National Post (Latest Edition)

Acing the school interview

- Denise Deveau

A critical — and often nerve-wracking — part of the acceptance process in private schools is the interview.

“Schools will want to interview the parents and the child — sometimes together, sometimes individual­ly,” says Janyce Lastman, educationa­l consultant and director, The Tutor Group in Toronto. “It’s essential to determinin­g if the child is the right fit. “As good as your child’s grades are and as impressive the entrance package is, a bad interview can keep you out. That applies to the child or the parents.”

Lastman has advised many families on how to prepare for school interviews, and knows what makes a good impression and what will fall short of the mark with schools.

First, it’s imperative that all essential family members take part. “Schools get rattled when there’s more than one parent involved with the child but only one shows up. That gives a message that it’s one parent’s agenda and the other is not on board.” If one can’t come for a good reason, bring a written statement that confirms they support it, or set up a separate interview for them.

For the interview, there is a lot parents can do to prepare their kids. “It’s important to have an interactio­n with the interviewe­r, rather than simply responding mechanical­ly to rehearsed questions. What they want is to find out who they are as a person.”

Interviews usually include two sets of questions — standard ones used for all students, such as favourite subjects. There are also specialty questions that may be based on their entrance package. “Make sure your child is familiar with that package, since it was probably sent in two or three months earlier,” Lastman says.

When answering more challengin­g questions, encourage them to phrase things honestly but positively. “Kids need help with that. If they say a lot of negative things about their school or a subject, it won’t come across well.”

Specialty questions can get tricky, Lastman notes. “You can’t know what questions will be asked so you have to be prepared for almost anything. If your kid is caught off guard, it’s okay for them to ask the interviewe­r to rephrase it or for a bit of time to can think about the answer. The worst thing they can do is say ‘I don’t know.’ ”

Also remember that the interview is not the only assessment going on. Parents and kids are being observed by staff while waiting in the reception area and while on the tour. “The tour is in fact part of the interview process,” Lastman cautions. “Be sure to observe and express interest in what you are seeing.”

There are smaller things to consider that can make a world of difference, Lastman says. Greeting your interviewe­r is one. “Manners are important. A simple thing like a proper handshake with eye contact and a smile is something that’s not wired in, even with older kids.”

Kids shouldn’t wear long ties or jewellery that they might fiddle with when nervous, she says. “You can agree on a silent signal if you notice they are fidgeting, so they can apologize and correct it. They don’t have to be perfect.”

Parents should not review tips or criticize kids in the waiting room, or direct or interrupt them in the interview. “You can prompt them if they have forgotten something, but wait until you get to the car to snap back into being mom or dad.”

Leave electronic devices turned off and in the car while you visit. “That goes for parents and kids. You can always bring a dot- to- dot or doodle pad for the kids while they are waiting.”

When the child is asked to bring a favourite item, don’t overdo it by showing up with their latest science project or robot masterpiec­e. “They would rather see a child bringing something meaningful to them, like a card from a grandparen­t, or favourite rock that they can talk about.”

And don’t lie to impress. Interviewe­rs will figure out if your kid’s ‘favourite book’ is one they actually read.

If a child is not accepted, families must understand that it’s not a failure. “What they may be saying is they don’t think your child will be happy at their school. Isn’t that better than having then take your money?”

If a child is offered a spot, don’t feel you have to accept it. “That’s extremely important to remember. As a parent it’s your responsibi­lity to ensure it is the right fit.”

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