Most common university interview questions and answers

With exams passed or about to be, an exciting new life awaits in higher education. However, with universities looming, and career aspirations in sight, it is important not to fall at the last hurdle.

With ever-increasing competition for university placements, good grades are often not enough. Personality and extracurricular activities such as charity work are more important than ever.

Acing a university interview is vital in securing placement in your preferred university. The university interviewer will be trying to find out about you as a person, not just grades on a paper. It is essential to paint yourself in the best light possible, and a university interview is your time to shine.

To help you in your next interview, below are some common university interview questions, along with the best tips on how to answer them.

Most common university interview questions and answers

There are a few common themes that will crop up in many university interviews. These include:

Choice – These types of questions aim to challenge your decision-making. They want to know how deeply you have thought about your choice of institution, course, and future career.

Personality – The interviewer will want to find out about your personality to see if you are a good match for the course. For example, a sociable person with good communication skills will match better with courses requiring a lot of human interaction.

Independent learning – An interviewer will try and establish whether or not you have developed a mindset of learning outside of the classroom. Anything you can do to demonstrate a genuine desire to learn outside of school – especially about the course material – will impress.

Tell me about yourself

This is a question that is almost certain to be asked by a university interviewer. For many, it is a daunting experience but you are not alone. According to sales expert Graham Hawkins, even top salesmen struggle to sell themselves.

An interviewer will have already read your personal statement so it is important not to regurgitate this word for word. They also want to know what you are genuinely interested in outside of academia. Keep your answer brief – three or four sentences are perfect. Don’t focus entirely on academic interests but try to portray a sense of who you are as a person – what makes you unique and interesting. This could be sporting achievements, weird and wonderful interests, or a fanciful lifestyle.

Just remember to keep things professional.

To help you feel more relaxed, you could try preparing answers in advance including examples. For example, you could say you enjoy participating in sport, then talk about which sports and the level you compete at.

Why do you want to study this course?

This is one of the most crucial interview questions. Essentially they are trying to find out why you have chosen this particular subject.

They want to see genuine interest and passion for their particular course. The interview will want to ensure your choice of subject is the right one for you. This ensures neither side is wasting their time.

For many students, their chosen degree subject is the key to their dream career. Talk about your future career goals, and break down how your chosen course can help you achieve them. Don’t be afraid to share your excitement about the subject itself. Also, name any activities or work experience you may do in your spare time that relate to it.

Of course, the competition for courses at prestigious universities is fierce. This is why many students look to boost their application with extra learning and qualifications outside of school. Some even attend summer schools in order to get a taster of a university course or to study a subject they love more deeply. If you’ve attended one of these courses, make sure to bring it up in your interview and talk about what you learned.

If you have any philosophical reasoning for choosing the course, it is a good idea to talk about it. For example – if you want to study medicine, you want to make the world a better place, or you want to help cure diseases. This helps to demonstrate a deeper intrinsic reason for studying the course than just chasing a good job.

Why did you choose this university?

A university interview will undoubtedly include this question. Again this comes down to passion and interest. They want to know you have a genuine enthusiasm for studying at that particular university, and why you want to attend.

Research is critical in answering this question. You should research the reputation of the university. If it ranks highly as one of the top universities in the country, this should make up part of your answer. This is especially important if the university is particularly established in your chosen field.

Online guides such as the complete university guide chart the top universities in the UK. Unsurprisingly Oxford University comes out on top, however specifying by subject can drastically alter the table.

It is also important to demonstrate your knowledge of the university’s facilities in relation to your subject, and what you like about them. For example, a strength and conditioning student may be impressed by the modern high-tech gym or lab facilities.

Again research the course material and highlight which parts you like about it in comparison to courses elsewhere. For example, they may have more suitable modules or a better structure of learning.

What achievement are you most proud of? 

An admission interview will often include this interview question. This is your time to shine without having to sell yourself. Good examples can include academic prizes, high-scoring tests, or impressive coursework projects.

Outside of academia, you could talk about extracurricular activities. Try to choose something that displays a high level of skill, determination, or intelligence. This could be a sporting achievement, learning to play an instrument, or becoming a chess champion for example.

What do you want to do after you graduate?

This looks at how deeply you have thought about the university degree, and how well you have structured your career plans. It will help highlight whether a student has genuine goals, or if they are just attending university because of external motivators.

This is the time to underline your career aspirations and how the course helps achieve them. If you have a stone wall job in mind, tell them about this. If not, talk about your passion for the industry as a whole, listing jobs you are considering after you attend university.

Of course, an undergraduate degree does not have to be the end of academic life. For some, further study is firmly in their future plans. Diplomas, masters, and doctorates are all admirable ambitions, and mentioning these plans will impress a university interviewer.

What are you reading at the moment?

Depending on the subject this is one of the most popular questions asked. For example, a journalism degree requires a high level of research, writing ability, and knowledge of national and world news. They will want to know you have a good scope of the English language and knowledge of the news.

Being a keen reader of a wide variety of books and newspapers can demonstrate this. However, this is transferable to almost all courses as it demonstrates a good vocabulary and communication skills.

There is a lot, of course, reading at university, and this demonstrates you are an independent learner outside of academia.

How would your friends describe you?

When an interviewer asks this question they are trying to establish elements of your personality that may not be covered elsewhere. Again this is a chance to sell yourself using your friends as an external source. Try not to overdo it by bragging or giving yourself false qualities. Try and think about what your friends genuinely like about you that admission tutors would be impressed by. This could be being trustworthy, kind, generous, polite, enthusiastic, or patient to name a few.

Try and include some examples to highlight why a friend would describe you this way, such as positive things you have done for them.
Why should we offer you a place?

Most university interviews will include this question. This is also an interview question you will hear time and time again when interviewing for a job. This is a chance to hammer home any closing arguments as to why you are a good fit for the university. Your strengths, your passion for the subject, how much you would enjoy studying at that university, and your work ethic. Essentially you are trying to paint yourself in a better light than the next student who wants your place.

Final Tips

  • Unfortunately, even though we are all taught not to judge people by their appearance, first impressions form an unconscious bias about people. In fact, as stated by Psychologist Leslie Zebrowitz it takes a mere: “tenth of a second to form a judgment about another person’s character”
  • To make a good impression it’s essential to appear well-groomed and dressed smartly. A suit may be too much for this kind of interview but always err on the side of looking too professional, rather than too casual. A smart well-ironed shirt and trousers, or a smart blouse and skirt create a nice balance and show effort.
  • Always remember to bring what you need to an interview. A notepad and a selection of pens in case one runs out are the least that is required. You should bring any relevant samples of work such as an art portfolio, published articles, and videography examples.
  • Make sure you are fully prepared. As the old adage goes – ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail‘. Do your due diligence and thoroughly research the course and the university. Remain calm in the interview if you are faced with unexpected questions. You cannot always prepare for all university interview questions, but a well-rounded knowledge of the subject and your application will stand you in good stead.
  • The interviewer may ask interview questions directly about your application including your personal statement. So make sure you remember what you have written or at least bring a copy to the interview.
  • Always ask questions at the end of the interview. Failing to do so represents a lack of interest in the course. Try and carefully come up with a range of questions that portray a genuine interest and understanding of the course.
  • A mock interview is an excellent way to prepare for a university interview. Mentally and physically preparing by researching and writing answers is of course crucial. However, they can’t prepare you for the heat of the moment and how your body deals with the stress response. Mock interviews can somewhat prepare you for this – essentially giving you a dress rehearsal for the main event.

Finally, remain calm, prepare to the best of your abilities, appear professional, and – good luck!