UK Application Guide
At some institutions all top candidates must go through an interview process to complete their application. Most institutions can only wish for such thorough efforts in their admissions process, as the luxury of such a time consuming and expensive process is only granted schools rich in resources.
The interview is yet another chance to give off a positive impression of yourself and to convince the university that you will succeed academically.
Which universities and programmes perform interviews?
- Medicine-. Veterinarian- and dentistry programmes interview their candidates. The admissions to such degrees are highly competitive and the subsequent career paths require strong social skills. The interviews are therefore an important tool in distinguishing the utmost suitable candidates.
- Oxford and Cambridge are the most selective universities in the UK and they spend a lot of resources on identifying the most promising candidates from their programmes. Their way of teaching (called “the tutorial system”) is different from many other universities and the interviews are a way of assessing whether a candidate is well suited to the tutorial system. You can read more about tutorials on Oxford’s and Cambridge’s respective websites.
- Highly competitive programmes at some other universities, such as University College London and University of Durham, sometimes choose to interview their candidates.
Sometimes admissions committees already make their decisions before sending out invitations for interviews. The idea is to give students a good impression of the university, thus making them choose the university over competing institutions. Interviews for medicine-, veterinary- and dentistry programmes as well as Oxford and Cambridge are, however, not of this kind.
Purpose and layout of the interview
The main purpose of the interview is to find out how you structure your thoughts when faced with a new, unfamiliar problem. Candidates will commonly be asked to either solve a subject related problem or to make an argument for a certain cause.
What in the interviewer looking for?
The interviewer is primarily looking to assess three abilities in a candidate:
- Intellectual ability: Ability to structure thoughts, allowing you to reason and argue
- Communication skills: Your communication skills are key in allowing the interviewer to understand how you structure your thoughts.
- Subject knowledge: The interviewer wants to see to what extent you are familiar with the academic field you’re applying for, especially if it’s one of the sciences.
Prepare for the interview
- Introduction: In the beginning of the interview, you’ll likely receive some warm up questions about your hobbies mentioned in your Personal Statement. Prepare some answers for such questions so that you can give a strong first impression.
- Subject knowledge: Prepare yourself by going over what you’ve learned in the field throughout high school.
- Subject knowledge: Review your Personal Statement and prepare to speak about any subject related matters mentioned in your letter. If you’ve mentioned a specific topic, be prepared to answer questions about how you’ve furthered your knowledge in the field and from where your interest originates. Also be prepared to account for anything you’ve mentioned using simple calculations and illustrations.
- Subject knowledge: Stay up to date with the on-goings in the media and the world, especially relating to the academic field of interest. Have opinions in relevant debates and discussions. There are examples of whole interviews focused around one specific political affair (ex. Brexit).
As an interviewee, you can influence the content and direction of the interview. If you see a possibility to discuss a topic that you enjoy talking about, take it! “Play to your strengths”.
Who will interview me?
You’ll most likely be interviewed by an academic within the field of study that you’re applying for. This means that your focus should be on the subject, and what will make you a successful student within the field.
Most interviews last 20 minutes. You’ll most likely be interviewed by either one or two interviewers. After a minute or so of small talk, the interview begins and goes straight to the point with subject related questions. Sometimes this question is related to a point made in your Personal Statement, sometimes not.
The interviewer/s commonly begin with easier questions, only to gradually raise the bar. They wish to find out at which level you are intellectually challenged and stimulated to identify your way of thinking and see how you cope with unfamiliar problems. They wish to see how you connect the dots, discuss and formulate yourself, even if you’re no expert in a specific field. Are you asking questions? Do you structure your thoughts and arguments in a productive manner? Are you an independent thinker, or are you simply regurgitating someone else’s ideas?
In some interviews, you’ll be asked questions relating to your motivations for wanting to study a specific subject and your career ambitions. There is a chance that you may have to do more than one interview, especially when applying for a programme covering multiple subjects (Ex. PPE).
Make sure to plan your trip well ahead of time, since you’ll need to travel to the university for your interview. Avoid stress so you can focus fully on your upcoming interview.
- Be weary of times, locations and whether you need to bring anything in particular
- A good night’s sleep before your interview is a vital part of your preparations
- There are no strict dress codes, but candidates generally choose to dress formally (ex. A neutral dress or skirt and a shirt for girls and a suit (without tie) for boys).
- Prepare answers for common questions that may come up. For example – “why have you chosen the programme in question?” or “why do you wish to study at this university?”
- You are often given the chance to ask questions towards the end of the interview. Prepare some questions beforehand. It’s a great way of showing your genuine interest in the programme and that you wish to learn more
- Practice! Ask teachers, academic counselors, parents or friends for help and try to simulate a real interview. Any and all practice is helpful, and will make you feel more comfortable once at the interview.
- When practicing – think about factors such as formulations, body language and how to radiate enthusiasm and engagement. Think about how to improve these bits for the real interview.
- Practice your English! Don’t let the language barrier hold you back. Read books, watch movies and communicate with your friends in English. Check out “Verbling” in the section of this guide titled “Link Bank”.
- There is no such thing as a “perfect candidate”. Prepare well, but remember to be yourself!
Studential’s interview guide:
Interview advice from Oxford: