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A university interview has two purposes - to convince your interviewer that you would be a welcome student, and to convince you that you would like to be a student there. Use the interview to help you achieve both these objectives. 

1. Read what the Prospectus says, particularly about the course that you have applied for: how does it differ from courses at other universities? For Cambridge, Durham and Oxford, find out the distinctive features of the college you have applied to. 

2. Does the faculty you are applying to have any particular research interests? If so, find out a little about them, if you can. 

3. Look at the Old Boys' Questionnaires in the Careers Room to see what boys who have studied at the same university have reported. 

4. Look at the file of university interview experiences of former pupils, displayed in the Careers Room. 

5. Ask your tutor for a practice interview - essential for Oxbridge applicants and often essential for applicants for Medicine and Veterinary Science. 

At the Interview 
1. Dress tidily - avoid jeans or scruffy clothing - but not excessively formally. A simple blazer or clean sports jacket and trousers is best. An Admissions Tutor writes "Dressing for the interview is fairly important. Under no circumstances should a candidate wear a school tie (at least outside Oxbridge) and I think that I would probably also steer clear of suits, which are pretty formal things for anyone in a university to wear these days (although I am less emphatic about this). I notice that candidates from independent schools are clearly distinguishable by the formality of their dress and they all seem to look alike, wrongly suggesting that they have no individuality." 

2. Arrive early. This gives you a chance to look around, as well as avoiding problems if you have difficulty finding where you are to go to. 

3. Relax. If you don't understand something, just ask. 

4. You want to make as good an impression as you can, in particular to show that you are well motivated and interested in your subject. You will achieve this most easily if your answers are neither too short (grunts or single word answers), nor too long (you should be able to answer most questions in two or three sentences, and all in less than two minutes). It does not matter if you are nervous - most interviewees are - but always try to keep the conversation going. 

An Admissions Tutor writes "Remember that the people conducting the interviews may have to see at least twenty candidates during the interviewing season, they are possibly not naturally talkative people themselves, a fair proportion would rather be doing something else instead of interviewing and they may have already seen up to ten people that day. What they look for is someone who can keep the conversation going and show signs of general intelligence and motivation. If the applicant is cheerful, lively and forthcoming, these are real bonus points." 

5. Academics are genuinely keen to inform you about their university. Ask about the course, areas of emphasis, options, projects. How is the teaching divided between lecture, seminar, tutorial and private study? Are students graded entirely by final examination or partly by continuous assessment of course work? Have you any questions on accommodation? What facilities are there for the extra-curricular activities you are interested in? How successful are their graduates at getting jobs? 

Questions you may be asked 
You should prepare answers to some of the questions below. Answer as positively as possible, and try to angle your replies so that you invite the follow-up that you want. 

Academic past and future 
1. Why did you choose your particular set of A/S and A2-levels? What do you particularly like/dislike about them? Which parts of your A2-level syllabus do you like best and why? 

2. Why did you apply to this university? (its size? the course? someone's recommendation? sports, social and cultural facilities?) 

3. Why do you want to read the subject you have applied for? Which features particularly attract you? (Does it follow on from your A2-levels, or have relevance to your likely career? Does your interest stem from a book you have read, or some experience you have had?) 

4. A vital part of most Oxbridge interviews is a range of subject-specific questions designed to test powers of awareness, analysis, problem-solving and reasoning. Scientists might be asked which recent New Scientist articles have most interested them. Lawyers might be asked about a recent case prominently featured in the press; architects might be asked about a building that interests them. 

5. What are your career plans, if any? Why? How are you going to gain entry to this career? Have you any relevant work experience? Or holiday jobs or attachments to companies? 

6. Why are you taking (or not taking) a Gap Year? If you are, you should have fairly definite ideas about what you are going to do, and why. 

Your interests (remember your UCAS Personal Statement) 
1. What are your hobbies? (Be specific in order to encourage the follow-up question that you most wish to answer). 

2. What are you interested in reading? What was the last book you read? (It does not have to be a classic, or even fiction, but it shouldn't be trash). Why did you like it? 

3. Have you been abroad? Where? How often? What struck you most about the countries you visited? 

4. What is your opinion on ...? (Trade unions, education, funding for health treatment etc) 

You and your background 
1. What have you most enjoyed or disliked at school? 

2. What positions of responsibility have you held? 

3. Are you good at working on your own? Do you like responsibility? Do you like having authority? 

4. What sort of things are you best at? Worst at?

E-mail Steve Margetts