Why the whys matter in a university admission interview

University admission interviews can be a big hurdle for many applicants. It is a rather daunting experience as it occurs at a paramount moment where there are life-changing decisions to be made. Obtaining the degree of choice can change your future and many candidates feel the weight of the importance of the university admission interview.


Preparation is without doubt, key to being confident during the interview. It is not dissimilar to playing any sport or game. Take tennis for example. It is a game that takes place within a set space with markings that have been predetermined. You practice over and over again to direct the ball to land within the set space. The interview is very similar. If you know the rules and practice often, you get better and better at it.


However, practicing with the right technique matters in all sports, and it matters in interviews as well. So, understanding the crux of the questions will help you prepare for your university interviews and allows you to strategize and ace it.


Let us look at the Top 5 questions that are commonly used in the university admission interview and have a look at how the questions fundamentally addresses your “whys” even if the question is not a “why question”.


1: What made you choose to apply to this university?

This question is almost guaranteed to be asked, in one form or another. This is especially so if the course you are applying for is offered in other universities in your country or region. The interviewer wants to find out why you have made this choice. It is to ascertain your motivations and your reason for the interest in the university.


Some candidates make the mistake of using this question to highlight all the strengths of the university, making it into a 2-minute narrative filled with praise for the university. However, do recall that any good relationship requires a two-way fit. Dig deep into your reasons. How does this university fit you best and how do you fit the university best?


2: Why do you want to study this subject?

This is also one of the questions that ranks very high in terms of its probability of being asked. The reason for this question is very clear. The university needs to have an understanding of your passion for the subject. Is your passion for the subject a genuine one? Are you clear with why you are choosing to study it?


Providing the story behind your passion is important. Use your storytelling skills to provide the interviewers with a picture. Explain how you first got captivated by the subject, how you were inspired. Then move on to how it fits in to your future. Being able to showcase your ability to look forward and anticipate how you will use your skill sets from studying this subject in university can help with shaping a positive impression with the interviewer.


3: What book are you reading at the moment?

A fairly common question, more so if you are choosing to study in the field of language, education or literature. However, the mistake that many candidates make is not recognizing that there is a hidden why in the question. What happens a lot in candidates of all ages, including those preparing for job interviews, is that they answer this question directly. They provide a description of the book, and a synopsis of the plot. They miss out on the why.


Why do you like the book? Why do you find the book interesting? The reason for the question is not to have a book review, but to find out more about your personality. Missing out on telling the interviewers the why, will mean that the opportunity to provide more insights into your personality has been lost.


4: What do you do in your free time?

Keep in mind that there is a hidden why to this question, and you will automatically now realize that what you choose to say is your hobby has an implication. The hobby itself is not what matters, it is the why that matters. For example, saying that you spend a lot of time on YouTube may not be very impressive if the reason for it is to relax and just watch funny videos. Saying that you spend a lot of time on YouTube looking to learn how to improve an app that you are currently building, has got very different implications.


5: How would your friends describe you?

A fairly common question as it is an interviewer’s way of getting more information about your personality. For this question, do not stop at just providing adjectives such as “My friends would say that I am hardworking, caring and friendly”. Move to the why. Provide the reasons and genuine examples of the situations which prompted your friends to say that you are hardworking, caring and friendly. Once again, highlight the why.


The whys matter

Understanding the viewpoint of the interviewer is a very key step in breaking down each question and strategizing your answer. Understand that the whys are important to the interviewer and it is usually present in many of the top university admission interview questions – whether or not the question started with why. Developing this viewpoint will serve any candidate well, and will get the candidate practicing in the right manner, with the right techniques. .

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Written by: Siew Ling Hwang, Founder and Principal Interview Coach, Discovering Potential


Ms Siew Ling Hwang has extensive experience providing interview skills training. She specialises in conducting 1-on-1 training for those seeking to improve their interview skills for school interviews including DSA interviews as well as for job interviews. She is a Certified Practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and NLP Coaching, as well as a Certified Advanced Behavioural Analyst and Career Coach. Her unique skillset in combining real world practices, NLP Coaching techniques and personality and behavioural expertise provides clients with an effective session to achieve real improvements that carry them beyond the interview they are preparing for.


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