How to prepare for interviews

Before you’re given an offer from a university, you may be asked to take part in an interview.

Although this is less common practice than it used to be, many universities will still want to speak to you and put questions to you to assess your suitability for the course.

The admissions section of your chosen university’s prospectus or website should tell you if an interview is likely.

Interviews can be conducted in person at the institution itself, or even over a video chat service such as Skype.

As an interview could be the difference between attending the university of your dreams or settling for second choice, it’s important to get it right.

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Here are some tips for how you should prepare for a university interview.

Take it seriously

Whether your interview is described as ‘formal’ or ‘informal’, you should always take it seriously. An informal interview might not be as structured or as rigid as formal interview, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important.

Predict their questions

The interviewer is going to want to know more about you and why you want to attend their course. They may ask you to expand on aspects of your application and personal statement. Review these documents and remind yourself of what you said, so you can predict what they might ask.

Do some more research

Depending on your chosen course, you might be asked to give your views on the subject area. It is a good idea to do some research on the latest news and developments in the subject before the interview.


You could ask a teacher, parent or friend to do a mock interview with you focusing on why you chose the course. This will help you prepare your responses and ease your nerves.

Prepare questions of your own

This is your chance to find out more about the course and the university, so write down some questions of your own. This will also demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm to the admissions tutors.

Dress smartly and arrive early

You don’t have to wear a suit and tie, but dressing smartly will show respect and demonstrate that you are taking the interview seriously. You should also plan your journey ahead and leave in plenty of time so you get there early. Make sure you make a note of their phone number so you can let them know if you are going to be late.

More information and resources

UCAS has a useful resource on preparing for undergraduate interviews, including a video how-to guide.

Website Studential also has several pages of resources, including FAQs, tips and sample questions as well as subject-specific guides.

Which? University and The Complete University Guide also have useful interview preparation advice.

My experience at the Yale Young Global Scholars program (YYGS)

Hi, I’m Rianna and this summer I attended the Yale Young Global Scholars program (YYGS) in Connecticut, USA. I’m writing this short blog to give an insight into my experience and encourage students to apply to what was one of the best experiences of my life. I can’t even fit all the best bits into this blog without boring you to tears but hopefully I’ve covered most of it to give you a good idea!


Who am I?

I’m a 17 year old girl going into Year 13. I took biology, chemistry, maths and art (with WBQ) for AS levels and in my spare time I love drawing and music (you might have seen me in the concerts conducting the orchestra.). When I applied for YYGS, I was thinking about applying for either medicine or architecture for university.


What is YYGS?

The program is a two week long course aimed at 15-17 year olds from around the world. It is very established and well attended, with around 250 teens attending each of the six subject specific courses across three fortnight long sessions.

It is an introduction to life at Yale university and includes seminars, lectures, a UN style simulation, and a ‘capstone project’. There is lots more information available on the website, just Google YYGS.

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(The timetable from the website. Each morning we got an email telling us our schedule for the day.)


How I applied

This year marked the launch of the partnership between the Seren Network and YYGS. The opportunity to attend the $6000 course fully funded by Yale and Welsh government was advertised in Dr Roe’s trusty update emails. It seemed too good to miss, although there was only around a week or so until the deadline. I had to submit one 500 word essay, and two shorter essays around 250 and 100 words. Forms, references, records and financial information were also required. It was stressful and very last minute, I stayed up to write until two hours before the 5 AM deadline. Still, it was a small price to pay for such an amazing experience.


The course I applied for

Of the six options, I chose ‘Sustainable Development and Social Entrepreneurship’ (SDSE) because it tied most closely to architecture, which I had explored less compared to medicine. However, I was very indecisive, changing the three ranked options I chose minutes before applying and I was lucky enough to get my first choice.


My favourite learning experience

I loved the capstone project. Nearly every night, after dinner, from 6:30-9 pm, our group of 16 students would meet in our basement room and work on our research and presentation. Our instructors Michelle and Rahim were our supportive ‘parents’ who gave us extremely detailed feedback on every submitted essay and donuts on the last day. Under the group umbrella of “Equity and Poverty Alleviation”, my smaller team of four created a presentation of “Empowering the Bottom of the Wealth Pyramid” that looked into sanitation methods that could be used in East African countries. From capstone, I experienced working with strong group to very tight deadlines and writing good quality essays in mere hours. I also made a new family who I missed very much as soon as I left.

