Students will need prepare in new ways to be ready for the ‘new normal’ of Zoom university interviews
Oxbridge interviews are stressful at the best of times, and the decision on the part of both Oxford and Cambridge to move to online only interviews for undergraduate applicants for this current admissions cycle is only going to make things more stressful for students.
These interviews had previously been held on site, with Oxford even inviting students up for an overnight stay with college accommodation. This gave applicants not just the chance to spend time in their chosen college and to mix with other applicants, but to chat to current students, and relax into the whole process before the interview itself.
This kind of exposure to the reality of Oxbridge is hugely valuable for applicants, and is something that the range of access schemes that both universities operate have long emphasised. For a student who has never gone through something like an Oxbridge interview, even a brief conversation with a peer who knows what its like can be invaluable.
Our experience has shown a meaningful impact on student performance from additional interview preparation, especially when that preparation is with a student who has recently gone through the process themselves. Where teachers and guidance counsellors will often have more knowledge about interviewing in general, it can be difficult for students to absorb what they need from someone whose experience could easily be decades out of date, or take for granted ideas or professional norms that a 17 year old may have yet to master.
We also know that the online interview format is going to throw out some of the more esoteric strategies employed by candidates – Neuro Linguistic Programming, a pseudoscience at the best of times – is pretty unlikely to work over a long internet delay or a grainy image.
The inevitably diminished quality of interviews will probably lead to them being weighted lower in admissions decisions this cycle. Oxford themselves write about the interview being an opportunity for candidates to ‘shine’ – how easy will it be tell if a candidate shone or not over a stuttering skype call?
This may lead to more weight being put on admissions tests this year, but the problems of administering them has already lead to many being moved online, cancelled, or reimagined as at interview assessments. The AHAA (Arts and Humanities Admissions Assessment) which debuted last year has been withdrawn for this year, as has the GAA (Geography Admissions Assessment).
To date, the universities have only run online interviews for students from Hong Kong and Singapore, and these from dedicated centres with on site IT staff. Quite how the process will work using home broadband connections remains to be seen, but the overall impact seems to be clear: a messier, weirder admissions process will favour the well prepared above all.