Competing At The Interview takes you through the postgraduate admission interview journey, including preparation methods and ways to ace it!

Why do universities conduct interviews for their postgraduate programmes? If a course only admits a small intake of students each year due to its level of competitiveness, these admission interviews act as a great filter to determine the best candidates. You are also very likely to be called to an interview if you are applying for a scholarship, funding or any financial assistance.

What they want

What does it mean to be the best candidate? What exactly are they are searching for? At the very basic level, there are three things you should aim to possess before walking into that interview room!

Admission interview must-haves:

  1. Knowledge. Fundamentally, a postgraduate course is a pursuit of higher knowledge and you will want to show the institution that you have prior understanding and the capacity to expand upon it. This can be proven through previous related qualifications as well as extracurricular learning and self-study.
  2. Experience. In some fields, having a relevant work history can be an added advantage (or even a prerequisite) before furthering your studies. This could be in the form of full-time employment in the industry, working experience during your undergraduate study or involvement in pertinent projects and activities.
  3. Skills. Nowadays, it is increasingly common for universities to seek for well-rounded students who have other things to offer besides just their academic history. Take inventory of the hard and soft skills you have and find a way to relate these skills to making you a better asset to the institution.


The questions are typically the same in most admission interviews. A smart hack would be to come to a clear thought process before the actual interview. Be prepared to answer the following questions:

Why do you want to study this course?

This is a question that is intended to kill two birds with one stone: it gives your interviewers the chance to find out more about yourself and also see whether you know enough about your prospective course. Use this opportunity to explain the interests, motivations and personal experiences that have led you to apply for this course, and show that you have done the appropriate research on what your study will entail.

Why do you want to study at this institution?

If your chosen university is highly-ranked and very prestigious, it is worth bearing in mind that many would consider it an incredible opportunity to pursue your studies there. If this is the case, you should be ready to convince them that you do want a place at their institution, and that they should give it to you.

Know Your Interview

There are different kinds of interviews and your preparation will vary according to each type. For instance, some universities are fairly lenient when it comes to the interview process and are willing to conduct it via telephone or Skype. There are also interviewers who simply want to meet you to get a feel for the kind of person you are and judge your communication skills at surface level. Nonetheless, not all interviews are this straightforward.

For courses that are skills-based, you may be asked to undergo assessments alongside your interview to prove your capability. This could be anything from an on-the-spot test or written problem to a role play, presentation or oral quiz. Find out what you will be faced with and prepare to perform accordingly. As for research-based programmes, it is not uncommon for the interview to include a short presentation where candidates explain their proposed research.

What about interviews that are related to postgraduate funding and scholarships? Whether you are attending an admissions interview that includes an application for funding, or applying for a scholarship during which you have to pass an interview stage, do not forget to prepare for this aspect in particular. Is the financial aid offered means- or merit-based? Read up on the background of the grant or scholarship and actively convince your interviewers that you are deserving of it.


Things to remember!

  • Refresh your memory on what you have written in your application beforehand.
  • Bring the necessary documents and be prepared for tests or presentations, if any.
  • Arrive punctually and dressed in the appropriate formal attire. Practise basic interview etiquette – give a firm handshake and maintain eye contact.
  • Speak clearly and communicate well. Do not get flustered or try to bluff your way through by using clichés and jargon above your level.
  • Aim for a polite and friendly air. Do not be afraid to show some of your personality and let your interviewers get to know you.
  • Most importantly, you should use the interview to showcase your knowledge, motivations and plans and relate them to the course you wish to study.