The interview as a student selection device – any good?
How should a university decide which students to admit? Should it all be done on the basis of a formula, usually related to final school examination results? Or should there be a more detailed assessment, perhaps including interviews?
If interviews were considered the best method, not many universities would have the resources or staffing to conduct them. Two universities that do make use of interviews for student selection are Oxford and Cambridge. However, not everyone finds this method impressive. Recently an applicant to an Oxford College decided, after her interview, to write the College a rejection letter, pointing out that the setting for the interview was likely to be off-putting for students from more modest backgrounds.
Of course interviews are a standard selection tool for employment. A concern always is that an interviewer may ask inappropriate questions, or may be influenced by irrelevant considerations on meeting the applicant in this way. However, over recent years interviewing for employment has become much more professional, and interviewers are usually well trained. But those factors likely to influence selectors inappropriately – i.e. those potentially liable to prompt discriminatory or prejudiced assessments – are even more likely to be factors in student selection, with less likelihood that the interviewers would be properly trained or fully aware of the risks.
There are probably no perfect methods of student selection. But it is important, to the greatest degree possible, to use objective methods, and interviews do not particularly help. Few can afford to use them anyway, but for those who don’t it may be a good idea to stop thinking that they would be better if only they were affordable. They almost certainly would not be better.
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