Spotlight On: Highgate School’s Mock University Interview Programme

Posted on: 27 Apr 2023

Kwasi Agyei-Owusu, partnership teaching coordinator at Highgate School, details how mock interviews at the school are helping students to prepare for university applications and grow in confidence.

One of the most impactful projects within Highgate Chrysalis Partnership Teaching, a core strand of our community partnership work, is the Mock University Interview Programme for partner schools that takes place every autumn. This project works towards the Chrysalis Partnership Teaching mission to inspire and support pupils of any age to pursue academic subjects at the next level, culminating in applications to Russell Group universities.

Now in its 15th year, the provision is open to students from our Chrysalis partner schools applying for courses at Oxbridge as well as medicine, veterinary science or other courses requiring a university admissions interview. Specialist Highgate teachers conduct interviews with sixth form pupils as they prepare for the final stage of their university applications, mirroring the internal process that Highgate pupils follow. This year, we conducted over 260 interviews with pupils from 14 partner schools across 21 subject areas.

Attending one of the UK’s leading universities has long been seen as a driver of social mobility. Data from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggests that pupils eligible for free school meals in Year 11 who go on to attend university are almost four times more likely to be among the highest 20 per cent of earners at age 30 and around 10 times more likely if they attended one of the four most selective universities.

Out of our 51 partner schools, those with a sixth form are invited to nominate the students that would most benefit from a mock university interview, with the intention of accommodating as many of the nominated students as possible. Where subjects are over-subscribed (mostly medicine) we consider relevant socio-economic indicators to help prioritise interviewees. Subject-specialist teachers from across Highgate work with the Chrysalis team to build a four-week timetable of 30-minute online interviews, to imitate the university format. These consist of a 20-minute interview followed by 10 minutes of verbal feedback, in addition to the written advice that follows. Depending on the subject, the interview format is a traditional panel set-up. In some cases, there may be a problem-solving exercise or role-playing scenario.

As well as the opportunity to receive and act on valuable feedback, online interviews replicate actual interview conditions as much as possible, giving applicants the chance to anticipate and iron out any technical issues ahead of the real thing.

There is a palpable increase in confidence and poise when comparing a pupil’s first practice interview to their second and this is supported by their own self-assessment and feedback on the process. Some students have never encountered an interview scenario before, so it allows them to consider factors such as body posture, taking time to consider answers, and ideas on how best to prepare for the day.

Of the students who completed our 2022 feedback form, 100 per cent said they would recommend the programme. The most recurring comments explained how it gave them an experience like the real interview, that challenged them, offered tailored feedback and gave them more confidence ahead of the real thing.

The mock university interviews are the culmination of our higher education support programme, which begins many years before. In our Year 10 Summer School, pupils are taken on a university trip (Hertford College and St Edmund’s Hall, Oxford were our hosts in 2022) to learn what is required and stimulate early thoughts about education pathways beyond school. During Year 12, partner schools are invited to join the Highgate Higher Education and Careers Fair during Lent term, attended by representatives from over 13 UK and international universities. This enables pupils to talk to the delegates in a familiar environment. In addition to this, seminars that take place during the Highgate Chrysalis Year 12 Summer School in August cover topics such as personal statements and applying to competitive courses.

It’s a massive logistical effort by the Chrysalis team and the teaching staff involved to deliver these mock interviews each autumn. The measurably positive impact the programme has on the ability of candidates to perform at interview makes all the hard work worthwhile. In an ideal world, we would like to be able to offer practice interviews to all applicants for medicine, dentistry and veterinary sciences. Highgate Chrysalis is exploring ways to expand capacity, for example by reaching out to alumni or perhaps partnering with outside organisations such as university outreach teams. We look forward to seeing what the future will bring.

About Kwasi Agyei-Owusu

Kwasi Agyei-Owusu is partnership teaching coordinator at Highgate School.