • Students should enthuse about the course and demonstrate that they are fully committed to studying that subject at university.
  • Finally, they should be themselves (after all, that’s who the interviewer wants to see) and keep positive – an interview is no place for negativity.

It’s important for students to remember (and be reassured by the fact) that they have been called to interview because the university has been impressed by their application. They have been identified as a strong candidate and the interviewer(s) will want the student to perform well in order to meet their full potential.