How To Prepare Your Child for Independent School Admissions Interviews

Most children and parents face the prospect of an independent school admissions interview with dread. After all, once the interview starts, there are no do-overs. However, with proper preparation your child will be ready to showcase her strengths and leave a positive impression.

An admissions interview can be an opportunity or a disaster. Proper preparation is the key to success.


Why Do Independent Schools Conduct Interviews?

Independent schools use interviews much the way colleges do. The interview is conducted in the hope of learnig about those aspects of your child not apparent from her academic transcript. Independent schools also use the interview to get a sense of your family and your child’s general demeanor, poise, and social skills.

Given these goals, your goal as a parent is to help your child provide the interviewer with a sense of your child’s passions and interests, and the experiences that have contributed to her development over time.

Because interviews weigh heavily in independent school admission decisions, all applicants should prepare. Here are five simple ways that you can help your child make a great impression during her admissions interview:


1. Appearance matters

I know this sounds obvious, but first impressions matter, and the first thing the interviewer is going to notice about your child (besides her smile… yes, she should practice smiling at everyone in the admissions office) is her clothing. Through the apt choice of her clothing, your child demonstrates her understanding of academic decorum, her respect for the institution, and the interview process. To dress appropriately, your child should dress in a way similar to that required by the school’s dress code. While determining the items to wear, should you and your child find yourself at odds about a sartorial choice, advise her to go conservative. This is not the moment to make an individual statement. Once clothes are determined, if they are uncomfortable, have your child practice wearing them around the house a few times until she feels comfortable in them, at least for an hour.


2. Behavior matters

Your child will probably be a little anxious the day of the interview. So that she doesn’t seem shy or hesitant entering the interview, at home, have her practice making eye contact as soon as she enters a room. On the day of the interview, make sure she has nothing in her pockets that she can fiddle with or that might make noise during the interview (coins, cell phones, retractable pens). Make sure that your child’s potentially distracting habits (finger knuckling, foot tapping) are under control the day of the interview. If your child has a difficult time staying focused without fidgeting, have her practice maintaining a composed demeanor in increasing time intervals, first five minutes, then ten, then fifteen, until she can maintain a distraction-free appearance for the thirty minutes the interview is likely to take. Also, help her project a confident and energetic appearance. If she’s a sloucher, encourage her to practice sitting up straight. Discourage leg crossing; a crossed legged posture looks too relaxed and may suggest to the interviewer that the student doesn’t care about the process taking place. Finally, help your child practice leaving the interview gracefully: stand, smile, confirm eye contact, shake hands, and say, “Thank you for the opportunity to come to the school and meet you.”


3. Help your child create a talking points agenda

Prior to the interview, work with your child to develop four or five interesting ideas about herself that she can use during the interview to showcase her strengths, aptitudes, and interests.  When thinking about your child’s talking points, ask yourself: What makes my child tick? What does she love? What does she get excited about? What aspects of herself can she talk about that she her to be an interested, eager, curious, confident, and empathic person?  What might you or your child regret not having mentioned during the interview? If your child faced a small crisis with aplomb, help her describe the incident and how she dealt with the problem. If she showed unusual resourcefulness during a moment in her life, help her practice succinctly and clearly describing that experience and her management of that incident. You needn’t avoid discussing problems; you just need to remember to put a positive spin on each experience chosen.

When developing these ideas, make sure not to retread aspects of her that are already known to the interviewer (for example, if your child is being recruited for an athletic scholarship, she should not spend interview time on her sport).

Finally, when developing talking points with your child, make sure that your child’s prepared interests pertain to opportunities and activities offered at the school at which she is interviewing.


4. Make sure that your child knows to avoid certain subjects

Remind your child that she should avoid criticizing her present school or teachers, giving the interviewer the impression that the school at which she is interviewing is a Plan B, mentioning financial difficulties, and discussing family mental health.


5. Help your child prepare questions

At the end of your child’s interview, she will be asked if she has any questions. If she doesn’t have any prepared, she may appear disinterested and unprepared. Her questions can be about almost any aspect of the school as long as the questions show her to be interested and interesting.


6. Practice, practice, practice

Once you and your child have prepared for the interview, she should practice with you and with someone she is less familiar with (a friend or neighbor). Once the mock interview is over, ask the mock interviewer what he or she learned about your child. Those responses will indicate to your areas of interview strength and areas that still need to be worked on before the interview.

Parents should see the admissions interview as an opportunity for their child to showcase the best of your child. With a little preparation, there is nothing to fear!


Dr. Osborn works with students from all over the world to help them reach their independent, college, and graduate school goals. Through a personal, one-on-one approach, Dr. Osborn creates an individualized plan for each student based on the student’s strengths, passions, and career aspirations. Her holistic approach helps students perform well in school and secure admission to top colleges.  

About The Author

Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.