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Great Ways to Answer 10 Typical University Interview Questions

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Plenty of universities conduct interviews as a means of deciding between candidates who appear equally well-qualified on paper, but unfortunately, applicants often crumble under the pressure of the interview situation. The key to a successful interview lies in thorough preparation. We’ve covered general university interview tips in a previous article, so this time we’re going to give you some more specific guidance on excellent ways of answering ten of the most common university interview questions.

 

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It’s important to stay calm in interviews- and knowing you’re prepared helps a lot.

 

1. Why did you choose this subject?

This is probably one of the most important questions you can be asked during a university interview. The interviewers are looking for people who can demonstrate a genuine interest in the subject they’re applying for, and will want to know that you’ve chosen the subject for the right reasons.

What to say:

“Because I enjoy it” – you’re more likely to be committed and to succeed if you genuinely enjoy the subject you’re studying, and you’ll probably also be better at the subject. Someone who’s genuinely interested in the subject will engage more with it, produce better work and contribute more usefully to class discussion.

“Because it fits in perfectly with my career aims” – this shows them that your choice of course is part of a well-considered long-term plan, meaning that you’re more likely to be committed to it.

A related answer might talk about the degree enabling you to achieve certain other things, such as “help change the world” for politics, or “find a cure for cancer” for medicine, and so on. These are exaggerated examples, although there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious and having big aspirations when it comes to your subject!

What not to say:

“Because it had the least number of applicants per place” – admissions tutors aren’t going to be impressed if you’ve chosen their subject because you thought it would be a soft touch or easier to get into.

“Because I’m not likely to get the grades for [more competitive course]” – similar to the implication that their subject is the soft option, it’s going to look equally unimpressive if you say that you’ve chosen a particular subject – perhaps a less popular one – because you didn’t think you’d get the grades for a more competitive subject. What’s more, you should never introduce any negative thoughts about your grades – keep the tone of everything you say positive.

“Because my parents/teachers told me I should” – the admissions tutors will want to know that the motivation for studying the course comes from you, not from external influencers. Someone who is only applying for a particular subject because they’ve been told to is likely to be less motivated to see the course through to its completion.

“Because it will enable me to earn lots of money” – while earning potential can be a powerful motivator, it’s better to use your answer to this question to demonstrate genuine engagement with the subject, rather than focusing on longer-term financial gain.

 

2. Why did you choose this university?

It’s not just your particular subject that admissions tutors want to see that you’re committed to. They want to know that you have a good reason for choosing their university, because they’d like to know that if they offer you a place, there’s a good chance that you’ll accept it. They also want to know that you’ve done your research, so this question is a good opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of the university.

What to say:

“Because the facilities here for my subject are second to none” – this shows that your subject has been at the forefront of your mind when making a sensible choice of university, again demonstrating your level of commitment to it. You can mention specific facilities to show that you’ve read into it thoroughly.

“Because I liked the approach this university takes to my course” – even within the same subject, every university takes a slightly different approach to the way it’s taught and structured. The university question is another good opportunity to show that you’ve really thought about the course and gone to the effort of finding a university whose approach to the subject you agree with. You can even name specific modules that set this university’s course apart from the others offering the same subject.

Along similar lines, you could also mention the university’s great reputation for your subject, or the presence of certain lecturers you feel inspired by (though don’t let this last point dominate your answer; lecturers often move about or go on sabbatical, so even if there’s a particular academic you admire, they may not end up teaching you).

What not to say:

“For the nightlife” – this shows that you’re motivated by the wrong things. University is primarily about studying, not about partying the night away, and answering this question in this way may raise alarm bells, making interviewers question whether you’d be committed to your studies.

“Because it was cheaper than the others I looked at” – even if this was one of your reasons, it’s best not to mention it; although finance is an understandable concern, it’s better to focus your answer on your course.

“Because my dad went here” – such an answer may carry a little bit of weight in an American university, but it’s unlikely to do so here. It’s not really a strong enough reason to apply to a university, and admissions tutors want to know that you’ve put a bit more thought into it than that.

“I couldn’t decide where else to apply” / “I was filling a space on my UCAS form” – this tells the interviewer that you didn’t put much thought into your decision, and that rather than having a genuine desire to study with them, you were simply making up the numbers on your UCAS form.

 

3. Why did you choose your particular A-levels?

You need to be able to justify the decisions you’ve made with regard to your education; this question tests whether or not you’ve put thought into the direction you’re heading in, and helps the interviewer ascertain that you’re motivated by the right things.

What to say:

“I chose the subjects I thought would prepare me best for this course” – again, keeping your answer focused on the course is always a safe bet.

“I chose subjects that I genuinely enjoy and feel motivated to learn more about” – this shows that you’re someone who’s motivated by their own interests, suggesting that you’ll be committed to your chosen degree subject as well.

“I chose subjects that would teach me a range of skills so that I’d get maximum value from my A-levels” – this demonstrates that you’ve considered what each of your A-level subjects will teach you, so as to give yourself the widest possible set of skills to support your degree. It shows that you’re thinking about the long-term.

