So you’ve made your University choices, you’ve narrowed down a list and are in the process of Interviewing. This is an incredibly major factor in proving that you have the capability to be a successful Degree candidate. It’s also a great opportunity for one-on-one time with a course tutor, it gives you a chance to allay your concerns about the course, ask about success rates and really help you to solidify your top choice. This article aims to give you the tools to prepare for this big step, as well as help you to make the best impression.
I would like to take this opportunity to say that this will 'officially' be the last article I write for this series. It's been fun, but the length of time between this one and the previous is an indication that other commitments have really taken away from my ability to write these. Please enjoy the newest entry!
Note: This article is mainly aimed towards the UK Higher Education system - application to acceptance. Therefore there might be some things included that don't necessarily apply, or lack substance, when compared to other countries. I have tried to make it as general as possible, in the hope that everyone reading will find some use of the content.
Interviews. They’re a necessary part of any application process. Many of you will be familiar with job interviews; Google defines it as “an oral examination of an applicant for a job.” It takes place against other similar candidates, in order to select a suitable candidate for any number of positions. An interview for University is similar, although slightly more forgiving as you are applying for one of many spots on a course.
Note: It is difficult in this article to not stray into general interview techniques. I will be providing a broad overview of what is to be expected, as well as how to act, but the subject has been explained to death on the Internet. A quick Google search will turn up answers to these sorts of questions.
Presentation is your main focus here, and this breaks down into 2 areas: You, and Your Work. Let’s start with ‘you’. Even though there is a bit less pressure placed on this type of interview, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. You want this spot on the course, and you need to show this through enthusiasm and passion. Even if tomorrow, you decide it’s not necessarily the University for you; it is always good to get them to want you, in case you need a fall-back option.
You need to display a number of qualities from the moment you meet your tutor, to the end of the Interview: Appearance, Attitude, Confidence, Commitment and Passion.
Appearance You need to go dressed appropriately. Pick something that is smart, but casual. Make sure you’ve taken pride in your appearance. This will show that you take yourself seriously, which means you are more likely to take your course seriously. Unless you have an outstanding portfolio of work/grades that will set you apart from the rest of the crowd, you need to do everything you can to impress.
Note: A suit is not something that is required, as you will not likely be turning up to lectures in one, however, bear in mind that the higher up the league table the University, the more appropriately you will need to dress.
Attitude and Confidence These two areas are somewhat linked, so I will treat them as such for the purposes of the article. In order to display to an Interviewer that you are the right person for the course, you will need to display a lot of confidence, as well as a good attitude towards hard work.
Whilst some could argue that this is what your portfolio shows, you don’t want to hinge entirely on that. What if your interviewer doesn’t understand a certain piece of work? What if you’ve not tried explaining it to a person that won’t grasp it right away? It’s easy to convey it to peers/teachers who you are currently working with, but this level of explanation might not be enough for someone who hasn’t seen it before.
This is where the aspect of confidence comes in; being able to explain, not only your body of work, but yourself as an ideal student. If you can’t talk about your work confidently, then trust me, it is much more difficult to talk about yourself.
However, confidence is a double-edged blade. The right amount can work wonders, but there is a point where too much becomes arrogance, and this gives off the wrong Attitude.
Be respectful! I cannot stress this enough, but your tutor is an experienced professional with years behind them, in their particular field. They have either come directly from the Industry, or have taught many students in the years before. Nothing gives off the worst impression by showing a lack of respect, not just to them, but also to your willingness to work. If they think that you’re likely to have the wrong attitude to work, they are much less likely to take you on, as this could also affect the attitude of the other students.
Commitment Your commitment to your course can be shown in many factors occurring on the day of your interview; from your arrival time, to greeting your interviewer, to asking questions and even saying goodbye. These, and many more, are all important factors that need to be taken into consideration. Whilst it is impossible to list these all, as long as you follow the advice for the previous qualities, you will surely show that you are willing to be a committed student.
Passion And last, but by no means least, Passion. Interviewers love to see passion; it shows that a potential student will be more committed to achieving. Passion is unbound enthusiasm, it is what can save a bad interview from going worse. It might turn the odds in your favour, even if your subject knowledge is less than that of others.
How passionate you are is not something that can really be taught, it can be overcompensated for and essentially faked, but that will eventually wear off when the work gets hard. It comes from your desire to want to do the course, and if you are feeling unsure of it at around this stage, it might not be the course for you. Still, attend the interview, you can ask questions about the aspects of the course you might not know about, and find out more about the ones you do. It might make you fall more in love with the idea of being a programmer, designer or an artist.
Now that we have honed you into an Interview machine, let’s take a look at your portfolio; your body of work that defines you, that shows your capability for the subject area.
What we’ve talked about so far can be applied to your work. Any examples of your work, whether they are hobbyist or portfolio pieces, can speak volumes about you as a student.
I answered a question on the forums a while back, about a student writing his/her personal statement. In doing so, I drew from my own experiences and advice given to me, and found that there were 4 HUGE benefits to what bringing your own work can demonstrate. This is especially true if the work was done in your spare time!
The four benefits are your ability towards:
Overcoming learning hurdles
Let's talk about each of these individually:
Overcoming Learning Hurdles Your work, whether it be your ‘best’, or ‘worst’, can say a lot about your ability to overcome the hurdles that inexperience will put in your way. Seeing there is a problem, searching books and the internet (making brief notes of references like forum posts, text passages), and applying the information from these to your own product. This is extremely important as it shows self-motivation in problem solving, two things which my lecturers instilled within me.
