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It can be daunting to go into a university admissions interview unsure of exactly which qualities your interviewer is looking for. The following is a list of the top five desirable attributes. It has been drawn up by ex-admissions tutors, so these are the real criteria which have been used to assess current undergraduates. Or if you want our full seven page interview guide click here.
The single most important criterion is passion for your chosen subject. Your interviewer loves their subject enough to have devoted their life's work to it, and if they get the sense of a kindred spirit, your chances of being offered a place will definitely go up. On the other hand, the candidate who gives the impression of having chosen their subject by closing their eyes and sticking their finger down on a random page of the prospectus will not do so well.
How do I show it?
Allow your passion to come through in the way you discuss your subject. Interviewees who speak about aspects of their subject as if they really matter to them come across as having the necessary fervour. Genuinely passionate individuals also tend to be the ones who have picked up a lot of extra-curricular knowledge, as it is easy to learn about something you love. However, interviewers are more than aware of the fact that certain schools and types of educational background are more likely to produce students who can show this. Show your extended reading, bring in examples from different books, and actively volunteer new areas for discussion. Finally, try to enjoy the experience! Smile, be enthusiastic and talk openly. If you obviously relish the opportunity to discuss your area of interest with an expert in the field, it will be taken as a good sign of the genuine pleasure you take in your subject. In fact, if you genuinely do enjoy your subject, you really should relish the opportunity to discuss your favourite topics with a leading authority on them.
Logical, Critical and Analytical Ability
Most graduates are expected to have developed a rigorous critical mindset by the end of their studies. An ability to think logically and give concise, rational arguments will impress your interviewer.
How do I show it?
In conversation the best way to demonstrate these qualities is through a measured and intelligent approach to answering the question - which will often involve breaking it down into its component parts - and an appreciation of different sides of an argument. When a query is put to you, do not answer with the first thing that comes into your head. Instead, sit back and try to see why the question has been asked, what the component parts of a response might be, and where the interviewer is leading you. Try and put your ideas in an ordered form before you begin to answer the question. Note that studying Critical Thinking is an excellent way to develop these skills.
Whilst these qualities are tested in discussion, some institutions will issue candidates with a document shortly before the interview which will then form the basis for part of the conversation. In an English interview this might be a poem or short story, in History a contemporary letter, a fragment of statute for Law and so on. In each case, the idea will be to test your critical faculties when faced with words or figures on the page. When reading through the document, consider its probable context and wider implications and form as many points and questions as you can in the time given. Pick out concrete detail to reinforce your analysis. It is a candidate's ability to perform close reading, to draw practical conclusions from data, and to see the intended effects of a text that indicates that they possess the necessary analytical qualities.
Universities seek to produce independent thinkers who form their own opinions based on analysis of fact. Knowing everything in the world about your chosen subject will therefore not be enough if that knowledge is not put to original use. So try not to be intimidated by candidates who appear to know everything!
How do I show it?
Throughout the course of your interview, you should be seeking not only to demonstrate what you know, but also to generate new ideas. Use the questions as a stimulus to your imagination, and be bold in offering new solutions, suggestions or perspectives. As long as they are based on either facts or a logical argument, it does not matter whether your comments are ultimately 'right or wrong'. Feel confident in what you have to say, as you will never know everything (which is impossible!) but you can certainly use what you do know in a clever and original way.
Many candidates labour under the misapprehension that the primary purpose of the interview is to test the extent of their knowledge. This is often not the case, as knowledge is not a very reliable indicator of academic potential: a candidate can always learn new facts, whereas the qualities listed above are, to some degree, intrinsic. Knowledge is still very important however, particularly in Science subjects where the degree course is the natural extension of the A-Level syllabus. It also stands as a good testament to a candidate's commitment. If someone told you they supported Leeds United Football Club, but couldn't name a single player, you might doubt the strength and sincerity of their affection.
How do I show it?
Every point you make should be backed up with a fact or an example - don't wait to be asked! If you are discussing one topic and you suddenly think of an instance in your wider reading that would elucidate your debate or provide a good point of contrast or comparison, bring it in. Interviewers will become quickly irritated if they get the sense that a candidate is rambling or deliberately avoiding direct questions, but will be pleased if you can link disparate pieces of information into a clear framework. The key to getting this right is relevance- never deploy your knowledge for its own sake, but be sure to use it whenever it is appropriate.
Listening and 'Teachability'
The interview can be seen as a kind of dress rehearsal for university teaching - admissions tutors want to see how you will perform in classes and seminars and when giving presentations. The capacity to listen to and absorb information in this format is therefore essential. As your interviewer may well be responsible for a considerable part of your teaching, there may also be the less abstract consideration of whether they want to work with you specifically.
How do I show it?
Just listen to your interviewer. It is amazing how many candidates do not listen to the question being put to them. It is also amazing how many students simply answer the question they would LIKE to have been asked. You will not be given credit for this and will give the impression of being a weak candidate with a few well rehearsed answers/points. If there are any terms or words that you do not understand, do not try to guess, but ask for clarification. Often, if you are working through a complex problem, an interviewer will give you hints and tips to guide you towards a possible solution. Keeping eye contact and attending to the exact words they use can be helpful in formulating your response. If your interviewer makes a particularly forceful or intelligent point, incorporate it into your own argument or use it as a launch pad for further ideas. Ask questions, and try to make the experience as interactive as possible. Asking questions and asking for clarification on things you don't understand is a sign of confidence and shows a level of humility appreciated by many. You will be respected far more if you are honest about what you do and don't know. Also, a moment spent clarifying what is being asked of you will generally result in a better response to the question.