Despite impressing with your application, the admissions team may still want to meet you before making an offer - give yourself the best chance of securing your place by discovering how to prepare for a university interview

What to expect

Interviews and auditions are sometimes used by admissions staff towards the end of the university application process as a means of comparing applicants with a good chance of being offered places on their courses. They're more likely to be held for creative or care-related programmes, as well as for entry into Oxford and Cambridge.

While the form and length of the interview will vary between universities and departments, most are based on a discussion with the course tutor.

For some courses, you may need to bring along a portfolio showing examples of your best work. This usually only applies to courses in the arts, but those wishing to study English are often asked to discuss a poem or essay they've written, while maths applicants may have to solve an equation.

The interviewer will want to maintain an element of surprise with regards to the interview - but they should at least let you know in advance if you'll be expected to complete a task.

How to find out about your interview

This will usually be through UCAS Track, although universities may contact students directly to provide information on what will happen on the day.

In Track, you'll have the option of accepting, declining or requesting to change the time or date of the interview.

As universities will be extremely busy it might not be easy to reschedule the interview, so try your best to attend on the original date. However, if this isn't possible, you can propose a new date through Track. The invitation will then either be updated in Track, or you'll be notified of the rescheduling via email, phone or post.

After the interview, you'll need to wait for the decision to be confirmed in Track.

Online interviews

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, some institutions may still be holding their admissions interviews online. In this instance, you'd need access to your laptop and have a video platform such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams installed, as well as ensuring a strong Wi-Fi connection. The format of the interview and anything you need to bear in mind should be made clear to you in Track or through direct contact with the university.

While they're primarily focused on interviewing for graduate jobs, you'll find that our video interview tips are still relevant to university interviews.

How to prepare for a university interview

In advance of your interview, it's important to prepare properly. You can do this by:

  • sorting out your travel and accommodation arrangements within plenty of time
  • finding out exactly where the interview will take place
  • ensuring your laptop and webcam are all set up and working correctly - if your interview is being held online
  • thinking carefully about why you've chosen this course, making notes from your application and reading through your personal statement
  • planning questions to ask the university interviewer
  • thoroughly researching the course and university
  • ensuring you're up to date with current affairs relating to your subject
  • carrying out a mock interview with a careers adviser or teacher to see how well you perform under pressure and to ensure you're adopting the right body language.

What to wear at the interview

You're not being assessed on your appearance or the clothes you wear, so dress comfortably. There's no need for a suit, but you'll still need to look professional - smart trousers or a skirt, along with a shirt or blouse, will help you to make a good first impression and show the interviewer that you take your studies seriously.

This advice still applies if the interview is being conducted online, as you still need to show admissions tutors that you've made an effort.

If it's an audition for a drama or dance course, you may need to wear something that's still appropriate, but comfortable for moving around in.

What to take with you

A notepad may come in handy to jot down the most important points, especially if you have several interviews lined up.

For music courses, you may need to remember to take your instrument.

If you're choosing to study art and design or another practice-based course, the university is likely to want to see a portfolio of your work when you attend your interview. You'll usually be expected to display it and discuss what it contains.

This well-organised collection of work should highlight your particular interests as well as how your skills and ideas have been developing.

Your portfolio will typically consist of research examples, work in progress and completed pieces - but these don't just have to be related to your college work. Depending on the content, it can be housed within a size-appropriate folder, such as A3 or A4. Provide photos of any particularly large pieces you've done, rather than trying to take them along.

Discover more about putting together a creative portfolio.

Example university interview questions

Knowing what you could be asked and planning your answers can help to ease the stress of an interview. Here are some example questions:

  • Why do you want to study this subject?
  • Why did you choose this university?
  • What did you enjoy about your A-levels?
  • How would you describe yourself?
  • What are your main interests?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What achievement are you most proud of?
  • What are your career plans?
  • Why should we offer you a place?

You'll also have to think about the types of questions that relate to your specific subject and have acquired some background knowledge of what the field involves.

For example, a biochemistry student might need to work through a problem relating to the differences between various recognisable compounds.

For courses in English literature, the interviewer may ask you to tell them about a piece of literary work mentioned in your personal statement or expect you to discuss what you're reading at the moment.

If you find that you don't understand the question, it's fine to ask them to repeat or rephrase it than try to guess what was being asked.

Questions to ask at a university interview

Remember that interviews are a two-way process, so use this opportunity wisely by finding out what you want to know about the course - aside from what you can find on the university website or in the prospectus.

For instance, you could ask the course tutor about the programme's range of teaching methods, expectations for each year of the degree, and the main characteristics looked for in a student, as well as any advice on how to succeed when taking this particular course.

By showing passion for your subject and outside interests, while having a genuine interest in and knowledge of the course and university, you'll come across as a well-rounded individual with the potential to thrive in this environment.

University interview tips

If you're wondering how to get the most out of the interview experience, Joanna Haran, head of admissions at the University of Salford, offers the following pointers:

  • Decide if this is where you want to study - 'Applicants should consider these interviews as an opportunity to make an informed decision about their future, as well as a chance to demonstrate skills for their chosen course. It's important to get a feel as to whether the university is the right place for you by seeing the campus and where you'll be taught. Indeed, meeting our applicants is one of the best parts of an admissions tutor's role, as it gives us the opportunity to give a tour of our facilities.'
  • Be prepared for group discussions - 'We only interview for courses where we feel that there's a real benefit, or where it's a professional requirement for our healthcare-related courses. Group interviews are often used with discussion topics demonstrating some of the relevant skills required. Applicants should make sure they participate as much as possible.'
  • Showcase your skills and enthusiasm - 'Our tutors will be looking for study commitment, organisational ability, motivation, and passion for their particular subject area, but we also strive to make this an enjoyable experience where applicants are able to meet their peers and start to build relationships.'

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