If you are in the process of evaluating different private and independent school options for your child then you know that most, if not all, schools require parents to sit for an admissions interview.
Sometimes, the interview will take place during an already scheduled campus tour; other times, it will be a standalone event later in the application process. Virtual interviews became popular during COVID and many schools will still offer them as a matter of convenience. Interviews are an important part of the admission process, but who actually interviews you will vary. Whether it is the Admission Director, a member of the admission team or an administrator, one thing is certain: The admissions interview is an important moment, and parents may feel anxious about the role it plays in the already daunting process of searching prospective schools for the right fit for their child.
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Why Do Private Schools Interview Parents?
Parent interviews are a chance for the private school admissions director to get to know parents and prospective students. The process is a perfect way for both parties to get the information they need to make a decision on whether or not it is a good fit.
The process might be filled with common questions used by private school directors to not only familiarize themselves with prospective students’ families, but also humanize them. This is the perfect way to determine what the student and their family can contribute to the overall community and if everyone’s personal values are aligned.
How Can Parents Prepare for a Private School Admissions Interview?
If a parent or child has their heart set on a particular school, the admissions interview can be seen as a make or break moment. But it is important to remember that the admissions interview isn’t just a chance for the school to evaluate you; it’s also an added opportunity for you to evaluate the school and make sure that it is truly the right fit for your family.
This is why it is critical to come to a school admissions interview with some questions of your own, so that you can walk away better informed and better able to make the best possible decision about your child’s future.
In order to make the process a bit easier, we have compiled a list of interview questions that all parents should ask during the admissions interview process.
Questions for Parents to Ask During a Private School Admission Interview
1. What does a typical school day look like?
There is no better way for a parent to get a clear understanding of whether or not their child would fit in at a particular school than by understanding what a typical school day looks like. This should include important logistics like:
- When does the school day start and end?
- What are the transportation options (bus vs. drop off vs. student driving, etc.)?
- What are the school’s breakfast and lunch options?
In addition to logistics, you should also have a clear sense of what a typical class looks like, what a typical class schedule might entail and, if it is a religious school, what daily or weekly worship looks like.
While the interview itself can offer valuable insights into the typical school day, it can also be wise to ask to observe classes if you have not done so already.
Of course, the concept of typical was upended during the pandemic. Though most schools are pretty much back to normal, you may want to ask what the school’s COVID mitigation efforts look like now. If they are not planning, you may want to look elsewhere.
2. What classes or programs does the school offer that help it stand out from other schools in the area?
When it comes to developing curriculum, independent schools have a lot more freedom than public schools, which are limited by state and federal law. Because of this increased freedom, many independent schools are able to offer specialized, unique classes and coursework that can’t be found elsewhere.
These increased opportunities are one of the primary reasons that parents and children consider independent schools over public schools. As such, you should feel free to find out exactly what those opportunities are. In addition to understanding the core curriculum, also be sure to ask questions about special electives which make the school unique.
While academics are an important consideration at all stages in your child’s education, they are particularly important in middle school and high school, as your child prepares to enter college.
At the same time, you might ask the admissions counselor to explain how the virtual learning experience is different at their school versus others that you may be considering. Even if the plan is for classes to resume face-to-face in the fall, it is better to understand now what virtual learning might look like in case it becomes necessary in the future.
3. What is the school’s educational philosophy?
To truly know whether or not a school is a good fit for your child, you will need to ask them about their educational philosophy.
Do they embrace hands-on, exploratory learning? Do they take a collaborative approach, where students are encouraged to work in teams to solve problems? Does cutting-edge technology play a large part in the educational process? Do teachers tend to follow a more traditional teacher-as-lecturer approach?
None of these philosophies or teaching strategies is inherently right or wrong. But you will understand more than anyone else how your child best learns, and you should use that knowledge to choose a school that will mesh with your child’s needs as best as possible.
4. What extracurricular activities are available to students?
Understanding the extracurricular activities that will be available to your child at every school you are considering is just as important as understanding the school’s academics. Clubs and teams help your children to build social skills, develop interests and talents that can’t be explored in a traditional classroom setting, build confidence, and allow for lifelong memories and friendships.
For those reasons, it’s important for you to make sure that whatever school you ultimately choose for your child offers at least one extracurricular activity that you know would appeal to your child. Examples might include:
- If your child is an athlete, what sports or leagues does the school participate in?
- If your child is a musician, what opportunities for band or orchestra exist?
- If your child is an actor, does the school put on yearly plays or have a drama club?
- If your child is a globetrotter, does the school offer language clubs or yearly trips?
While it may be easy to gloss over the question of extracurricular activities while you are trying to evaluate schools based on their distance learning protocols and safety factors due to COVID-19, this remains an important piece of the puzzle. Friendships and social connections are more important now than ever before, and ideally you will choose a school that recognizes that fact. With this in mind, during your interview, don’t be afraid to ask questions around this topic, including:
- What steps is the school taking to continue to foster a sense of community during the pandemic?
- How has social distancing impacted the clubs, sports, or other extracurricular activities my child might have participated in?
- If meeting in person is not possible, does the school offer digital options for students?
5. Is there a “typical student” that the school recruits?
Just as parents evaluate a school to make sure that it is a good fit for their child, independent schools also often evaluate prospective students in order to decide whether or not that child will be a good fit for the school. Whether or not the school actively recruits students, there is very likely to be a “typical student” profile that they keep an eye out for while evaluating candidates.
These profiles may include anything from test scores to past extracurricular activity to leadership experience and more. Some schools, for example, might only evaluate candidates based on academic performance. Others might have a culture that prides itself on sports achievements, which would naturally make them inclined to prefer athletes. Knowing whether or not your child fits the mold of their “typical student” can help give you a sense of what life would be like for your child if they were to be accepted to the school—an important takeaway for any parent.
6. What are the school’s safety policies?
No matter the grade level, safety is always top of mind for parents. You are going to be potentially entrusting your child to this school; you should feel comfortable asking the school about their safety policies, standards, and protocols.
Especially now, you might also wish to include questions around hygiene. For example:
- Do you require students to wear a mask at all times while on campus?
- How many students will be in a classroom at any given time?
- How far apart will desks and other study areas be spaced?
- How frequently will the school be “deep cleaned”?
- Have you taken any measures to improve ventilation in enclosed areas within the school?
- In the event that a member of the community (whether a student or faculty member) contracts COVID-19, what are the protocols to limit its spread?
7. What about the school are you, as an administrator, most proud of?
Who better to ask about a school’s key selling points than the admissions team? Make sure that you take the time at some point during your admissions interview to ask the interviewer what about the school they are most proud of.
This will give you an insider’s perspective about what makes the school special, which can be incredibly helpful when you make your final decision. Responses to this question are likely to vary pretty widely, but common answers might revolve around statistics (class size, graduation rate, college matriculation rates, etc.).
8. What are the next steps?
Though this question is likely already top of mind for you as you evaluate schools, when the interview is over you should be sure to ask about the next steps in the process.
Will there be any follow up interviews with yourself or your child? Is a campus tour available? Do you have the opportunity to speak with current parents, faculty, teachers, or coaches to learn more about the school? What materials do you need to submit and when are they due, and, of course, when will you have a final decision?
Evaluating a Private School
Choosing the right school for your child is critical to ensuring that their future is as bright and fulfilled as possible. Asking the questions above can help you to make a more informed decision on the best school experience for your child. In addition to what we’ve outlined above, you should also ask any other questions that you are truly concerned about or interested in, which you think would help you better evaluate your options.
Remember, this isn’t just an opportunity for the school to interview you; it’s an opportunity for you to interview the school.