How To Prepare For A University Interview: 15 Powerful Tips




University interviews can be daunting.

You want to make a good impression, but you’re worried that you’ll be asked a question you can’t answer. Or maybe you’ll forget to say something important?

The secret to doing well under those challenging circumstances is to be fully prepared.  

This post will explain the essential strategies you’ll need to prepare successfully for your university interview.

So, how do you prepare for a university interview?

There are four critical elements to consider when preparing for a university interview. Make sure you know the details of your proposed subject thoroughly and practice your interview beforehand. You should also plan ahead for the trip and thoroughly research the university or college.

Read on, and you’ll discover the 15 powerful tips that will help you prepare for your university interview like a pro!

How to Prepare for a University Interview

Despite an impressive written application, an admissions team may still want to meet you before making an offer. This is especially common for applicants to courses that require a practical, creative or empathetic approach.

They’ll be looking for enthusiastic students with lots to offer – someone who can work independently and consider new ideas, someone who will thrive, enjoying a varied academic life alongside outside interests.

UCAS

1 Make Sure you Know Your Subject

Use the period before your interview to fully immerse yourself in your field of study. An online search is a great place to start, so identify the most useful websites for your subject.

If it’s a subject you are already studying, talk to teachers, do extra reading and research and explore industry publication lists and websites.

Ask your teachers to clarify course elements you might be unsure about and push yourself to gain informed opinions on initiatives in the field. Be ready to talk in an informed way about practitioners working in your subject specialism.

Prepare your arguments in advance, using up to date examples and referencing publications considered seminal in your field.

You won’t be expected to have in-depth knowledge yet, but you will be expected to be able to form your own informed opinions.

2 Learn Five Things About a new Field of Study

If you’re applying to study a subject that is entirely new to you, then an interview panel won’t expect you to have detailed knowledge or experience of it.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare as fully as possible.

Learn five things about that subject or field of study and be ready to talk about them in detail.

If you’re pressed for more than that, it’s legitimate to clarify that you haven’t studied it before. You can then talk about what you hope to learn from the course and how it will build your specialist knowledge.

It would help if you also prepared some connections between the areas of knowledge and experience you already have and the subject you intend to study.

Preparing clear connections between your skills in Mathematics and their relevancy to Architecture, for example, is vital.

If you have a field of research pertinent to your application, make sure you’re informed on contemporary advances and theories. Practice summarising the connections between your previous work and future ambitions concisely.

There’s some great advice on this topic in my post on writing awesome statements of purpose, available here.

3 Practice Your University Interview Beforehand

When it comes to how to prepare for a university interview, one of the most effective strategies you can use is to practice in advance.

Whatever your intended field of study, nothing beats speaking your answers aloud or practising with a friend or teacher.

You might feel awkward at first, but once you get used to speaking out loud, you’ll realise it’s beneficial. That awkwardness mirrors the nervousness you’ll feel in the interview, so it’s worth experiencing and learning from.

Try recording the practice interview and critically reflecting on your performance for an even better analysis.

Some classic university interview questions you could use when preparing are:

Subject-Based

  • Why do you want to study this subject?
  • What qualifies you to study this subject?
  • What do you hope to achieve by studying this subject?
  • What are your long-term ambitions in this field?

Student-Based

  • What are your strengths as a student?
  • What challenges have you overcome as a learner?
  • Which study strategies work best for you and why?
  • Which transferable skills will be of most value at university?

Value-Based

  • How does this course fit into a more extensive career plan?
  • Why do you want to study here?
  • Which alumni do you admire and why?
  • What value do you offer this institution?

Top Strategies for Practice Interviews

Try to make your practice interviews as close to the real thing as possible. Ideally, wear your interview outfit (for most undergraduate courses, this would be clean and smart but not formal) and find a relatively unfamiliar set of surroundings.

Try to give yourself as much time as possible, and ideally, try to schedule a few practices with different interviewers. This allows you to reflect and apply your improvements. You’ll also get new feedback each time.

Keep things formal, from waiting outside to the way you speak to the interviewer. The more you can approximate the actual experience, the more value you’ll gain from a practice interview.

Once you’re in your practice university interview, follow these hacks for the ultimate preparation process…

4 Don’t um…

Get used to not using additional sounds like ‘um’ or ‘err’ as fillers when you can’t think of what to say. Practice linking thoughts and sentences with relevant content or find filler phrases like ‘I’m glad you asked that question’ or ‘I think that’s a very valid point.’

It’s much better to use planned phrases like this, which allow you to think, than filling the silence with an ‘um’!

5 Remember the Question

This is a powerful piece of advice to use when preparing for a university interview. Practice committing the whole thing to memory when you are asked a question.

Keep it in your mind, so you don’t go off track. Doing so means you won’t have to be reminded of the rest of the question once you’ve answered the first part.

6 Work out What’s Being Asked

Most of the time, when you are asked a question, the interviewer will have a specific answer in mind. So, take a moment to work out why the interviewer is asking the question and what their desired answer is likely to be.

If you’ve got a good understanding of the course and the institution, you should be able to identify the question that’s actually being asked.

