Facing an interview for postgraduate study is a daunting thought, so we’ve put together what we think are the top ten interview questions and how best to answer them. The interview process could decide whether you gain a place at your first choice university or not, so getting the answers right is vital! Whether you’re facing an interview to study for a Master’s degree or PhD funding, we think these are the ten most likely questions to crop up.
1. Why this institution?
This is a popular question that universities ask you in entrance interviews. The key to answering it successfully is to match your answer with your application. Express your interest in the university based on your research. Explain how you’re impressed with the successes and achievements of the department or a particular academic that will be involved on your course. Demonstrate your enthusiasm to study at the university and most importantly, explain how you trust it to be the best place to develop your experience and skills.
You can find out more about all of the institutions in the UK with our list of universities.
2. Why this course?
Second on the list of top interview questions, answering it involves similar skills to the previous question. Think hard about your reasons for applying for a particular course, perhaps it’s a continuation of your undergraduate course or a development of your current career. Consider career aspirations and options at all times and ensure you give a clear idea of your reasons for applying. Prepare your answer for this question carefully as you can expect it to come up at every interview you attend.
3. Tell me about yourself?
This does not mean your personal life. The interviewers don’t want to know that you were born in Sheffield but grew up with your cat in Scarborough. Tell them why you are passionate about the field of study you want to study in then tell them of any professional experience you have. Keep the answer relevant and concise; facts and figures are helpful for doing this. Extracurricular and volunteering activities are great examples of how you can include your personal achievements whilst staying relevant to this question.
4. What are your greatest strengths?
This is your time to shine! If you’re asked this question, it gives you permission to go all out with listing your best skills, but be careful how many skills you list. Reeling off a list of skills with no evidence won’t impress the panel. Instead, focus on three or four skills that make you a great candidate and provide examples. You might be creative, a quick learner, flexible, hold great people and teamwork skills; whatever you’re good at, let them know (with examples)!
5. What are your greatest weaknesses?
This is a tricky question to answer, nobody is perfect after all. Instead, state something which is (or was) a weakness, but also explain the steps you have put in place to change this. You could always just provide weaknesses the interviewer already knows such as lacking a Postgraduate Qualification or state weaknesses that aren’t related to the course.
6. What are your career goals?
If asked this question, it’s important not to just state your career goals, you need to explain how you intend to succeed. Broad statements like ‘wanting to become a specialist’ are unmeasurable, instead you should state that you want to become a recognised leading expert in the field with several published works. The goals should be attainable within the next five years, although you may wish to elaborate further if appropriate.
7. What is your philosophy towards work?
There are many work philosophies that universities want to see. Motivation, focus, balancing, creativity and resourcefulness are often top of their lists though. Pick out two or three work ethics that you hold and give examples of when you’ve had to use them, for example, you may have used time creatively in your undergraduate years, balancing work with university.
8. Are you applying for other courses?
Although it’s tempting to say, “No, of course not, this is the only University I’m interested in and I want to spend my dying days in its libraries”, everyone knows this probably isn’t true and as such, it won’t help you get on the course. Be honest, if you are looking at a few other courses, tell them, but be sure to say why this course is the best of the bunch! It is of course advisable only to apply for related courses; applying for an MA in Humanities as well as an MSc in Biosciences shows that you may not be passionate about a particular field of study.
If you haven’t decided which courses to apply for yet, start your search with Coursefindr.
9. What Would Be Your Dream Job?
Don’t give a specific job title or position, you’re asking for trouble if you do! Tell the university interview panel instead about a dream career, free from titles or companies. This makes it easier for the interviewer to understand what you want to do, as it allows them to create the job you want in their mind.
10. What skills do you have that will help you succeed on this course?
In order to answer this question correctly you need to make sure you know the course profile and course content like the back of your hand. You need to know what is involved in the course, is it predominantly research based or are you required to complete practical work? When you know this you can match your skills to what is required. Don’t be shy in reminding the interview panel what is required of students on the course and explain how your skills (which you’ve probably mentioned already by this point) match those prerequisites perfectly.
These are what we think are the top 10 questions asked by university interview panels in the UK. If you’ve attended a postgraduate interview, why not let others know what questions you were asked and perhaps even give your opinions on the best way to answer them!