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(Our capstone group on presentation day)


My favourite non-learning experience

There were some incredible social events scheduled, most being tradition for YYGS. For instance, the talent show, the speaker series, the late night party on the final night, the quiz night, and the library tours. My favourite was probably the ‘family time’ with our ‘family’ of 8. This was another way we were quickly forced to make friends. Our family didn’t play games like some of the others, but we did get ice cream together, chill in the library basement arguing over which education system was better, and visit my favourite building – the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

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(One of the presentations from the speaker series which used a huge Kahoot game to teach us about writing characters in fiction.)


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(Our family, The Gr8est, in one of the coolest buildings ever)

My least favourite part

Some days I wasn’t in a great state of mind to appreciate the lectures first thing in the morning because I was so tired. I usually need about 9 hours sleep but having essays due in for midnight or staying up gossiping with my suite-mates often meant 2am bedtimes and waking up at 7am. Still, getting to spend more time awake and making the most of my limited time was definitely worth it, in my opinion.  


(I got caught napping on this bench like three times)

Any regrets?

I wish that I hadn’t gone into the process thinking that I would never attend an American university. Like many, I assumed that the costs would be far too high to even consider and so I didn’t attend the admission talk or panel. It wasn’t until my last day there that one of the instructors (second year Yale students) told me of another instructor who was from Scotland and was able to get huge amounts of financial aid, making the cost equal to that of attending British university. I quickly rushed head first into researching all that I needed to do if I were to apply whilst feeling that it was all a little too late.


My advice

I can’t thank anyone involved with the Seren-YYGS partnership enough. I consider myself amongst some of the luckiest teens in the world to have been able to experience the opportunity, practically for free. I made incredible friends around the world and experienced world class education. It is my genuine belief that this is an unmissable opportunity that makes me so passionate to spread the word and encourage all eligible students to apply. My advice is: definitely apply, you will regret it if you don’t at least give it a go!

Some more pics:

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(The beautiful Pierson College tower)

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(My capstone team after graduating, on the lawn of Pierson College where SDSE was held)

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(My Breakout session group – we met after each lecture to discuss our thoughts)

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(Group ideas from a seminar about the Flint water crisis)

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(Me and Marly – the other Welsh student in SDSE from Aber – on the last day)


I also attended the Jesus college summer camp so watch out for the blog about that experience too!

Plus, I will be attending the Seren launch event on September 26th along with some of the other Year 13s who also attended different courses at YYGS. There, we will be able to answer any further questions you have.

Hope to see you there!

Thomas Tiltman – My Seren Summer School Experience 2018

“I was asked to go to Jesus College Oxford for a summer school run by the Seren Network.

“Despite my limited knowledge of this area, I decided to go down for the week. Now, since coming back, I know it was probably the best decision I could’ve made. The wide varieties of lectures and people there made for an unforgettable week.

“Since STEM is my favourite academic area, I was naturally very interested into the various STEM lectures, like ‘logical paradoxes, the development of the foetus and exo-planets’ (my favourite lecture, since planets and the hunt for life has always fascinated me). But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the other lectures, likely due to how good the lecturers were and how completely in love they are with their subject.

“I honestly expected Oxford to be like the obvious stereotypes, but this wasn’t always the case. I was surprised by how laid back everyone was, even the lecturers. They all felt very down to earth and were happy to help and answer any questions if you didn’t understand something.

“The university itself was somehow very big and small at the same time. The colleges themselves feel quite small and cosy, while the university itself felt huge, since it owns an awful lot of the area around Oxford (a lot of the parks, facilities etc.). Despite this, it still felt homely, and the rooms themselves didn’t feel like generic student rooms.


“The tutorials themselves were a lot of fun. The small group sizes (at max, three students to one lecturer) made for some interesting debates on our essays, allowing me to learn a great deal and really stretch my ability to come up with clever arguments when trying to play the devil’s advocate. I really think I could learn a lot from these tutorials – if I get into Oxford that is!

