Congratulations! You’ve submitted your UCAS application and you’re one step closer to gaining admission to your dream university.

Depending on the universities and courses you have applied to, if your application impresses, you may receive an invitation to a university interview.

Preparing for a university interview can be exciting yet nerve-wracking, especially if it’s your first interview experience. However, with the right preparation, you can navigate it successfully.

In this guide, we’ll break down the most common interview questions and give you tips on how to craft stellar responses.

1. Tell us about yourself

The question “Tell us about yourself” often serves as an icebreaker and, although seemingly simple, it catches many students off guard. See it as an opportunity to paint a picture of yourself and make a good impression.

The key is to strike a balance between personal and academic information. Start with a brief overview of your background, move on to your academic achievements, and then highlight any relevant extracurricular activities or experiences.

Remember, the goal is to showcase who you are beyond your academic transcript.

It’s equally essential to know when to stop. Craft your response as an engaging narrative rather than a monotonous list of personal achievements. Nobody wants to hear a dull monologue, so aim to give a dynamic introduction that is engaging and memorable.

For students who have taken a gap year, this is a great opportunity to provide insights into how you spent that time.

2. Why do you want to study this subject?

Universities seek students who are genuinely passionate about their chosen field.

Be specific about what attracts you to the subject and provide relevant examples to support this. Did certain books, experiences, or inspirational figures influence your decision? Do you resonate with a particular topic you encountered in your studies? Did completing an EPQ or personal project spark your interest in this subject?

The goal is to convey not just what you want to study, but why it matters deeply to you.

Don’t say anything that implies you followed someone else’s suggestion. For example, avoid statements such as “I felt pressured to go into medicine because my parents are both doctors”. Similarly, don’t say you chose a course because you think getting accepted is easy.

A male student waiting for a university interview.

3. Why do you want to attend this university?

When explaining why you want to attend a particular university, it’s crucial to show that you’ve done your research and understand what sets the university apart from others.

Create a narrative that links your aspirations with the university’s offerings. It could be the distinguished professors in your chosen faculty, the innovative teaching methods, or a vibrant campus culture that promotes both academic and personal development.

Demonstrating an understanding of the values of the university and how they relate to your own goals is key. For example, if you want to study Sustainable Development at the University of St Andrews, you could highlight how the university’s commitment to environmental sustainability aligns with your values.

While it’s great to appreciate the overall university atmosphere, steer clear of comments that focus solely on non-academic aspects like nightlife.

4. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

If you’ve interviewed for a part-time job or internship, this question should be familiar to you.

When discussing strengths, focus on qualities that align with the demands of university life and showcase your potential. Instead of vague statements like “I’m a hard worker”, try to provide more thoughtful responses that are backed up by specific examples. For example, “I have strong time-management skills. We recently had to do a group project in my A Level Biology class. Even though we had tight deadlines, I was able to organise team meetings, delegate tasks, and make sure everyone was doing their part. This experience taught me a lot about project management and how to perform well under pressure.

For weaknesses, choose a genuine area of weakness but frame it positively by talking about how you’ve taken steps to improve. For instance, “I find public speaking particularly challenging. I recognise the importance of effective communication, so I enrolled in a public speaking workshop during the summer holidays. This workshop provided a supportive environment where I could practise and receive constructive feedback.

Remember, it’s not about perfection; it’s about growth.

Don’t claim you have no weaknesses. You may come across as overconfident or lacking self-awareness. Interviewers are looking for students who are open to feedback and can adapt to the dynamic environment of university life.

A female chatting to her university interviewers.

5. How do you handle challenges or failure?

Everyone faces challenges. What sets you apart is how you tackle them.

Share a specific example of a challenge, detail the steps you took to overcome it, and discuss the valuable lessons learned. This not only showcases your resilience but also your ability to turn setbacks into opportunities for growth.

For example, “When I was captain of my school’s robotics team, we faced a major challenge during a regional competition. Our robot malfunctioned right before a crucial match. Instead of panicking, I quickly gathered the team and assessed the issue. We worked tirelessly to troubleshoot the problem within the limited time we had. Despite the high-pressure situation, our efforts paid off and our robot performed really well in the following matches. The whole experience taught me a lot about the importance of teamwork and quick decision-making when things don’t go as planned.

6. Tell us about your A Levels.

The question about your A Levels (or alternative qualifications) is bound to come up.

When discussing your subject choices, it’s important to go beyond listing them off. This is your chance to showcase your unique academic story and explain why these subjects are meaningful to you. Take the time to delve into why you chose each subject and how each fits into your broader academic goals. Highlight how your subjects complement each other and how they will assist you in your university studies.

By doing so, you’ll demonstrate your passion for learning and present a compelling case for why you are the ideal candidate for your desired course.

7. Is there a topic or issue in your field of study that you find particularly interesting?

Demonstrate your enthusiasm for your subject by selecting a specific topic or issue that intrigues you.

