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10 common college interview questions (and how to answer them)

Ensure that you are ready to answer these 10 common university interview questions with this helpful guide

    Seeta Bhardwa's avatar

    Seeta Bhardwa

    Editor, THE Student
    February 5 2024
    university, interview, college, admissions, 10 common university interview questions


    Being invited to interview at a university can incite two feelings: 1) excitement, and 2) nervousness. It’s exciting that a university is considering accepting your application, but if you’re feeling nervous about it then being prepared is one of the best ways to combat the anxiety.

    While every university will have a different style of interviewing, there are a few questions that are likely to come up whichever institution you interview at.

    The main thing that an interviewer wants to see is that you can give thoughtful and considered answers, so take them through your thought process while you work out the answer. Don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat a question or to clarify a point, and try not to get side-tracked by unexpected questions. Just take a deep breath and take your time in answering.

    University interviews are not there to catch you out and trip you up, as some people might suggest. It is highly unlikely that you will be asked to discuss a specific book, theory or film unless you have mentioned it in your personal statement or it is considered to be very commonly known. As mentioned before, the intention is to check how well you think things through and how you can apply your knowledge to real-life concepts.

    Here are some questions that you are quite likely to be asked during a university admissions interview.

    Why do you want to study at this university?

    One of the first questions you will be asked is why you want to study at this institution. Show that you have done some research into prospective universities and that you have carefully considered your choice. Talk about your thought process and the key factors that attract you to the institution – whether it is the course content, the reputation, the campus or the student culture.

    What are you hoping to gain from the course?/Why have you chosen this course?

    There will inevitably be a few questions about your choice of course and what you hope to gain from it. In terms of answering why you selected your course, demonstrate your research and express your motivations for choosing your subject.

    This could prove quite tricky depending on which course you are applying for. If you have chosen your course based on your future career choice (such as medicine or law), talk a little about that and how you imagine this particular course at this particular university might benefit you when you graduate.

    If it is less obviously linked to a career, such as history or philosophy, then think about the areas of the subject that you are keen to learn more about, how the course at this university caters to that and how you hope to develop your knowledge and perhaps (if you have already thought about this) the careers that you could go into after you graduate.

    Where do you see yourself in five years?

    This is quite a broad question; don’t feel that you have to reply by detailing a specific life plan. Think about where you might like to be in terms of your career, or whether you see yourself continuing along the higher education route. This question, like the previous ones, seeks to determine that you have given some thought to your future and have some goals in mind.

    What motivates you?

    This is quite a personal question, but one that gets to the root of what makes you tick. Answer this as honestly as you can, whether it is your passion for the subject, a desire to do a particular job or whether there are more emotive reasons.

    What is your favourite book?/What are you reading at the moment?

    There is likely to be some kind of variation on this question, which aims to tease out your preferences and discover how you critically analyse something you enjoy and how well you communicate that.

    This is probably more likely to be asked if you are being interviewed for an arts or humanities course, but it might also be asked if you are applying for a STEM subject.

    Before your interview, think of a book that you truly connected with, one that really resonated, and prepare a list of reasons why you love the book so much and the impact it made on how you see the world.

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    What are your strengths, and what are your weaknesses?

    This question could be asked in a number of different ways, such as “What would you say is your best quality?” or “How would your friends and family describe you?” No matter how it is phrased, the aim of this question is to learn more about you. Indeed, the interviewer might simply say: “Tell me something about yourself.”

    These types of personal questions are often the most difficult to answer because you want to be able to share the positive aspects of your personality and your achievements without sounding like you are bragging. Don’t be afraid to ask people around you to help you out and suggest a few good talking points to cover.

    Think about the things that you are good at and the things that you are not so good at, and reflect on how those points could be perceived by someone who doesn’t know you that well.

    Remember, while it is important to be honest about your shortcomings, you don’t want to say anything too negative, which might cause an interviewer to put a black mark against you. Try to find a positive spin on them or outline ways that you are trying to address them.

    What do you like to do in your spare time?

    This is yet another way for the interviewer to get to know you. They want to see what interests and passions you have outside academia and get a sense of how well-rounded you are. While it might be tempting to try to link your hobby to your chosen subject (and it’s great if it does), it doesn’t matter if there’s no crossover.

    Talk about any sports teams or music clubs that you are part of, any particular area of literature that you are interested in, whether you enjoy cooking, going to the theatre or attending gigs. This is your chance to talk about things that you love the most.

    What can you bring to the university?

    In the same way that you are using the interview as an opportunity to see whether this university is the right fit for you, the interviewer is seeing if you are the right fit for the university.

    This is actually quite a tricky question to answer, so think about some of the things that you believe you are really good at and would like to get involved with while at university, discussing both the academic factors and the extracurricular ones.

    You might be a great athlete, or love putting on musical theatre productions. You might be an excellent public speaker or eager to get involved in sustainability initiatives at the university. These are all great things that universities look for in prospective students.

    Specific questions related to your subject

    These will vary depending on the subject you are applying for, but the chances are that you will be asked a few questions to demonstrate your knowledge of your subject. You might get a theoretical question, or be asked to share your opinions on a story in the news or a piece of research. Ensure that you are up to date with developments in your subject, and study the course content for clues about what you might be asked.

    You might also be asked about something you wrote in your personal statement, so make sure to reread your personal statement before the interview.

    But don’t worry – this question isn’t always about assessing that you are familiar with a subject in depth. It’s about seeing how you consider answers and can give thoughtful insights into a particular topic. It might be that there isn’t really a correct answer (unless it is a maths or science question) and that the interviewer is more interested in how you can apply what you do know about a subject to a real-life problem.

    And don’t worry if you think an answer is too obvious. Go with your gut instinct as long as you can back yourself up.

    Do you have any questions for me?

    A university interviewer will be very likely to give you the opportunity to ask them questions, and it is advisable to come prepared with a few. Spend a bit of time thinking about what you really want to know about the university or the course. There might also be some questions that arise during the interview process, so don’t be afraid to ask questions throughout or make a note of them and ask at the end.

    Try not to ask anything that you can find out through the university’s website or social media channels because it will look like you haven’t done your research. Think instead of more in-depth questions, things that you would like to know about the course or student life at the university.

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