“After all of this, I find it hard to not be inspired to apply to Oxbridge. The environment is a lot of fun and the lecturers are all top of their field experts. The students are all friendly and the tutorials are fantastic. Now I just need to tackle the admissions process.

*NB – This autumn, Seren will be running a series of admissions coaching sessions. Stay tuned on the blog and ask your hub coordinator for more information.

How to use your summer break productively following Year 12

The exams are over, school’s out for summer, and you have six weeks off before embarking on a new phase of life as a university student.

It’s understandable if all you want to do now is take time off and think about anything other than studying and revision. After all, you’ve probably spent most of the last two years with your head in a book or staring at a screen, preparing for and sitting exams.


However, the next few weeks offer a golden opportunity to prepare for the rest of your life.

Here are our top tips for using the long summer break productively:


  • First it is important to make time to rest, relax and recharge the batteries.
  • Take at least couple of weeks off to have a proper break.
  • Go on holiday, have a change of scenery or just go out and enjoy the world; anything that helps refresh your mind and body.


  • If you don’t already have a part-time job you could look for work to see you through the summer break.
  • Working will not only allow you to save some money ready for university, but it will also help you learn some valuable skills that will enhance your CV.

Take an internship

  • A summer internship can also be a great way to experience the world of work and gain useful transferable skills. You’ll also give yourself a head start before your university degree gets underway.
  • If you can find an internship in a company or organisation that is in some related to your degree, or a career you are interested in pursuing, you will also gain a valuable insight that will set you apart from your peers and give you an edge in the competitive graduate jobs market.
  • For more information on internships, visit the Prospects website.


  • Volunteering, whether overseas or closer to home, is another great way to enhance your skills, while helping others in the process.
  • Not only is it a rewarding use of your time, it will also boost your CV.
  • There are many options you could try,  from taking part in an organised volunteering programme to helping at the local charity shop.
  • Website ‘Save the Student’ also has a helpful guide to volunteering.

Prepare for university

  • More study might be the last thing on your mind after two years of rigorous academic effort, but in the last few weeks of your break it is a good idea to start preparing for university so that when you arrive as a fresher you are not totally out of your depth. Buy some of the textbooks you will need and start reading around your chosen subject area.

For more advice on how to make the most of your summer break, check out these useful guides from Prospects and The Complete University Guide.

Suggested reading and resources for your summer holidays

Whether you have another year of sixth form left and want to get ahead with university applications or you’re heading off to university in a few months’ time and want to prepare for your lectures and seminars, the summer holidays are a great time to do some useful reading.

The top UK universities are not only looking for students with a solid understanding of the core A-Level curriculum, they’re keen for students who are engaged with their subjects beyond their school studies and who find alternative ways of exploring the topics they find interesting.

Read ‘deeply’

You may have heard the phrase ‘read widely’ used often in the context of university reading, but it can be hard to know what this actually means and whether it’s really the best approach to tackling your summer reading list.

If you’re keen to do some reading that will help with your personal statement or potential university interviews, here’s our top tip:

Pick fewer books than you might think you need to read, but read them ‘deeply’

Although it’s good to read ‘widely’, i.e. wider than your A-Level set texts, it’s also important to know the content of your wider reading in depth. Choosing a few books and reading them well is much more productive than reading what seems like an impressively long list of books but only scanning the introductions to each one.


Universities will be far more impressed if you know a few books extremely well and can write or talk about them in detail than if you’ve ‘read’ a big list of books but are unable to discuss the content of any of them in great depth.

Remember! In university interviews, the lecturer or tutor may ask you to talk about some books you’ve mentioned in your personal statement, so make sure you feel confident talking about their content in detail and are able to give your opinion on anything you’ve read or any resources you’ve listened to.

How to go the extra mile

If you’re preparing for potential university interviews, it’s a good idea to have some knowledge of what’s going on in the world around you. Interviewers will often expect you to be aware of current affairs, particularly if a theme that crops up in your reading is topical in the news at that time. Reading short articles is a quick and easy way of bringing yourself up to speed and giving yourself the confidence to talk about the context of your wider reading, so make sure to have a check the BBC online news pages or other news outlets regularly.