Whether it’s the intricate mechanisms of biological systems, the socio-economic dynamics shaping global markets, or the evolving narratives within literature, pinpoint a topic that not only sparks your intellectual curiosity but also aligns with the broader trends and discussions in your field.

To make a notable impression, choose a topic not directly covered by your A Level curriculum. This will highlight your commitment to your subject and show that you actively engage in wider academic reading.

Female student studying in her local library.

8. Tell us about something interesting you have recently read.

You could also be asked, “What are you currently reading?” or “Tell us about a book or article that has impacted you”.

In preparation for your interview, find an interesting book, article, or scientific paper that you can confidently discuss.

Consider choosing something unique. Popular choices, while excellent, may be common among other candidates. For instance, “Prisoners of Geography” by Tim Marshall is a widely-read book among geography enthusiasts. Opting for a less mainstream choice can set you apart and provide a fresh perspective, making your response more memorable to the interviewer.

Rather than simply summarising the material, delve into what intrigued you or why you may have had reservations about it. Think critically. Did it contradict another piece you’ve read? How did the historical period impact the ideas or language? Expressing these insights will demonstrate your subject engagement and highlight your capacity for critical analysis.

This preparation is especially important if you’re applying for literature-heavy disciplines like English Literature or History.

9. What are your career aspirations?

This question could also be phrased as:

  • What are your long-term goals and aspirations?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What are you hoping to get out of this course?
  • What do you want to do after you graduate?

This question isn’t about having everything figured out, but about demonstrating ambition and foresight.

Share your academic and career goals, whether it’s pursuing further education, engaging in cutting-edge research, seeking a profession in a particular industry, or launching your own business. Emphasise how the university’s course aligns with your aspirations.

Be ambitious, but realistic.

If you’re unsure about your career aspirations at the moment, don’t worry. It’s normal for students to be exploring various paths and not have everything figured out. When asked about your career aspirations, focus on your current interests, the skills you wish to develop, and what you hope to gain from the university experience. Express your eagerness to explore various fields and industries during your time at university. This will showcase your commitment to personal growth at university.

Female student thinking about her career aspirations.

10. How do you plan to contribute to university life?

Universities seek students who will actively engage in campus life.

Discuss your interests and how you plan to participate in clubs, events, or community service. For instance, if you’re keen to discuss the topical issues facing today’s society, express your eagerness to join the union debating society. If acting is more your thing, talk about how you intend to become a member of the university’s performing arts committee.

Before your interview, familiarise yourself with the range of activities and societies provided by the university’s student union. This will give you some great talking points and show you’re interested in contributing to the vibrant university community.

Never talk about a club or society unless you are absolutely certain it exists!

11. How will you balance your academic and personal responsibilities?

Juggling academic responsibilities and a social life is a significant challenge for many students.

Describe how you intend to manage a healthy work-life balance and use examples from past experiences (for instance, balancing a part-time job alongside your studies) to demonstrate your strategies for effective time management.

12. Describe a situation in which you had to…

…work as part of a team.

…overcome a setback or challenge.

…demonstrate leadership skills.

Interviewers love a good “Describe a situation in which you had to…” question. These types of questions provide an opportunity to showcase your skills and experiences.

In preparation for your interview, it’s helpful to have a variety of examples ready that fit different endings to this sentence. This will allow you to confidently respond to a range of questions and demonstrate your skills effectively.

13. Why should we choose you?

While the question “Why should we choose you?” may initially seem scary, think of it as your elevator pitch – a concise yet compelling argument for why the university should choose you among the sea of applicants.

Summarise your unique qualities, experiences, and skills that make you an ideal candidate. Highlight any distinctive achievements or contributions you can bring to the university community.

A student shaking the hand of his university interviewer.

14. Any questions for us?

Finally, always have a few thoughtful questions prepared.

Ask about the university’s unique programmes, internship opportunities, career services, or any recent developments. This will demonstrate your genuine interest in the institution and allow you to gauge whether the university aligns with your personal needs and goals.

15. Other questions

In addition to the questions outlined above, students should prepare for questions tailored to the specific course they’re applying for.

For example, if you’re applying to a STEM course, you may be asked to explain a specific scientific concept that you have touched upon in your personal statement. Students pursuing courses in English Literature may be asked to analyse the literary works mentioned in their personal statements or discuss what they’re currently reading.

These specialised questions are designed to test your understanding of the subject matter and allow the interviewer to assess your suitability for the specific academic program you are applying to.

Research and tailor your responses to the universities and courses you’re applying to. For prospective medical students, PMT Education’s Getting into Medicine Conference provides specific information and tips for acing medical school interviews.

University interviews provide an opportunity to showcase your skills, achievements, and enthusiasm for your subject. They’re your time to shine!

Approach your interviews with confidence and a well-prepared mindset. Practise your responses to these common interview questions with friends or family, and remember to be yourself.

Best of luck on this exciting chapter of your academic journey!

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Molly Wood

Molly is a recent first-class graduate from the University of St Andrews, where she studied biology. As Project Manager at PMT Education, she oversees SEO, digital content, and media management.