x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

The dos and don'ts of university interviews

For teens, university interviews represent our first experience of being able to talk our way to an important life decision, so trust us to make a huge fuss about it.

The majority of my year group have now finished sending off their applications to university, after a string of sleepless nights in front of the computer frantically typing up essays. We have spent aeons staring uncomprehendingly at revision material for entrance exams. We have suddenly become awful sycophants to our teachers, so they give us good references and forget the time we cleverly stuck chewing gum on their chairs in year seven. We have written personal statements that give the impression that every single student in our class is an academic genius, virtuoso musician, sports star, voluntary worker and Leonardo da Vinci incarnate.

Finally, the university interviews have begun to pour in. For most teenagers, this represents our first experience of being able to talk our way to an important life decision so, as with everything, you can trust us to make a huge fuss about it. Interviews vary; British ones tend to be formal. The guys, cruelly forced out of polo shirts into suits for once, often look superbly uncomfortable, while girls strike up the usual lament of “I don’t have a single thing to wear”.

Interviews from US colleges are informal and are conducted by alumni in a cafe near where you live. Should you turn up in jeans? What if it’s actually a trick and they want you to retain your professionalism? Maybe they’ve outwitted you completely and are employing double-reverse psychology. Or are you simply getting yourself wound up, when they couldn’t care less if you turned up in a toga?

Preparing for the interview is an adventure in itself as you scour the papers to be au courante on current topics. Being well versed on everything you have mentioned on your application, from the charities you support to the nitty-gritty of the sports you claimed to enjoy, is a must. Of course, you need to frantically read up on the subject you are applying for. You know you have overdone it when your friend sighs how her new crush makes her heart go all fluttery and you sagely reply: “Yup, that’ll be your sympathetic nervous system being stimulated so your adrenal gland releases epinephrine” – before hastily stopping at the disgusted look on her face.

The actual interview is fraught with potential faux pas. If you are in a cafe, you can’t order anything that’s too messy to eat, too expensive or too fattening. Your handshake can be neither iron fist nor limp dishcloth, your posture relaxed but not too slouchy. Oh, and you can’t afford to be mulling over the food you want to order and forget your body language, or you’ll lose track of the intelligent responses you were meant to be coming up with.

It’s a frightening but exciting period of our lives and we get to share ideas with people who are leaders in their fields. It’s easy to get carried away with using impressive words to sound intelligent, as I found out when I began a soliloquy on cancer treatment. It’s littered with jargon, I thought confidently, no one will notice if a few bits make no sense. As luck would have it, the distinguished interviewer had actually invented a screening test for a type of cancer. Oops.

Lavanya Malhotra is a 17-year-old student in Dubai