“I chose subjects that would complement each other” – showing that you’ve thought about how well your subjects work with each other is also advantageous, as it shows you have a mind that can make connections and see the bigger picture.

What not to say:

“I had to take Subject A because Subject B didn’t fit in with my timetable.”

“I chose the subjects that would have the least homework.”

“I didn’t like the look of any of the other subjects.”

Now that we’ve covered the main weighty academic questions in detail, let’s move onto some more quick-fire answers.

 

4. What did you read on the train?

Questions like this – or more simply “what are you reading at the moment?” – are designed to spark discussion as well as to test what you read beyond the confines of the A-level syllabus. Be prepared to answer questions about whatever you mention here.

What to say:

A seminal work related to your subject, or something more obscure.

For scientists, a reputable publication such as Nature, Scientific American or New Scientist would be acceptable (this shows that you’re keeping abreast of developments in your subjects), providing you can talk about specific articles or discoveries that interested you.

For non-English subjects, you could say a work of fiction if it’s highly relevant and you think they’re likely to have read it – e.g. “Pompeii” by Robert Harris if you’re applying for a Classical Archaeology subject (this would spark discussion of historical accuracy).

What not to say:

Anything not subject-related.

Anything you haven’t actually read.

Anything popularist or discredited.

“Twilight” / “Cosmopolitan” / “The Daily Mail”

 

5. What can you bring to the university?

Avoid humorous or overly self-aggrandising answers here; instead, focus on selling yourself (modestly) to the interviewer and highlighting the key traits that make you a good person to have around. Support what you say with concrete examples of your experience.

What to say:

“As an enthusiastic member of my school debating society, I enjoy academic debate, so I think I’d be able to contribute a lot to class discussions.”

“I’m good at organising things, and keen to get involved with running events for the department.”

“I love giving presentations, especially preparing great handouts, so I think I’d be particularly useful when it comes to group work.”

What not to say:

“A wicked sense of humour.”

“I’m great at rugby.”

“My hamster.”

 

6. What are your weaknesses?

The key to an effective answer to this question is to turn the negative angle into something that isn’t really a negative.

What to say:

“I’m a total perfectionist – I sometimes spend too long agonising over work to get it just right.”

“I spend far too much money on books.”

What not to say:

“I’m really lazy.”

“I take criticism really personally” / “I can be very aggressive if someone questions my opinion.”

“I don’t have any.”

 

7. What work experience have you done? What did it teach you?

Admissions tutors will be interested in the work experience you’ve done, especially if it relates to your course. Even if it doesn’t, though, work experience develops your maturity and gives you transferrable skills.

What to say:

Subject-specific work experience is ideal; you can then say things like “it taught me that this is definitely the career I want to pursue” or “it gave me an interest in this particular aspect of the course” or “it taught me about the challenges this industry faces”.

“Handling this difficult situation in my part-time job taught me that it’s important to persevere, even when you feel like giving up – something that applies to any situation, but especially academia.”

“I spent the summer working as a personal assistant to a researcher in a research and development lab, which taught me to be very organised. It also gave me a unique insight into how academia can be applied to the real world.”

What not to say:

“I wouldn’t say I learnt anything from it.”

“I worked in a coffee shop and it taught me that I hate customers.”

 

8. What do you see yourself doing after university?

This question addresses how much you’ve thought about the future, and how your degree fits in with that.

What to say:

A career that fits naturally with what you’re studying

“I’d like to continue the subject to Masters/PhD level and become an academic.”

What not to say:

“Travelling.”

“Marrying someone rich so I don’t have to work.”

“I haven’t really thought about it.”

 

9. What achievement are you most proud of?

This is another chance to highlight your suitability for and interest in the course, so try to make it subject-relevant if possible.

What to say:

“I felt proud to be awarded first place in a poetry competition with a sonnet I wrote about…” (if you’re applying for English)

“I recently won the Senior Challenge for the UK Mathematics Trust.”

“Achieving a 100% mark in my AS-level History and English exams – an achievement I hope to emulate at A2.”

What not to say:

“Getting a Guinness World Record for having spending the longest time in a bath filled with Baked Beans.”

“Being made Prom Queen at my Year 11 Leavers’ Ball.”

 

10. Why should we offer you a place?

Finally, the question every student dreads. Try to keep your answer short and sweet; if this question comes last, it’s probably designed to wrap up the interview.

What to say:

This is a good opportunity to recap what you’ve highlighted already – your strengths, career aims, what you can contribute and so on.

At the very end, if you judge that the interviewers would respond well, you could also lighten the tone and end on a note that injects some of your personality, by saying something like “Also, I’m told I bake a good cake!” (with a grin).

What not to say:

“Because I’m better than all the other applicants” – trashing your fellow applicants is ungracious, and making an unsupported statement like this is unlikely to convince your interviewers.

Armed with these model answers (which are only suggestions, by the way – feel free to add your own), adapted for your own purposes, you should now be well prepared for tackling the most common interview questions. Good luck!

Image: girl interview

Comments (91)

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