The UCAS application: How to shine at interview

Many universities and colleges (especially the popular ones, running competitive courses) want to meet applicants and find out whether they would cope with the demands of the course before making an offer.

What will you be asked?

Interviews can take different forms – you could find yourself on your own in front of just one person or an interview panel; or in a group, being observed as you discuss a topic or carry out a particular task. You may even be asked to take a written test.

Interview questions can be wide ranging and unpredictable – but, on the other hand, there are a few that tend to come up over and over again. It is wise to have considered how you might respond to predictable questions such as these:

  • Why do you want to study this subject?
  • Why have you applied to this department or faculty?
  • Why have you chosen this university or college?
  • What are your spare-time interests?
  • Why should we offer you a place? (Tricky! Don’t be modest.)
  • Tell me about an achievement you are proud of
  • What have you read outside your syllabus?
  • What skills do you consider to have gained from your part-time job?
  • Tell me more about the sports team/voluntary work/drama group you described on your application.
  • Have you any questions to ask?

You should also be prepared to talk about the following:

  • your advanced-level study: what particularly interests you? What additional reading and research have you done?
  • topical issues relating to your chosen subject
  • anything you have mentioned in your personal statement.

In the case of vocational courses, you can expect to discuss anything you have done to gain useful experience, such as work experience in a hospital, care setting, architectural practice, engineering company, accountant’s or solicitor’s office. Be prepared to describe what you did, what you learned and how the experience helped you to decide on your higher education course.

Preparing yourself

Prepare as much as you can. Obviously you should not memorise or recite answers to any of the questions above – but think through the kind of things you would like to say. Taking the question ‘Why should we give you a place?’ as an example, you could:

  • talk about your strengths, interests and ambitions, particularly with reference to courses you are interested in
  • mention anything a bit individual or a little different that you can bring to share with others: for example, you may have debating experience, great rugby skills, extensive experience in charity fundraising or orienteering expertise; or you may have developed mentoring skills through your work as a sixth-form or college ambassador to 11–16-year-olds.

It is a good idea to ask your school or college to give you a mock interview – preferably with a member of staff who does not know you. This can be an excellent way of preparing yourself to think on your feet and answer unexpected questions and you should get some helpful feedback.

Top tips for interviews
  • Dress should be ‘smart casual’. There is no need for it to be very formal. The interviewer probably won’t be dressed formally either. As a general rule avoid jeans, and go for a skirt or smart trousers with a shirt, rather than a t-shirt.
  • Make eye contact with the interviewer. If there is more than one interviewer always reply to the person who asked the question – but look at the other/s from time to time to include them in your answer.
  • Do your best to show that you are thoughtful, committed and genuinely interested in your chosen subject.
  • Always have one or two prepared questions of your own about the course, opportunities after you graduate or a relevant academic topic. (Don’t ask questions only on topics covered in the material already published and sent to you by the university or college.)
  • Make sure that you know exactly what you wrote in your personal statement.
  • Don’t bluff. If you don’t know the answer to a question, ask the interviewer to repeat it or put it in a different way. If you still don’t know, admit it!
  • Most important – be sure that you know exactly how to get to the interview. Check your travel arrangements. Make sure that you are going to the correct site if the university or college has more than one. Allow plenty of time for your transport to be late and to find the right building and room when you get there.
  • Take the interviewer’s name and phone number with you so that you can call and explain if you are unavoidably delayed.

Content from How to Complete your UCAS Application 2019 Entry, 9781911067863.

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