University Admissions Interviews – 5 Tips For Parents

Is Your Child Facing University Interviews?

It’s that time of year when nervous school leavers are being ferried around the country for university admissions interviews by even more nervous parents.

And of course it’s double trouble: Firstly, as a parent, it is difficult to remember what this moment feels like and it may have been so long since you were interviewed that you probably don’t feel well placed to advise on what the questions may be asked, never mind what the best answers might be. Secondly, we know that taking expert advice from parents isn’t always the 17-18-year-olds’ preferred learning dynamic.

So what can you do if you know your young adult would benefit from some guidance and you don’t feel best placed to offer it?

Increasingly, parents are investing in interview coaching and performance coaching to prepare them to ace their admissions interviews. And it’s hardly surprising. There’s a lot at stake. Whether you’ve been investing in eye-watering fees for independent education or simply yearn for your child to gain a place at their first choice university, there’s little doubt about it, the performance they give under interview-pressure will be one of the most important meetings of their life so far.

So, here are 5 tips to help you guide your child to nail the admissions interview when it matters most:

1) Prepare for the most common interview opener

Like it or loathe it, there’s still a good chance that the interview will begin with the age-old favourite invitation to “Tell me a bit about yourself”. While it is not advised to learn answers word-for-word, having a clear structure and detailed content for this answer is strongly recommended. Plan an answer that introduces educational achievements/expectations, positions of responsibility, extra-curricular activities such as sports or drama and concludes with work experience, travel or an interesting hobby. The secret here in this first answer is to skip all the detail so they ask for more. The objective is to briefly showcase snippets of topics that could be explained in more detail later in the interview. Keep the answer under 2 minutes. They’re trying to mentally ‘hook’ the interviewer’s curiosity and leave them wanting more. Delivering a confident start with this answer should be the confidence boost that settles your understandably nervous teenager to deal with the more challenging questions to come.

2) Be prepared to explain why that course and why that university

This kind of question often lands in the form of “Why are you interested in studying course X?” or “What is it that made you apply to us here at The University of Y?” Such questions lend themselves to lists. Encourage your child to memorise 3 or 4 things that stood out about the course and the university. In these answers, it’s the detail that will differentiate the Obvious Candidate from the also-rans. These should be planned, so research into the specifics of the course, faculty and facilities. Academic interest is important, but most interviewers will want to see some balance here so do pair educational detail with team participation, sailing clubs, drama, etc. And it’s not just about reeling off facts, genuine emotion and enthusiasm will be as helpful as planning in this delivery. A little flattery about a city or university won’t hurt either.

3) Be prepared to justify what makes them an excellent candidate

There are two sides to a good answer here. Primarily, they are being asked to list key strengths. But it’s also valuable to consider what the university wants to hear too. So be ready to discuss the highlights of achievements (Predicted grades, leadership positions, responsibilities, stand out achievements, records held, team memberships, etc.) But also consider they are looking for committed students who will stay the course and graduate. So help your child identify evidence of their long-term motivation to their subject and show that they can persist at difficult things. University isn’t all easy. Today universities are judged on key statistics like completion rates and employability rates. As a consequence, demonstrating tenacity and intent, not only to finish but to launch into the world of work or contribution on graduation, will help your child’s cause.

4) Be ready to deal with the unexpected or the calamitous interview scenario

Of course, the ideal is when the interview progresses to plan. But what happens if it begins to unravel? Are they ready to pick themselves up and dust off after an ‘interview fall’ and keep on going? If they are, it demonstrates a huge maturity in the eyes of the interviewer. But this takes real presence of mind under the stress of interview conditions. Try to explain the importance of a ‘mental reset’. If one answer goes wrong, put that firmly out of mind. Give a quick apology, something like, “I’m sorry. My mind went blank there for a moment. It’s just nerves today. This interview means a lot to me.” … Take a deep breath to get oxygen back to the brain and be ready for the next question.


5) Prepare body language as well as answers

Too many candidates focus all their attention on preparing the words for their answers. This is important, but classic communication research by Professor Albert Mehrabian suggested that only 7% of communication comes via our words, 38% comes from our tone of voice, while a staggering 55% is determined by our body language. This means we must also focus on appearance, eye contact, handshakes, nervous fidgets and smiling. More confident communicators can also benefit from Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) techniques like visual anchoring of ideas as they give their answers. As a minimum, practice the first 10 seconds on entering the room… The eye-contact, the smile, the handshake. Nail this ‘golden trio’ of easily-practised actions and your child is already off to a flying start versus their less-prepared rival candidates.

Professional Coaching Might Be The Right Next Step

Taking action and helping your child prepare with the tips above will help their basic preparation. Others may want additional help. At Obvious Candidate, we specialise in preparing candidates to perform at their best when the pressure is on.

It works for teenagers…

“I just wanted to let you know that I found out that I got into Melbourne uni last week and that I got into Ormond College today. The preparation paid off! Thank you very much for your help, you gave me some great techniques and most importantly you gave me the confidence.”

It works for the parents…

“Yes, it all worked out and he got the place at Ormond College, really helped by your excellent interview coaching! He said that you have given him a very useful life skill and we all thoroughly appreciate your work with him. We may be needing your help with our other children in due course!”

It works all around the world…

Thanks for the follow-up, I was going to email you today, I have received the acceptance from Harvard. Thanks again for your help. You did a great job!

In the last 12 months, we’ve helped candidates land places on dream courses at some of the world’s most prestigious and sought-after universities including Harvard, Northwestern, and Melbourne.

To discover more about how we can help prepare your child for their university admissions performance, book a call here.

Sam Waterfall is Founder & Expert Coach at Obvious Candidate. Since 2003 he’s been positioning his clients to land university places and career positions with the most wanted universities and employers around the world.


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