Preparing to Interview for Admission to a Private School
Interviewing for admission to an independent school is a wonderful experience for students and a great way to practice skills that are useful for applying to college and for life after college. Applying to a private school should be a positive experience for everyone involved and the interview should be framed in a way that makes the student feel excited rather than nervous.
Recently, I had a parent describe to me a grueling process that her child went through while preparing for an interview at a private day school in New York City. The family had hired a professional firm who ran an interview prep program that included practicing answers to 50 different questions and even walking through a park to simulate a tour! In my opinion, rule number one is not to get caught up believing that such preparation is necessary. In my experience of working in five different independent schools, the interview process today should be relaxed and authentic.
After all, the goal is for the family and the school to discern if the school is the best fit, not to put on a performance.
That being said, we all want to put our best foot forward and there are certainly some tried and true tips for accomplishing this goal.
- Review materials about the school: Prior to visiting, parents and students should spend time on the school’s website, watch any videos, and review other materials provided by the school. Personally, I love when a student engages with me about something unique to my school. It feels good to know that someone took the interview seriously enough to do some preparation and this preparation also reassures me that the student will have the same serious attitude toward schoolwork.
- Have some questions ready: At some point during every interview, I have to imagine that the interviewer will ask, “What questions do you have for me?” It is fine to have a list of questions written down, as it can be nerve-wracking to try to come up with questions on the spot. Asking questions also shows an admission officer that the student and family are interested in the school.
- Dress appropriately: Business casual is always a safe bet for an interview, but it is also fine to ask the admission office about the school’s dress code if it is not specifically outlined in the admission materials, or on the website.
- Be aware of etiquette in the time of Covid: In the world of Covid handshakes may well be a thing of the past, but all students should still be ready to shake hands firmly and to make eye contact. Also, it is a nice gesture to stand up when the admission officer comes to greet you in the waiting room and to be ready to introduce yourself. Masks will also likely be required on school visits, and it is also important to wear your mask properly, covering your mouth and nose. Hopefully, this piece of advice will not be necessary forever.
- Interact appropriately with the student tour guide: Many schools ask current students to accompany or even lead their tours. It is good for the prospective student to be aware of this possibility and to be able to show socially appropriate interactions. A student should ask thoughtful questions at appropriate times and should listen carefully to the answers. Students should not use their cell phones during the visit and parents should also set a good example by avoiding theirs, as well.
- Practice interviewing on Zoom: Many admission offices are also conducting virtual interviews, either as the only interview or the first step before an in-person interview. Being able to effectively interview virtually takes practice to be sure you can be understood and that you come across as relaxed.
Each admission office has a unique way of orchestrating their on-campus visits. Don’t be shy about asking for information about the format, or about sharing any information in advance. In admission, we always feel that more information is always better. Last but certainly not least, enjoy your tours and have fun with the interview process!