Preparing For an Independent School Interview

September 18, 2012

By Bonnie Raskin

Bonnie is the Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship Program Coordinator at IEA and has extensive experience working with gifted middle school students to find the high school that best fits their individual intellectual and personal needs.

When applying to competitive, selective independent schools, many things count, including grades, test scores, extracurricular activities and the interview. Here is a basic list that will help students and parents get through this important part of the admissions process and allow the applicant to show yourself as the accomplished, unique person you are:

Student Applicants

Don’t panic! If it’s difficult or impossible for you to relax, think of the interview as a friendly get-to-know-you conversation and an opportunity for you to learn more about a prospective school as well as the interviewer to learn about you off paper as a multi-dimensional person.

If possible, try to secure an interview in the morning, when both you and your interviewer will be fresh. You want to look and be awake and attentive. Get plenty of sleep the night before and eat a nutritious breakfast.

Dress according to, but slightly nicer than, the school’s dress code. No jeans. Girls, if you tend to play with your hair when you’re nervous, tie it up and secure bangs out of your face. Guys, brush your hair.

Don’t slouch. Always sit with your legs together.

When you meet the interviewer, give a firm handshake, smile, look him or her in the eye and clearly enunciate your first and last name.

Two important elements to bring to a school interview are honesty and curiosity. If a tour of the school precedes or follows the interview, listen attentively and ask questions. It will make you appear more interested in the school and gives you a chance to listen instead of talking. If you’re someone who, when nervous, can’t always think on the spot, make a list of questions ahead of time after you’ve researched the school on its website.

Be original in your answers and be yourself! Honesty, remember? Never try to present yourself as someone you think the interviewer “wants” to see.

Do not mention repeatedly that this school is your number-one-top-choice unless it absolutely is. Even then, don’t go overboard, as it may appear ingenuous to the interviewer.

Always remember to appear cheerful. Don’t mumble or look bored. Keep eye contact.

If your parents are part of the interview, look at them when they talk and don’t look annoyed or embarrassed by their remarks. It makes a very bad impression if you don’t seem to get along with your parents.

When the interview is over, shake the interviewer’s hand and say, “Thank you for your time.” If offered the interviewer’s card, accept it graciously. Say goodbye and thank you to the receptionist if he or she is on your way out.

Write a nice thank you note. It should be brief but express an aspect of the interview that was personal to you. In other words, not a generic thank you. For example, if the interviewer addressed your love of art, mention that in your note. If you liked a particular building’s architecture, note that.

Do not, under any circumstances: slouch, wave to people you know who might pass by, stare off into space, interrupt or talk about any other school.


In preparing your son or daughter for a school interview, it is a good idea to explicitly discuss what the expectations are with them. This conversation should include the etiquette of an interview such as greeting, leave-taking with thanks, shaking hands and appropriate dress, which will depend on the school’s style.

If it’s likely that your child will be asked questions directly, you may wish to practice, but not to the extent that your child’s responses come off as rehearsed or canned. This is about making your child feel comfortable and prepared—not robotic.

Do not over-emphasize the importance of the interview so that your nerves become transmitted to your child.

Commonly Asked Interview Questions

  • Describe yourself or Tell me about yourself. This is a great way to segue into your interests, which should be an area you are comfortable talking about.
  • What appeals to you about this school? Why do you want to enroll here?
  • What extracurricular activities are you interested in?
  • Why should we select you?
  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • How will you benefit from attending this school?
  • Describe your family.
  • Do you have any questions about this school?

Above all, everyone involved in the interview process should remember to be relaxed, genuine, and honest. This is one aspect of a multi-tiered application process to help determine if the applicant and the school are the right fit for each other, not the be all and end all towards the holy grail of school admission.

Have you or your kids participated in independent school interviews? What tips do you have for other applicants and parents preparing for them? Please share in the comment section below.

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