Time-management A definite skill to demonstrate as it shows you won't be the student that lets the course, along with its numerous module assignments, get the better of them.
Self-motivation This gives them an opportunity to see visually what you are capable of whilst also allowing them to identify your relevant experience. A student that shows this is better than one with near to no experience, who loses motivation after they realise the introductory 'Hello World' lesson might be all they can achieve.
Identifying faults This can apply to two areas, the first being faults in the work, with the second being faults in your journey. The work could be linked to things such as inefficient code solutions, or too high a poly-count in a 3D Model.
The second is identifying where in the project you could have done things more efficiently, such as allowing more time on parts with limited knowledge. This could lead to you saying "next time I will make a list of what needs to be done, I will order this list based on things I know can be completed from easiest to hardest." This demonstrates that you can complete the tasks you know can be done quickly and where you excel, whilst allowing more time for the things that require research. You don't get bogged down going "I've spent so much time researching, that I missed out on [insert easy objective here]'s 1-5 and now they haven't turned out as great.
You will have so many assignments, to be worked on in parallel, that the less time spent on the easy parts, the more you have for those that get extra marks.
Independent learning is such a huge focus; a portfolio shows your competency to this vastly different area of education.
What you should bring
Now that I’ve talked about the general points of bringing your own work, I’ll quickly mention what you could bring, based on the type of course you’re applying for.
Programming If you want to be a programmer, bring along any examples of software you have made. They can be small ‘I messed around with [insert Programming Language here] demo’ to single level 2D games. As long as you know it will run on any machine, and bring along the source code with you, then these will make a good impression.
As a side note: not every university will essentially be looking for additional programming work, if you have a solid background/grades in Mathematics, Sciences, Computing or any other relevant areas then this can, and should be, enough in a lot of cases to see you through. The additional work will aid in your chances.
Note: It is important with executable files, to test it on as many machines of differing specifications as possible. There is nothing worse than turning up with a demo, only for it not to run. If there is a risk that your software might not run, make a video of the main features, and make sure that you have your source code, in a ready-to-show format.
Art For artists it is mostly a requirement that you have a body of work for these sorts of interviews. You need to show the ability to draw, to be creative, that you have a good understanding of the human form/anatomy. Depending on the course, you might also be required to show skills with electronic art software such as Photoshop, In-Design, 3D Modelling Suites and the like. If you have done any work using these programs, then now is a good time to show it, and the techniques used in creating it.
Design To be a designer is to have an understanding and appreciation of the above two areas, as well as all other apsects about games in general. It is difficult to define this one, as there are so many Game Design courses nowadays, and the level of content can vary wildly from one to the next.
One good piece would be a presentation of a game idea that you have. You could define its genre, the main characters, a general plot and how the game will play. You could also include aspects of similar games, or games with similar mechanics; show what they did well that could be adapted to your idea, show what you might improve on.
This shows you have ideas that are not necessarily tied to one specific genre/mechanic, and have an appreciation of the processes involved in game making.
For a solid presentation, try to incorporate a couple of self-made art pieces, maybe of the main character, or a logo. Even if they aren’t great, they help to convey the concept better, and that’s a big part of Design.
The topic of how to tackle interviews is incredibly subjective. It all comes down to what you are interviewing for, who the interviewer is and what is required in the way of preparation. My aim with this article was to give prospective University Interviewees a general overview of what to expect, as well as a springboard to find out more information. My best advice; talk to the University. If you are unsure, or a letter for interview is vague, call them back, find out what they want from you on the day, and make sure you are as prepared as you can be.
This is your chance to have a complete one on one with a course tutor, to show yourself off to the best of your ability. This is your last step in making the very best impression you can, to lead into a University degree programme.
Finally, I hope you have enjoyed reading these articles, as much as I enjoyed writing them. Whilst I will not be writing any more sequenced entries, there might be a point where additional topics may be covered. Think of them as 'Bonus' entries. Once again, thank you.
Before completing my Bachelors in Computer Game Development, I went through two Universities, each playing host to a very different course. Even though these courses had similar names, they differed greatly in structure and content and this is where I started to realise that this incredibly interesting subject could be taught in an infinite number of ways.
My journey took me to my first University and at this time, admittedly, I went mainly with the social aspect as my drive. Don’t mistake me, I wanted a degree, but it took a back-seat for a small amount of time. It wasn’t until part way through this first year that I realised, I need to start again. I wasn’t even doing badly at my studies; every module was at an average pass rate of 50-80% and heck, in one of my assignments I scored 99/100. It’s just that I didn’t understand fully what I was doing. Maybe I wasn’t ready, or maybe it made me into the person I graduated as. So, I reaffirmed my wanting to do a degree in the first place, that I want to be a part of this thriving industry, to get back that feeling of excitement of when I used to imagine making games when I was younger.
At my second University, I made sure I did everything I could to be as involved as possible. I volunteered to be course representative. I attended numerous meetings with Course/Department heads to; raise issues and concerns from my peers, provide input on how the course could be changed (at this time it was only in its infancy, and there was a bit of fragmentation between units) and work closely with tutors to ensure that students were getting the most out of the course. I graduated with a First Class Honours overall and was one of the top of my class.