How to prepare for an online university interview

In-person university interviews are unlikely to take place this year, but luckily preparing for an online interview is similar, writes Stephen Spriggs

November 16 2020
How to prepare for an online university interview

This year’s university admissions process is unlike any seen before. Gone are the open days and interviews, and in are videos and Zoom and Skype calls.

Online interviews are not new per se; overseas applicants have always had the opportunity to conduct their interviews virtually to avoid travelling. The change of format will not impact what the university is looking for: candidates who display a passion for their subject, enthusiasm and evidence of independent learning.

If you make it to an interview, admissions staff already believe you are suitable for the course based on your educational history. At this stage, they are gauging your personal qualities and ability to engage with their questioning. Again, this is exactly the same as a regular interview.

What’s different?

Beginning with the obvious, losing the face-to-face contact can leave some people feeling uncomfortable. Holding a conversation over the internet can often become muddled with dodgy connections, which can feel disruptive. By now, however, universities know and understand that technology can go wrong sometimes.

This is no reason not to double-check, anyway. Try to use a wired connection if possible, to avoid wi-fi problems, and test the video platform beforehand so you know what you are doing when the time comes to connect.

While you should always revise before an interview by reading up on typical questions and rereading your personal statement, the benefit of virtual interviews is that you can use notes. Do not write out long paragraphs, but short, snappy flashcards can help you. Place them around your screen for a quick glance if you feel stuck.


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Get the basics right

Find a location in your home that is brightly lit and has a clear, undistracting background. Spend a few minutes in your chosen spot and listen for any sounds that might come through the microphone. Once you are happy with the location and have your outfit prepared, you are set to go.

In terms of clothing, make sure you look smart but also that you feel comfortable. You don’t necessarily need to wear a suit, but wear something smart that you feel comfortable in. And don’t be tempted to simply dress from the torso up. You never know what might happen – and the last thing you want is to show off your finest jogger bottoms combined with a shirt and jacket.

Unless you wear clothing that is offensive to others, it is unlikely that a final decision on your admittance will be based on what you have worn.

From this point, we are back to standard interview tips. Stay engaged with the interviewer – just because they are not physically in front of you doesn’t mean you can lounge on a sofa and not make eye contact. Sit forward, remove any possible distractions, and remain attentive throughout.

Preparation is key

Mock interviews and practice are the best preparation. If you are lucky enough to live with someone who will help, you can find example questions online to run through.

The most common questions you may encounter are: “why do you want to study this subject?”, “what made you choose this university?”, “what are your hobbies and interests, do they help with your study?”. There is no “correct” answer to any question, but there are certain things the university will want to hear.

Before beginning, make sure that you:

1) research the university and pick out five things that draw you to it.

2) think about what you enjoyed studying at school and what your ideal career would be. Then work out how the subject you are applying for fits with both.

3) Think of personal accomplishments, in both education and extracurricular activities, that you are most proud of and reflect on what they say about your character. Having these in your mind (or on your notes) should offer a good base for the questions you are asked.

You should also think about questions to ask the interviewer. This demonstrates a higher level of interest in the course and also a proactivity in your preparations. Ideally, this will be based on information you uncovered when researching the university, for example regarding a specific path of the course or maybe the university’s international exchange opportunities.

Sometimes, no matter how much preparation and revision you do, things can go wrong. So if you experience a hiccup mid-interview, don’t panic, simply rectify the issue and move forward.

Read more: How to navigate university applications right now

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