How to Prepare for a University Interview – Video

Richard Evans is an education expert and Founder of The Profs. Having graduated from LSE and tutored professionally ever since Richard has accrued a wealth of knowledge about the higher education system and the admissions process of top universities. He has helped hundreds of students get into some of the best and most prestigious universities in the UK, including London Business School, Imperial and LSE.

Using Richard’s knowledge and the tips of 8 ex-admissions interviewers at top Russell Group universities, we’ve put together these tips to help you prepare for a university interview.

Interviews can be a stressful experience, but if you know what to expect and have prepared thoroughly, it can be a really enjoyable experience in which you get to share the love of your subject with another academic.

There’s no guarantee as to what you will be asked, and interviewers will always come up with new ways to try and catch you out. Still, by going through a bank of exercises and brain teasers like those collected by our tutors, you can prepare frameworks to make sure you succeed and do your best on the day.

Which universities interview candidates?

Not all UK universities interview applicants. The universities that do interview candidates include:

  • Oxford and Cambridge for almost all undergraduate courses
  • UCL and Imperial for the most competitive courses
  • Some Scottish universities for medical or teaching-based subjects
  • All medical applications at all UK universities

How likely are you to get an interview?

How likely you are to get to the interview stage really depends on the university. Universities make the decision on who to interview based on your grades, your personal statement, and other information provided in your UCAS application. Interestingly though, Cambridge interviews 75% of its applicants, whereas Oxford interviews 45% of applicants. Armed with this kind of information, The Profs’ team can help advise you on which universities you’ll have the highest chance of being successful with. For example, if your grades are mediocre but you have natural interviewing ability, we would advise a comparative course at Cambridge over Oxford.

5 tips on how to prepare for a university interview

An interview is an examination – not a written examination, but an oral one, meaning that there is a mark scheme and you can succeed through proper preparation. Here are five tips on how to prepare for a university interview:

1. Start with your personal statement

Your personal statement will set the tone and – if you’re lucky – the topics that will be covered in your interview. By talking about specific topics, you are far more likely to lead the interview. We advise thinking very carefully about which topics you want to raise in your personal statement in order to lead the interview when you get there.

2. Read well beyond the A level or IB syllabus

You’ll want to show your interviewer that you’re an expert in a specific topic, so your passion and interest for the topic is so important to convey. If you have that sparkle in your eye that shows you love a certain topic, that is the best way to get a successful offer.

Reading widely and well beyond your A level or IB syllabus is highly recommended. However, if you’re not a huge reader, you can watch YouTube videos or go to a public lecture at your local university and talk about that experience to show that you really will succeed at university.

3. Go to an open day of your first or second choice university

Open days are amazing – you’ll meet most of the senior leaders and you might even meet the person that will be your interviewer. They’ll give you an idea of the specific culture of the university and what that university looks for in a candidate. By saying you went to an open day and telling the interviewer how you relate to the specific culture of the university or department, you’re giving yourself a huge advantage over the competition!

4. Research your interviewer

You may be told who your interviewer is in advance, and if you’re applying to a college or a medical school, you may be able to predict who you’ll meet from a number of interviewers. Make the most of this and research your interviewer ahead of your interview, reading around them and finding out what’s interesting to them. You can then name-drop early on in the interview, for example: ‘I saw that you wrote about this paper’ or ‘I’ve read that you’re interested in that topic, I’d love to know more’. This is another huge advantage.

5. Do a mock interview

So many people think they’re naturally good at interviews but practice is so important. We conduct hundreds of mock interviews per year with ex-admissions professionals to help candidates know exactly what it feels like. The best mock interviews are with someone you’ve never met before so that it feels like a genuine experience. You’ll then get feedback on your strengths, on your weaknesses, and on how you can best prepare before the interview.

4 tips on how to perform well during your interview

You’ve prepared for your interview and now you arrive – but how do you perform well during the interview, when the pressure is on? Here are four tips to help you perform your best:

1. Positivity

Be positive, smile, and enjoy the experience. You might be nervous, but by projecting positivity, you’ll actually relax your interviewer, which will in turn help to relax you. Show enjoyment and passion for your subject. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the answer – ask a question back and show that you are the sort of candidate who can be taught.

2. Body language

In an interview, you don’t want to be too relaxed – you need to wake yourself up. Some of these interviews might be 45 minutes long and it’s easy to get a bit too comfortable. When we get too comfortable, we all start saying things we shouldn’t be saying (like we don’t actually like reading!). So, every time you’re asked a question, put your feet squarely on the floor, roll your shoulders back, make eye contact, and smile. This will keep your body alert and ready to answer the next question.

3. Bookend your answers

When you’re asked a question, start by repeating the question back, and then at the end of your answer, make sure to bring it back to the question. This ensures that even if you’ve rambled or waffled (as many of us tend to do), your interviewer will remember the key points of your answer and you’ll reassure them that you have, in fact, answered their question.

4. Don’t worry about ums and ahs

It’s totally natural to have some ums, ahs and stutters – that adds humanity and personality. People are really worried that they have to speak ‘perfectly’ and ‘fluently’, but being natural is more important. Don’t be afraid of pausing and if you need time, grab a glass of water or just say ‘I’m going to think about that for 30 seconds, if that’s ok’. Then you can take a bit of time, relax, and say ‘thank you, I’m ready to go’ before continuing.

If you’re looking for further support with preparing for a university interview, reach out to our team of admissions experts. We can match you with an experienced interview training tutor with in-depth knowledge of your chosen degree course and the specific universities you’re applying to.