Alternative resources

If you’re keen for a more relaxing way to find out more about a subject you’re interested in, try watching documentaries or listening to podcasts, as these can often be more helpful and more impactful than reading a chapter of a book.

Compiling your reading list

Why not make a list of books you’d like to read or podcasts you’d like to listen to over the summer, which you tick off as you go along? You could also keep a notebook to make notes alongside your reading and listening.

To kickstart your summer reading regime, we’ve put together a list of useful resources and reading material that you can add to your summer reading list:




Oxford suggested reading and resources:

Oxford University podcasts:

Cambridge University podcasts:

In Our Time:

Open Yale Courses:

Warwick University Courses:


BBC documentaries:


Department of Justice:

Judiciary of England and Wales:

Counsel Magazine:

Guardian Law pages:

BBC Law in Action:


Medieval and Modern Languages:

Read newspapers and magazines, watch TV and films and listen to the radio.


Le Monde:

Suddeutsche Zeitung:

El Pais:

Corriere Della Sera:





Oxford Department of Politics and International Relations:

Political Studies Association:

UK parliament:





The Economist magazine:

Institute for Economic Affairs:

National Institute of Economics and Social Research:



British Sociological Association:

British Journal of Sociology:

BBC Thinking Allowed:



Current Archaeology Magazine:

British Museum:



Discover Anthropology:

Royal Anthropological Institute:

Association on Social Anthropologists:



Ian Ramsay Centre for Science and Religion:



Philosophical Society:



Oxford Classics Outreach:

The Roman Society:

The Hellenic Society:



Royal Academy of Music:



Reviews in History:

British Museum:

History Today Magazine:

BBC History:

Historical Association:

Royal Historical Society:

Fitzwilliam Museum:

Ashmolean Museum:


History of Art:

Royal Academy:



British Geological Survey:

Geological Society:

National Geographic:

Geographical Association:


General Science Interest:

New Scientist Magazine:

The Naked Scientist Podcasts:

Oxford Science Blog:



Richard Feynman lectures:

Institute of Physics (including free membership for 16-19 year-olds):

British Physics Olympiad:


Biological, Biomedical and Life Sciences and Zoology:

Wellcome Trust:

Educational resources at the National History Museum:

Institute of Zoology:

Botanical Sciences at Kew:



Chemistry World Online:

Biochemical Society:



Dilnot, Andrew & Blastland, Michael, The Tiger That Isn’t

BBC Radio 4, More or Less:

Millennium Mathematics Project:

Institute of Mathematics:

Plus Magazine:

Further Maths Support Network:

STEP website:



Online library and Engineering web forum:

Royal Academy of Engineering:

Institution of Civil Engineers:

Chemical Engineering Resources and web forum:


Computer Science:

Oxford’s Geomlab:

The Guardian’s list of Computer Science resources:

Medicine/Veterinary Medicine:

British Medical Association:

Royal Society of Medicine:

Radio programme on medical ethics:

Oxford Medical School Gazette:

Institute of Biomedical Science:

Physiological Society:

British Veterinary Association:

Kay, Andy, This is going to hurt

Marsh, Henry, Do no harm

Westaby, Stephen, Fragile Lives


Geological and Materials Sciences:

British Geological Survey:

Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining:

UK Centre for Materials Education:


Psychological and Behavioural Sciences:

British Psychological Society:

The Psychologist Journal:


English Literature:

The British Library, Discovering Literature:

Poetry Society:

Literary Review:

Times Literary Supplement:

Meet MIT student Sam Turton from Tenby who has first-hand experience of both US and UK universities…

Sam Turton pic

This week, we spoke to Welsh MIT student Sam Turton who met with Cabinet Secretary Kirsty Williams and our Seren students on the YYGS programme last week to discuss the importance of building relationships between Seren and US universities.

Having done his undergraduate and masters degrees at Cambridge University and now doing a PhD at MIT, Sam has first-hand experiences of both US and UK university systems.

We asked him all about the differences between the two, why he decided to apply to MIT and what advice he’d give to Seren students who are considering applying to US universities.

This is what he said…

 Why did you decide to do a PhD in the US?

