Interviews are just one part of the admissions process, and it's a chance for you to have an academic conversation with tutors, both general and more specialised about the course for which you're applying. Interviews seem to have more legends surrounding them than any other part of the application. Almost everyone who has an interview, however, will tell you it wasn't as a bad as they thought it might be. Many students actually enjoyed the experience of being able to talk to a top academic in-depth about their interests and experiences. Unless you make special arrangements, you are likely to have two interviews lasting about 30 minutes each.
Simple things like bringing an alarm clock so you don't sleep through your interviews and double-checking test times will put you at ease.
Don't worry about what other applicants are doing or if they seem more confident than you. Just like exams, some people prefer to sit and chill beforehand and others like to tell everyone what they know – it doesn't tell you how good they are at the subject.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What should I wear?
You don't need to buy a suit or any new clothes just for your interview. Interviewers don't care what you wear. It's not a job interview so wearing something special isn't going to help you. Wear something clean/neat that you are comfortable in. If that's a suit then wear a suit. If that's jeans and a jumper, wear that. Interviewers are not the fashion police.
2. What's the best way to prepare for my Interview?
In general, working hard at your college syllabus and reading a little extra around your syllabus is the best preparation for the interview. It's also a good idea to look over your personal statements and any work you might have sent so you are familiar with that and can talk about it.
If you are worried about talking in depth on your subject, it can help to have a 'mock' interview with a teacher or anyone who is available. Rather than concentrating on getting answers exactly right, focus on practicing discussing your subject in depth (and out loud) with another person.
Don't be persuaded to pay companies for interview 'coaching' or other materials. Despite names with 'Oxbridge' or 'Cambridge' in them, no companies have access to 'inside' or helpful information that isn't available elsewhere for free. Interviewers can tell the difference between ability and coaching so paying for coaching is likely to disadvantage you. For further explanation, Cambridge's Director of Undergraduate Admissions Dr Geoff Parks has reviewed one of the many books like this, that claim to give you 'insider secrets' for a fee.
3. What questions will they ask?
Interviewers can ask anything, but it will always be related to your subject or what you've said in your personal statements or submitted essays. You're unlikely to be asked about your reasons for choosing a particular college, and if you are it will just be an icebreaker, so there's no need to prepare an original answer to the question. Some colleges will ask you to look at a passage (e.g. English applicants are often given a piece of text) and ask you questions about that.
There are a lot of stories around about interviewers throwing bricks through windows, burning chairs, dancing on tables and other similar legends. They aren't true. Interviewers are creative in the way they ask you questions but they aren't insane. Though you should expect challenging questions, they will not be completely bizarre. Interviews aren't there to make you look stupid and being offered an interview means the Admissions Tutor thinks you are potentially good enough to be offered a place.
4. What if I don't know the answer?
If you don't know the answer, tell the interviewer you are not sure – you aren't expected to answer every question they ask straight away. Don't stop there though. Try to give an answer you think is sensible – the interviewer will often prompt you to take you through a thought process that might lead to a right answer.
5. Where can I find out more?
The University website has a lot of free resources including a film and some sample mock interviews. They also produce a pamphlet 'Cambridge Interviews: the facts'. Your interview confirmation should also tell you what work you need submit etc. If you want to know the type of question that interviewers can ask, contact the department. If you are worried about any other aspect of the interview, conntact the CUSU Access Officer.