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How to apply - Interviews

Interview Guide  Interview guide The Interview Process

Based on the information given during the application process, and the results of the MAT test, over half of our applicants are invited to come for an interview.

The Oxford admissions office publish an excellent booklet that explains in general terms what happens when you come for interview at Oxford. Most of that booklet applies just as well to Computer Science as it does to other subjects.


A tutor's-eye view of admissions interviews
(not Computer Science specific)
If you are currently studying in the UK, the rest of the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, then you will be expected to attend interviews in Oxford in December, if your application is shortlisted. If you are studying in another country, and your application is shortlisted, you will still be invited to attend interviews in Oxford in December. Please be aware that it is unlikely to be possible to give you more than a week’s notice that you have been shortlisted. Unfortunately there may be insufficient time for visa nationals to obtain a visa. However, if you are unable to come to Oxford for interview, you will be interviewed via Skype or telephone.

A copy of the interview timetable is published a few months in advance. It is the colleges, rather than the Department that send out the interview invitations or, sadly, let you know that you haven't been shortlisted. This can be done either by letter or by email - it varies from college to college. If it's less than a week before the scheduled interview period for your course, and you haven't heard anything, then do get in contact with the college - it may mean something has gone astray in the mail. But, if it is more than a week to go, please wait a little longer: the time the college staff will take answering your call or email, is time they could have spent sending out your, or someone else's invitation. They will get in touch with you, good news or bad.

Preparing for the interview

We often start with a general question discussion to get to know you better, and to understand what motivates you, so be ready to talk about what excites you about your chosen subject.

From then on, we conduct interviews that are like a mini-tutorial. Either you will have been given a problem to think about in advance, or a question will be asked at the start of the interview. What follows should be a discussion where you and the interviewer explore the problem. This sample dialogue shows the kind of discussion we hope to have with you during the interview. As preparation, pick a Maths problem, such as one of these sample questions, and discuss your answer with a friend or an older person (a parent or teacher). This will get you used to discussing Maths out loud.

We don't ask about non-technical books you have read or about events in the news, because we don't find that this tell us much that is useful.

During the interview period

During the interview period, those who come to Oxford stay in a college. Your accommodation and meals will be provided free-of-charge by the college.

Different colleges offer different numbers of places for each subject, and they get different numbers of applications through random fluctuations. Whilst you're here, each candidate will normally have at least three interviews – two in the college they have chosen (typically on the Monday or Tuesday), and another in a second college (often on the Tuesday). This is done in such a way as to even out the number of applicants for each place. Interviewers at different colleges exchange information about candidates, to ensure that each applicant has an equal chance of a place at Oxford, no matter which college they have applied to. As a result, you might be invited for an interview at a third, or even a fourth college. These multiple interviews are intended to give you several chances to show what you can do. We are quite used to the fact that candidates are nervous when they come for interview, and we are willing to discount one or more interviews if we see that your nerves got the better of you. Being invited to these extra interviews is a good sign: it shows that you have done well enough in the process so far to be seriously considered for a place. On the other hand, having interviews at just two colleges is not a bad sign: if the tutor at your host college has indicated that you will certainly be offered a place there, then tutors at other colleges will not want to see you.

If you are applying for a joint degree, you might have single-subject interviews for each part of the degree, or there may be an interview with tutors from both disciplines. Some candidates may be asked to undertake a pre-interview exercise. The interviewer may then discuss some of the questions from the exercise, with you, during your interview.

Interviews will normally be with two interviewers. Sometimes one interviewer will ask all the questions, whilst the other takes notes, or sometimes they might share the questioning and note-taking between them.

All the interviews happen over a period of a couple of days. There's no sending you home, and then asking you to come back to Oxford at a later date.

Once the interviews are all finished, we decide whom to make offers to.

Some Examples

Example interview questions

In case you want to practice thinking about similar problems, here is also a short list of problems that have been used in the past.

Sample interview dialogue

An example interview dialogue is also available.