One of the main reasons was that it was a great opportunity to live and study abroad in such a big and exciting country. It’s incredible how many more universities there are over here, conducting world-class research.

A standard PhD program in the US is also quite a bit longer than in the UK. Some people find the prospect of being a graduate student for 5-6 years quite daunting, but I think it gives you a lot more time to focus your research interests by working for different professors in the first couple of years of the PhD. I really liked that I didn’t have to start working on my thesis as soon as I started at MIT, but instead could spend some time figuring out what exactly I wanted to work on.

Another big attraction for me were the greater teaching opportunities that you have in the US. My funding is conditional on me teaching classes every semester. Not everyone enjoys doing this, but I think that learning how to be a good teacher is an essential part of excelling in research.

What’s been your experience of studying at MIT so far?

I’ve had a really positive experience. On the whole, MIT has a very collaborative and diverse atmosphere. Every day I work with people from very different academic backgrounds, and this has really helped me to push my research in different directions and out of my comfort zone. Boston is also a great city to live in as a student. There are so many world-class universities in the Greater Boston area, and this draws students from all over the globe. However, I’ve yet to meet another Welsh student at MIT, so it would be great to see some more in the future!

What have been your highlights?

It’s pretty typical to spend the first year of your PhD just taking classes. Since I had already completed a Masters at Cambridge before I started my PhD at MIT, I had already taken a lot of graduate level classes in fluid mechanics, which is my principal research area. I took this opportunity to take classes in areas outside of my field, such as in nuclear science and quantum computation. I would have never been able to learn this material when I was an undergraduate in maths, so I really enjoyed immersing myself in some totally new science!

I’ve also attended three different conferences so far during my PhD. I found this overwhelming the first time, but I’ve grown to really enjoy presenting my research. Plus, it’s always enjoyable to travel for work and see different parts of the USA.

Given your experiences of both US and UK university systems, what do you think are the main differences between them?

I think the main difference between the US and UK university systems is that an American undergraduate degree is generally much broader. In the UK, we usually apply to study a specific subject at university, that we study for three whole years and have relatively few opportunities to take classes in different areas. In the USA, undergraduates will generally study a mixture of classes in their first year or two, and then decide on a major. American degrees also generally last four years, compared to three years in the UK.

Another big difference is that vocational degrees, such as law and medicine, are not offered as undergraduate degrees. If you want to be a lawyer, for example, you would have to complete a four-year college degree and then apply to law school, which generally lasts an additional three years.

Why do you think Welsh students often don’t consider applying to US universities?

I think the obvious reason is probably that the USA is a long way from home! It’s definitely a big decision to move across the ocean to go to university. There’s a lot of stress involved with moving to a different country to study, such as applying for a visa and navigating other unfamiliar bureaucracy. However, not having the language barrier definitely makes these things easier than they might be if you were looking at studying abroad in Europe, for example.

Another reason might be that the face value cost of an American degree is generally much higher than the equivalent in the UK. However, many universities in the US have very substantial bursaries and scholarships that can significantly lower the cost of an American education.

What would you say to Seren students who are currently considering applying to MIT, or any other US university?

I’m not very familiar with the process of applying for an undergraduate degree at MIT or elsewhere in the US, but my main advice would be to start researching early! Make sure to read all of the information on university websites to make sure you know exactly what you need to do to apply to each university. As far as I’m aware, there isn’t really a centralised system like UCAS, and universities will expect you to write application essays that specifically address why you want to be one of their students.

Several top American universities have created online platforms, such as EdX or Coursera, which contain versions of the undergraduate classes they offer. They are definitely worth checking out as they will give you a taste for the style and content of American lectures.

Applying to study abroad is definitely more complicated initially than staying in the UK, but don’t be overwhelmed! America has so many incredible places to study, and it offers a very different experience to a British undergraduate degree. If it sounds like an American degree might be a better fit for you, then there is definitely no harm in applying.

What are your plans for the future?

I have another two years until I finish my PhD. After that, my current plan is to do a “Post doc”. This is a three-year academic position that you do after finishing a PhD to get extra research experience before applying for a full-blown academic job. I might stay in the USA to do this, but ideally I would prefer to move back to the UK, or somewhere else in Europe, so that I can be a bit closer to home.