Admission interviews: Prepare to succeed

Interview waiting room

Admission interviews in the Canadian Application Process

There was a time when final grades were the only factor Canadian universities considered for admission. As we mentioned in Ontario: Program and Admission Trends, universities in that province – but the same is true across the country – are placing increased emphasis on supplementary applications and interviews.  In general, personal statements are encouraged or required for limited enrolment programs such as Commerce and Engineering, but you’ll find these are an increasingly common university-wide application feature.

While interviews are a less frequent feature of the Canadian university application process, many limited enrolment programs require them.  Seldom are interviews only recommended.  The reason Canadian universities require interviews are: One, to gage a student’s interest in the program; two, to determine fit; and, three, particularly in the case of international applicants, to evaluate English language proficiency.

Admission interviews in the US Application Process

As you research admission requirements, you’ll notice interviews are a common in the American application process.  There are two main reasons: One, universities have found that students who interview are more likely to accept an offer of admission; and, two, universities, particularly liberal arts colleges, want to see if you are a good match.

Admission interviews are not always required; sometimes they’re recommended. To determine whether you want to go through with an interview, you’ll need to find out how important a factor it is for each school on your list. We’ll address this in a future blog. For now, we’ll assume you’re doing the interview.

How to approach admission interviews

The approach to interviews varies depending on the application process and size of the school.  In the American case, think of the interview as a first date.  It’s your chance to confirm your interest and to test whether or not there’s spark. Remember many universities, especially American institutions, track your demonstrated interest.  Did you apply early?  Did you visit campus?  Have you opened promotional e-mails? By accepting an interview invitation, you show that you’re legitimately interested.


And like first dates, they can be nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time.  If you get butterflies in your stomach, congratulations – you’re normal. Use the interview to expand on some of those things you really wanted to share in your personal statements but didn’t have enough space to do so. You could also use the interview to talk about some of the wonderful things you’ve accomplished after the application was submitted.

The approach to interviews for Canadian universities is different in part because these tend to be program-specific.  Admissions staff are primarily interested to determine familiarity with the program, and by extension whether you are a good fit, and to gage your communication skills.

Prepare good questions for interviewers

Don’t forget the interview is not meant to be a one-way conversation. Have some good questions ready.  What’s a good question?  Ask yourself: Does it pass the Google test?  If Google can answer it, think of a new one.  This topic deserves its own blog so we’ll come back to this in a later entry.

What can you expect at the interview?

In general, interviews are structured to feel like casual conversations.  Most of the questions are general in nature.  Some commonly asked questions in admission interviews are:

  • Why do you want to study here?
    Tip: Research the university so you can speak about specific features and/or qualities that you find attractive. Explain why you and the school are a good match. Don’t forget to emphasize what you can contribute.
  • What do you want to study?  Why?
    Tip: Think of those things that interest you inside as well as outside the classroom.  Establish connections between what you want to study and what you have done or want to do in your life.  Explain how your studies are linked to aspirations.
  • What do you like to do when you’re not studying?
    Tip: This is your chance to talk about those things you’re involved in outside of the classroom.

You may have answered some of these questions in your personal statement. It’s a good idea to review your questions, and to prepare reading as much as possible about the university interviewing you.

Should I expect trick questions?

Behavioural interviewing is a technique used by many employers to determine whether a candidate is a good fit for their workplace.  It is also commonly – though not exclusively – used for admission interviews. The technique involves asking questions that give insight into your behaviour – in particular past behaviour – to get a sense for how you may respond in future. In other words, the answers you give about your past experiences are used to predict your future performance. If you did it once, it’s very likely you will do it again.

Your answers help the interviewer create a profile or picture of you. Through the interview they learn more about the way you act, what motivates you, and how you handle situations.  In short, they reveal soft-skills like attitude and motivation, loyalty and work ethic, trustworthiness, and work style.

Practice, practice, practice

Unless you have thought about this type of questioning ahead of time, you may find yourself caught off-guard and be unable to respond with the strongest answer on the spot.  The best responses are conveyed through a story. The challenge is to select the right story; the one that shows off your skills, abilities and fit in the best possible manner.

Formula for success

One of the first rules is that your answers require a complete and specific example or story.  The interviewer will have a much easier time listening to and following your stories if they are laid out in a chronological, easy-to-follow sequence of events.  The CAR technique is one we recommend to help structure your responses:

CONTEXT: Explain the circumstances that form the setting for the event.
ACTION: Describe what you did to address the issue or to create new opportunities.
RESULT: What was the outcome as a result of your actions?  How did your community benefit?


Describe a time when you were stuck and had to ask for help.

Weak answer:  Last week I couldn’t solve a Calculus questions.  I had to ask a friend for help in order to solve it.

Stronger answer: Last week I couldn’t solve a Calculus questions. I worked on the question for a couple of days, and even looked for resources online but still couldn’t solve it.  Finally, I asked a friend to help me with it.  I find that asking for help saves me time and effort, and relieves me of feelings of stress. It’s also a good way to meet other people in class.

Strongest answer: Yes, I am. However, before asking for help I like to try to resolve an issue or a problem by myself.  If I can’t find a solution, I look for instructional videos on YouTube or review my study notes to see if I can find the answer. I find that I learn better this way.  Then, if I’m stuck, I ask teachers or friends to help me solve the problem.

For example, the other day I was studying for Calculus and I couldn’t solve a problem.  So I went to the Khan Academy website to see if there were tools on the website to help answer my questions.  When I couldn’t find anything there, I called my friend Patricia.  She told me she was having the same problem so we tried to solve it together.  In the end, we ended up meeting with the teacher who helped us solve it. Ms. Shaikh realized we were struggling with the basics of a concept so she reviewed it with the whole class.

Body language at admission interviews

In an interview, it’s not just what you say but how you say that is important.  You communicate with more than words.  Here’s some expert advice on how to effectively let your body do the talking in an interview.

VerveSmith helps students find universities and programs that match their aspirations, and to develop an admissions application strategy. For additional help, contact us.

No Fields Found.