Acing the Admissions Interview
How to Make Your Visit Stress-Free
by Susan Flowers
For parents and students alike, applying to a new school can benerve-wracking. And no aspect of the process is more likely to produce butterflies than the admissions interview. Many, but not all, independent schools want to meet face-to-face with prospective students and their parents, to get a sense of the student as a person and gauge how he or she might fit with the school. This can be an intimidating prospect for many, but much of the anxiety that accompanies this get-to-know-you conversation can be easily avoided.
The first step is to take the mystery out of the process. The interview is simply a chance for the school and the child to get to know each other, says Reid Preston Mizell, director of admissions at the Atlanta International School. “Interviews give students a good opportunity to tell their story, to tell us about their passions and are a good opportunity for us to know them in a way we couldn’t from an application form,” she says. You should also view this as a time to ask questions of the school, she adds.
One key cause of stress is the idea that getting into a good school means beating out your competition. Jockeying for a few coveted slots with throngs of other parents and children can distract from the fact that another school might be a better fit.
“Parents start feeling badly if their children aren’t at a particular school, when the child might be better served by being somewhere else,” says Marjorie Mitchell, director of admissions and financial aid at the Westminster Schools.
Preparing for your interview is crucial but over-preparing is a common mistake. Over-preparing is a common mistake. Sitting a child down at your kitchen table and urging them to brag about themselves is unlikely to lead to a good result. But letting them chat with someone outside the family, such as a fellow church member, can be good practice.
No Right Answers
Likewise, striving to produce just the right answer to expected questions can be counter-productive. “The only thing we’re looking for is an authentic sense of who the child is,” Mitchell says. “What you really want is to make sure the child ends up at what I call a jump-out-of-the-car-happy school. If this is not a good fit, you want to find out then [during the interview], not after you’ve been there for several months.”
The admissions process is “not like math class, where everybody’s got to have the same answers,” says Russell Slider, vice president and dean of admissions at It comes out too quickly and is way beyond the kid’s years. This should simply be a conversation that flows genuinely and naturally and doesn’t appear to be a script.”
Both Slider and Mitchell stress the importance of learning a school’s interview format beforehand. While some schools conduct interviews one-on-one, others use a group process, with one interviewer for three or four children. Some schools interview children alone, while at others, parents sit in on the conversation. Knowing what to expect will allow both parent and child to feel more at ease.
Debbie Lange, director of admission and financial aid at the Lovett School, says that parents shouldn’t try to take over. “During an interview, let the child be the applicant,” she says. “The child should show self-confidence, be able to speak and show genuine interest. There is a give and take involved in the interview process. The child should be a discerning customer and ask the questions that are important to the child. Ultimately, schools are looking for students and families who want to be there, who show interest and have good questions about the school.”
Remember that your goal isn’t necessarily to get into one particular school, but to find the right school. Approaching the admissions interview with the right attitude can go a long way toward ensuring a successful fit.
DO'S AND DON'TS
- Learn the school’s interview format beforehand. Knowing what to expect will help your child feel more at ease.
- Inquire about the school’s dress code and dress appropriately.
- Ask questions. This is your chance to learn about the school, as well.
- Put all your hopes into one school. Realizing that Atlanta has a wealth of great schools can take some of the tension out of the interview process.
- Attempt to give the perfect answers. Encourage your child to be open, be interested, and above all, be him or herself.
- Schedule the interview for the child’s first visit to the school. Let him or her get comfortable with the campus ahead of time.