The Parent Interview: An Expert's Advice

Private school admission interviews can be stressful. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you prepare.

It’s that time of year. Parents are visiting schools all over the country and attending parent admissions interviews. You may benefit from these guidelines below. There are an infinite number of dos and don’ts — this is merely a selection.

1. Be exactly who you are.

You don’t want to spend 13 years of K–12 pretending to be the person you portrayed yourself as in the parent interview, but aren’t — and neither does any school in its right mind. Whoever you are is not only good enough, it’s great!

2. Stand together.

Parents (particularly ones who are divorced) need to present a united front at school interviews, tours, and open houses. Rehearse if you have to. The focus should be your academic goals for your child and your expectations for the school. Schools are very sensitive to warring parents, married or not, as this becomes a disruptive issue very quickly for all concerned.

3. Don’t inflate your ethnic claims.

Don’t overstate what might be obvious and try not to exaggerate what is not. Try to remember that mentioning your child is 0.002 percent Native American usually translates like this: you’re a parent trying to get your kid accepted using any loophole possible. Admissions people have seen it a gazillion times. Your ethnic identity should be one you associate yourself with and connect to outside of the interview.

4. Don’t name drop.

Knowing parents, teachers, and/or board members at a school has no verbal weight in an admissions visit. Everyone knows someone, so these contacts ultimately become meaningless, and possibly offensive. If, for example, power parents or board members dictate to admissions who to accept, then what, ultimately, is the point of there being an admissions staff? Always consider what types of “contacts” and “references” you’re using. We once had a client who had the Vatican write a letter recommending her child to a top choice private Catholic school. The admissions director was left wondering if the Pope knew the kid so well, did he accompany her on Gymboree class runs? Drop by to play “Candyland”? Think about how it looks and sounds before you barrage the admissions staff with names.

5. Admissions directors and staff are not your best friends.

Many are welcoming, jovial, and polite, but the boundaries are real and exist for a reason. These people may have to reject your child, and they know how difficult that is to do if they have a established an intimate friendship with you, the parents. So, they generally don’t. Be kind and engaging, but know where the line in the sand is drawn.

6. Close the checkbook.

Never, ever offer a school a donation if you are an applicant and your child has not yet been accepted. This is, in no uncertain terms, a bribe. If you feel like donating a new middle school once your child attends the school, fine. But before you receive an admissions decision, it is a true no go. Don’t even mention it in an admissions interview.

7. Don’t ask to impress.

Instead, ask about issues and subjects you are genuinely curious about. Don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions around discipline, behavioral consequences, and remedial resources. Admissions people will not think you are asking because you have an issue with your own child that you don’t wish to disclose; they will answer the questions without judgment.

8. Listen before you talk.

Pay attention to what an admissions director or staff member says or doesn't say about a school. This is how you make an educated guess (and that is all it is) about whether a school is a good fit for your child and family. By listening, you may learn that a school you never thought was right is ideal, and another that you honestly believed would offer the best opportunities doesn’t, as these opportunities pertain to your child. There is no perfect school for everyone, and no school that is “the worst” for everyone, either.

Finally, try to remember that the entire experience of a child’s education from preschool admissions through med school graduation depends heavily on the level of support coming from both school and home. Particularly before college (and often in college or beyond, on a different level), educating a child takes a team effort. Parents are an important part of that team. I don’t mean "helicopter parents," who are only interested in their own child, but, rather, the ones who are interested in the growth, maturity, and education of their child as well as his or her peers. Embrace this concept. It is the basis for successful parent interaction with admissions, all of school, and with your own children.

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