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What NOT to Say in an Admissions Interview

What NOT to Say in an Admissions Interview main image

Been invited to attend a university admissions interview? Run your eye over this checklist – and then try to make sure none of these sentences emerges from your mouth!

1. “How long are the holidays?”

(Or, if you’re a postgraduate student, “How much time off can I take?”) Fair enough, you may think – we all need time out. True, but the admissions interview is NOT the time to ask! Here you need to focus on showing off the side of you that can’t wait to get stuck into all that juicy coursework/research – not the part that’s looking forward to spending the summer break travelling... Figure that stuff out afterwards, once you’ve got an offer of a place firmly under your belt.

There’s a personal anecdote to this one... My brother, who’s a brilliant PhD student (#embarrassing-big-sister) nearly missed out on his place because he asked this. Apparently his supervisors almost strangled him afterwards.

2. “Can I change courses if I change my mind?”

Again, a legitimate question; not everyone is totally sure what they want to study, and that’s ok. But again, this is not the time to ask. Admissions tutors will be looking for applicants who seem really passionate about the course they’re applying to.

Even if you’ve got some doubts, try to focus on the parts you ARE certain about – there must be something that really gets you excited, whether it’s a particular topic in the course, or even an aspect of academia (“I just really, really, really get a kick out of footnotes...”)

Think about what it is that gets your eyes glinting, words racing and arms waving about in the air. (Warning: these gestures should only be attempted if they are the natural effect of genuine enthusiasm. If you fake them, you may just look a bit crazy.)

3. “What topics are on the course?”

You might think this is quite a good question, showing your interest. WRONG. If you were really interested, you would’ve proved that by checking the course content BEFORE turning up to the admission interview. Instead, ask a question that proves you've studied the syllabus from start to finish, such as “I noticed you didn’t offer the module in Ancient Greek Artwork last year – are there any plans to reintroduce this?”

4. “I’d like to read you a poem I wrote...”

Again, there’s a personal anecdote here. No, I didn’t attempt to read out a poem during my undergraduate admissions interview, but apparently one of the other candidates did. I found out from one of the tutors later. I seem to recall she was pretty much crying with laughter...

OK, so you may strike lucky and find an admissions tutor who just really digs your haikus. But then again, you might not.

5. “What I really wanted to do was...”

No, no, no. As covered in #2, you need to try and show off your enthusiasm for THIS opportunity – and therefore avoid any suggestion that it was a second-choice option for you. You probably have considered other options, which is great – that shows you’ve done your research. But make sure you present this from the right angle. As in, imagine you’re writing an essay entitled, How I Came To Decide That This Course Is The One For Me.

Or if you prefer, think of this as a first date. Yes, you may still be making up your mind about how much you like the other person, but you still wouldn’t start telling them about how you only asked them out because the guy/girl you REALLY liked turned you down...

6. “When I had my interview at XXXXXX...”

This follows on from the point above. It’s usual to apply to more than one university – and admissions tutors know this. However, it’s not usually the best idea to start talking about other places you’re considering – because that turns the conversation away from the focus on why THIS course is right for you, and why YOU are right for the course.

However, you do need to consider what you’ll say if the interviewer asks you about what other options you’re considering. Try to use this as an opportunity to show that you’ve done plenty of research, and to emphasize how well this particular program matches you, and vice versa.

7. “Actually the journey was terrible/ My dog just died/ I’ve had this awful rash...”

Finally, a bit of general chit chat is fine – the interviewer may ask how your journey was, for example – but don’t allow yourself to use this as an opportunity to start unloading all your problems/anxieties/recurring nightmares. Ie. NO MOANING!

Again, remember you’re trying to show yourself at your best. And generally that means you want to come across as an energetic, positive individual – not remembered as ‘the guy who had some issues’.

End of lecture! And I feel like I should add, try to avoid coming across as a sanctimonious know-it-all, as I possibly have in this blog post... Good luck!

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Written by Laura Bridgestock
The former editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'

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