For anyone reading these blogs who has or hopes to get an Imperial interview, I thought I’d share my experience. Mine was obviously for Physics, so I’m not sure how relevant it will be to other subjects, but hopefully hearing about someone else’s experience will help to put your mind a little bit at rest!
In the build-up to it, my Imperial interview seemed like it was going to be the worst, most terrifying thing—ever. It was the first interview I was invited to, and though my school had promised me that they would try and find someone to practice with, I was called before they had a chance, so my preparation consisted of stressing and searching the internet for tips. Needless to say, neither of these approaches were helpful. People online seemed to have either found it a breeze or horrific, and both of these types of stories made me even more nervous.
Tip One: try to resist the temptation to head to the student room or similar websites for advice. The chances of someone being asked the same question as you are remote, and it will only put you on edge. If you do it anyway, try and take people’s stories with a pinch of salt.
My friend heard of an interviewer who caught out students doing this by deliberately posting false information about the bones he was going to be showing potential vet candidates at the interview. It was a dog’s bone, but because of what they had read, he had students come in and confidently proclaim that it came from a dolphin. (Apparently if you are a vet this is a tragic mistake.) So you have been warned!
Before the interview, my parents were lovely, driving me down to London where we stayed in a hotel the night before. We had breakfast in the Victoria and Albert museum café, which by the way is a definite must-visit if you are coming down for interview! It is only a couple of steps from Imperial, and stunning inside. When the time came it took me three attempts of walking past the door to pluck up the courage to go inside.
Tip Two: Don’t get this nervous! My nerves were ridiculous. I suppose I should have tried to find someone to give me a practice interview, but it can be tricky to find anyone with relevant experience.
All these nerves were completely unwarranted, of course. Imperial Physics interviews are pretty casual. I spent the day with about ten other people who were all in the same position, which immediately put me at ease, although it made me realise just how much I wanted a place! Chatting to ten people who are all super-keen to tell you about how much they love Physics was so surreal and refreshing (at the time—I’m fairly sick of them now!).
We were then taken on a tour of the department and given a chance to talk to our interviewer in groups and ask questions about the course. Of course, we were still hideously nervous and kept trying to make insightful comments and ask profound questions in the hope that they would make a note of how intelligent we were, but in reality I think just irritated our tour guides.
Tip Three: don’t worry about presenting yourself as a brilliant physicist in the out-of-interview parts. This is your chance to look around and find out if you want to spend the next three of four years here. Ask the questions you want to know the answer to, not the ones that make you look like a genius/insufferable.
Finally, in the afternoon, we all filed one by one into our actual interview. I was the very last one to go in, being a W surname, but eventually, my turn came. And here comes the take-home message from my experience: I did terribly!
The more I look back on the interview, the more mystified I am that I got the place. At the time, because of the bizarre way that I took my maths A-levels, I had only done an AS in regular maths and not even thought about further. I was so, so, underprepared for any kind of maths question, which was exactly what came up. I didn’t know the product rule for goodness sake. I had never heard of a double angle formula.
Tip Four: The interview isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of your application. You have your results in whatever exams you have done so far, you have any other work experience or summer schools or projects that show an interest in Physics. Though obviously try your best, try not to worry too much if it doesn’t go too well.
I will tell you exactly what my interview consisted of, though I am sure it varies a lot. First of all, the interviewer introduced himself and asked me a few questions about the books and citizen science things that I had put on my personal statement. These were along the lines of: ‘I haven’t heard about Galaxy Quest. Could you tell me about what you have to do for it?’ There were no sweeping horrors like: ‘Why do you want to do Physics?’ which I had vapidly preparing for on the drive down.
I was then asked to solve a maths problem on a piece of paper on the desk. It was ‘What is the best angle to throw a ball at for maximum range?’ This is a simple question to answer (suvat equations for projectile motion I hear you shout) with differentiation to maximise your answer, but as I said, at the time, I had no clue, and I think missed out gravity until it was pointed out to me.
After this, which I eventually ploughed through, he asked me some more questions about my interests. Even these, which were as simple as ‘So what kind of things do you like to read?’ I answered abysmally, basically grinning ‘Um…Oscar Wilde’ to every answer.
Though of course he won’t remember me, I still squirm with embarrassment when I see my interviewer in the corridors.
It really was a mediocre performance at best, and as soon as I came out and the adrenaline had worn off, I was so disappointed in myself. I really, really wanted an Imperial place. I had my heart set on it. It would be so impossibly brilliant, I thought, to live in London and get to talk to friendly people who liked Physics every day and to get to do a world class Physics degree. And I really thought I had messed up that chance.
I won’t try and keep you in suspense, because I am obviously writing this blog now, but it took months for Imperial to finally accept me. They took so long to reply that I ended up ringing their admissions department and eventually finding out I was accepted on the phone after trying desperately to give them the January results of the four-million maths exams I had crammed in in that time in the hope that it would sway their decision.
I went on to have three much more successful university interviews, the last of which I was so confident for that I think I confused the interviewer. (It helped that I had almost definitely not decided to accept a place at the university in question if they offered it to me, but by this point, I viewed them far more as a challenge than something to be dreaded.) Interviews, especially the Imperial one where they kindly take you for a tour around the department, are as much a chance for you to make your decision about the university as them to make a decision about you.
As you can see, all my tips can basically be summarised to don’t do what I did! Good luck to everyone applying.