7 Keep your Hands Still

If (like me) you’re prone to fiddling with your hands when under pressure, practice this interview strategy in advance. Put your hands on the table in front of you and touch the fingertips of both hands together. Let your thumbs move a little as you speak, but keep your other fingers connected.

This is highly grounding for you and far less distracting for the interviewer. It does take a little practice…

8 Count to Three

Unless you have an immediate answer on the tip of your tongue, practice taking a mental count of three before you answer. It will feel like a long time to you, but it’s not long in reality. It gives you time to consider your response fully before you start to speak.

This is a great thing to observe when you watch the recording of your practice interview. Taking a few seconds to get your points arranged in your mind saves a significant amount of interview time overall.

9 Make eye Contact

Making eye contact with your interviewer is an exceptionally positive thing to do. But it would help if you practised getting the balance right. It can convey confidence, positivity and engagement. Don’t do it for a prolonged amount of time or with intensity, or it’ll get weird. However, a brief but repeated connection is a valuable way to make a connection.

If you’re talking to a panel, move between them to keep them engaged. When you’re practising, take the time to ask whoever is working with you for their opinion.

10 Talk About Value

Just like in your personal statement, the value of your qualifications, experiences and ambitions is what counts. Practice discussing what a course or piece of knowledge meant to you and how it adds value to you as an applicant.

Don’t be shy or reluctant. The interviewer already knows your grades. They want you to show them how you’ve applied that knowledge.

11 Be Positive

It can be hard to know the difference between being positive and boastful and harder still to get the balance right. However, an interviewer will want to hear you being optimistic about your potential.

So, practice keeping things realistic and don’t overinflate your abilities. Equally, don’t be afraid to speak positively about your achievements and have confidence in your ambitions.

12 Keep Your Head Up

As well as practising the things you want to say, it would help if you also practice your body language. In this case, the vital thing to remember is to keep your head up. When you look up, even with just a tilt of the head, it conveys confidence and positivity.

Looking up changes the way you breathe and increases your openness and ability to engage naturally with others. Spend as much time as possible before your interview looking up and out rather than down and in.

13 Remember your Personal Statement

The personal statement you submitted will almost certainly form the basis of an interviewer’s questions. That means that the questions asked in your university preparation interviews should allow you to practice justifying or developing that content.

Make sure whoever is interviewing you has a copy of your personal statement so that their questions can be pertinent. Most importantly, make sure you have memorised the contents and have used the time to prepare answers that give the actual interviewer even more value-based content.

For more outstanding and original tips for developing a perfect personal statement, check out my Perfect Personal Statement Templates eBook. It’s full of awesome advice and practical ideas for writing the perfect application…

14 Know Where You’re Going and How to Get There

A successful university interview is a matter of planning ahead and making sure you don’t leave anything to chance.

Beyond the interview itself, there are several other elements to consider. Whilst they may not seem that important by comparison, getting them right will help reduce any pressure you feel on the day.

Having your destination, accommodation and transportation figured out in plenty of time is critical. It takes a lot of anxiety out of the situation and means you can focus on the essential aspects of your interview.

So, as part of your university interview preparation, find out exactly where you need to go, how you’re going to get there and what kinds of obstacles might get in your way.

Check for engineering works, roadworks, diversions and cancellations and get some contingencies in place.

Always buy travel tickets in advance if you can, and print paper copies of these and the interview instructions you’ve been given. Put all of these into a dedicated folder in the order you’ll need them.

You should also get some clear directions to the specific location within a campus or building and get there ahead of time.

If you don’t feel you have enough information about where to go, try researching the venue online. Don’t be afraid to contact the institution directly for clarification.

15 Learn Much More About the Course and College

You should have researched a university or college in enough detail to convince you to apply. However, you’ll need to do more research ahead of the interview.

As a minimum, you should be fully aware of the course structure, mandatory and optional components and assessment methodology.

You should also be ready to talk about the wider faculty’s resources, aims, and achievements, including previous graduates working in your field.

Beyond this, it is sensible to research the co-curricular provision available to you and think about ways in which you could contribute to it. Research the student support services, facilities and accommodation on campus, and the university’s values and ethos.

Think about how your achievements and experiences link with the institution’s values. That way, you can connect your vision with that of the university or college and ask informed questions when you get the opportunity.

University Interview Bonus Tip!

Competition is fierce for many courses, and places at high-profile universities and colleges can be hard to get.

It can be easy to diminish your chances or convince yourself that you are unlikely to get an achievable offer.

But…

The majority of universities actively want to work with engaged, informed and interesting students.

If you prepare well for your university interview, illustrate how your previous experiences have informed your choices, and explain the value you’ll add to their learning community, they’ll likely see you as a great fit.

So, be confident and enjoy the experience!


Good luck with your university interview, and don’t forget to contact me if you’d like some 1-1 support with your personal statement.

You’ve got this! D

Research and content verified by Personal Statement Planet.

David Hallen

I've worked in the Further Education and University Admissions sector for nearly 20 years as a teacher, department head, Head of Sixth Form, UCAS Admissions Advisor, UK Centre Lead and freelance personal statement advisor, editor and writer. And now I'm here for you...

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