Interview tips

It is quite amazing how some normally confident young people can, at the thought of attending a college or university interview, become suddenly panicky and unsure of themselves. As Tony Charlton from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) in the UK explains, good preparation is the key to success.

As a starting point, check to see if your chosen area of study has a tradition of selecting students by interview. Medicine, nursing and teacher training, as university subjects, all fall into this category and will normally expect students to be available to attend a personal interview as a pre-requisite for admission. Art and design, too, is a subject which has a long tradition of selecting students by means of a personal interview and to which you will be expected to bring along a selection of your art and design work. However, some universities will allow overseas students to send colour slides or photographs of their artwork as a substitute for attending an interview.

Interviews in other subjects, although occurring with far less frequency, do take place at colleges and universities all over Britain. In other words, even for courses that do not primarily select students through interviewing, you should still be prepared for the possibility of attending an interview.

It might be, for example, that you have been predicted to meet the academic requirements that a course’s admission tutor is looking for, but it is possible that many others may also have been predicted to pass this test. In the words of an experienced admissions tutor: “Interviews, although a drain on staff resources, are still the best way I know of whittling down a pool of similarly qualified applicants to achieve the right balance of student skills, experience and personalities for a programme of study. On this theme, a recent survey of British universities found that, if time and resources allowed, most degree course tutors would prefer to select students on the basis of an interview rather than making an offer based solely on the contents of the UCAS application form.”

Before attending an interview, it is always useful to listen to the views of students who have already been through this experience. Their collective thoughts, as reported to UCAS, provide a number of useful insights.

Getting prepared for an interview
Set about your research in a systematic manner. Key areas to research will be the course content, specialist staff interests, staff/student teaching ratios, methods of assessment, library facilities, student internet access and careers advice.

Try to get in tune with the interview panel by reading, whenever possible, the sort of newspaper that is a ‘quality’ read rather than page after page of show biz gossip. This is important for keeping in tune with your chosen area of study.

It will also pay to find out what sort of interview format you are likely to face. Whilst many interviews are still conducted on an individual basis you may be asked to take part in a group interview.

Finally, do take time to plan your journey and take account of the fact that extra time may need to be allowed at rush hour periods of the day. First impressions count, to turn up late will considerably weaken your chances.

On the Day
Most interviews are a balancing act between conveying the right message with your answers and asking, in turn, questions that mark you out as a serious candidate with a thoughtful appreciation of the subject that you wish to study.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that certain questions are almost inevitable – in this category, for example, fall questions about your subject choices and the personal interests that you have listed on your UCAS form. (Remember, do not list something because it makes you sound super athletic or intellectual, but only if you have a real interest and passion in it.)

Above all, show that you are an active listener. An admissions tutor will not be impressed if you consistently provide answers that miss the point. At all times, stay focused on what you are being asked and avoid the temptation to go into waffle overdrive in your replies.

Finally, a cautionary word about mobile phones. If you have one make sure it is switched off before you go into an interview. Admissions tutors will not take kindly to it going off in the middle of an interview. For them, it is public enemy number one!

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