The independent school admissions process varies greatly from one school to another. There is, however, one critical requirement that is truly universal--the interview. Students who apply to an independent school for admission to grades 6-12 are required to meet with an admissions officer in a one-on-one or small group setting. You worry as a parent that your child simply can’t have the maturity or know-how to converse in the manner required with a strange adult who is lobbing questions at your child. Yes, this can be anxiety producing for even the most savvy-minded parent. But, I’d like to help reframe your thinking on the admissions interview.
A Window into Your Child's Personality
The interview offers an admissions committee a window into your child’s personality--his or her academic and extra-curricular interests, unique passions, and other skills that matter to your son or daughter. Keep in mind that the interview can be as short as 10 minutes for a younger child and up to 45 for the high school candidate. The interviewer is focused on evaluating your child’s academic potential and overall personality by engaging them in a guided conversation that centers on your child’s current school experience, particular strengths--academic, as well as, athletic, artistic, service, leadership, and other special interests.
It may help to think of the interview as a detailed conversation for your child with a trained teacher. It is the job of the admissions officer to establish a rapport with your child. Admissions officers are student advocates. “We strive to get the best out of each and every child we meet,” is a remark from a director of admissions at a K-8 school in Maryland I enjoy sharing with my families. Admissions offices view their interactions with prospective candidates and their families as their number one priority. Knowing that the schools place extreme value on personal interactions with new families may shed new light on the interview process. It is important to remember that it is a two way street. You are evaluating a school in tandem while the school is interviewing you and your child.
The Fit is Important
While every school values different factors in the admissions process, all schools care greatly about your child’s academic and social fit in their program. Ideally, the interview will confirm that your child has the potential to encounter success in the program and will be a good match for the particular grade level in which your child will enter. Of course, this is not a given so it is your job as parent to do your research prior to visiting schools so that you do not find yourself halfway through an interview at a school that does not align with what you want for your child. It can be rather uncomfortable to listen to an admissions officer emphasize academics and the ingredients necessary to excel in the highly structured, rigorous program when you have a child who has a wildly creative side that would be undernourished without a strong studio arts program. Ask about the most important factors influencing the admission decision during your visit. Again, this demonstrates your and your child’s interest in the school community, which also plays a critical role throughout the admissions process.
Remember, you are the expert on your child. Think about how best to prepare your child for what to expect. The goal is to help your child display authentic interest, curiosity, and enthusiasm for the school. While not all admissions personnel are naturals at their job, most do facilitate an inviting experience with the student and are skilled interviewers. Many students enjoy being the center of attention when they are asked details about what they know best-- their school, teachers, friends, and special interests. Others, who may take a bit longer to warm up in such an intimate setting, may remain nervous and reserved throughout the interview.
Prepare Your Child for the Interview
Helpful tips to share with your child include the following:
- Body language is critical--How you say it matters just as much as what you say. Make good eye contact, smile, and be your-self.
- Appearance is important. Whether there is a uniform or dress code, encourage your child to look the part.
- Use specific examples to illustrate what you are saying. Sharing a poignant description about a teacher you admire or bringing to life the last 30 seconds of a tied soccer game is hard for any adult to forget. Admissions officers meet with many students each day. Anything you say to help an adult to readily recall you and your memorable anecdote is powerful.
- Come armed with questions for your interviewer. It speaks volumes to show that you have taken the time to read the school’s web site or view book and want to learn more. Ask questions to demonstrate sincere interest in a particular program or aspect of the school.
- Leave a positive impression on your interviewer. A formal “thank you” goes a long way. A hand written note or thoughtful email to your interviewer shows you mean what you say.
Do not, however, over-prep your child. Admissions officers cringe when they encounter students who offer mechanical responses to thoughtful questions that don’t offer any insight into how your child processes a novel question or idea. It can sink a strong applicant’s potential of acceptance. Sadly, this scenario is what jeopardized a wonderful 9th grade candidate I worked with for admission to a top-notch Washington, DC area independent day school. The director of admissions of his top-choice school said it best. “Everything was too perfect.”
Trust the process and remember that while the interview is important, it is one part of the many admissions requirements for your child. Parents play a critical role in the admissions process. Be on your best behavior and recognize that schools are assessing parents, as well as students, even at the high school division.
Clare Anderson is an educational consultant with over fifteen years of experience as a counselor, recruiters, and consultant for independent schools. She is also a guest writer for Tutorspree.