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How to prepare your child for a school interview

An important step in a senior school’s admissions process is the dreaded interview, often the final hurdle before receiving an offer. Having worked with thousands of students from all over the world, many vying for places to both boarding and day schools around the UK, and having discussed at length with admissions tutors and registrars from various schools, we’ve put together some of our learnings to help you prepare for ‘the school interview’!

Disclaimer: an excellent interview cannot overcome terrible exam results. So, the first step is ensuring that you are prepared for the entrance exams!

What are schools looking for in an interview?

Simply put, schools use the interview to determine whether your child will flourish at their school. Will they take part in extra-curricular (co-curricular) activities? Will they join a sports team? Try drama? Play an instrument? Volunteer? Get excellent GCSE and A-level results?

The interview is designed to look out for students who will be an excellent fit; those students who will benefit from and contribute to the school’s community. So, when preparing for a school interview, it’s important to research the school beforehand, and understand what types of students they are looking for. Once we have this information, we can start preparing for each school individually.

From our experience interviews have 4 distinct parts, and we’ve taken the time to break them down so you don’t have to! So, let’s get started.

1. Self-Introduction

In any interview, you start off by introducing yourself. School interviews are no different. The beginning always requires a simple, yet confident self-introduction. This is usually followed by small talk with the interviewer who will usually try to settle any nerves. You’ll be asked simple questions that could range from the weather, your journey to the school, or even about how your day was.

Example Introduction:

- “Good morning, sir/ma’am, it’s good to meet you. My name is Tom. How are you doing?”

- “I’m very well, Tom. How’s your day been so far today?”

2. Academic & co-curricular

The next phase of the interview is what we like to call the academic & co-curricular stage. Here, the interviewer wants to know more about you, your school life, subjects that you like and dislike, books you’ve read, sports or musical instruments that you play, and any other hobbies you might have. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your strengths and interests, and everything that you will bring to the school.

Example questions:

- “Have you read any good books recently? Who was it by? Can you describe it for me?”

- “Do you play any sports?”

- “What do you like and dislike about your school?”

- “Do you have a favourite or least favourite subject? Why?”

3. Analytical

Not every school interview has an analytical segment, but it’s important to understand what it is, in case you’re asked these types of questions. These questions test how you solve problems, or demonstrate knowledge within a specific topic. There’s rarely a right or wrong answer to these types of questions; they’re all testing how you arrive at your answer. These types of questions can be based on a hobby you have, a current global situation (in 2020, and 2021, almost every student we’ve worked with has been asked something to do with the COVID-19), or even an opinion on an everyday matter. The key is to show the reasons for your answer.

Example questions:

- “If you were Prime Minister, how would you solve COVID-19?”

- You mentioned that you don’t like your school lunches: if you were headmaster, how would you improve them?”

- What would you do with a million pounds?”

- “You’re a fencer, can you explain the difference between sabre and foil to me?”

4. Motivation

In the final part of the interview, they want to know why you to go to their school. In preparation for this, it’s important to do as much research as you can about the school; look on their website, and search them up on Google to see if there’s anything notable that’s happened recently. If you’re lucky enough to know someone who’s attended the school, ask them for their opinion, what they liked and disliked about it. If your teachers are familiar with the school, ask them for their advice. Remember: you must demonstrate your enthusiasm for why you want to go there!

Example Questions:

- Why do you want to come here?

- What are you most looking forward to after starting here?

- What are you dreading the most after starting?

Finally, at the end of the interview, you will be asked if you have any questions. The questions you ask are important because they will show how much research you’ve done about the school. Poor questions are ones where answers are easily available online (eg. “Do you have football teams?”). Good questions are ones where you demonstrate knowledge about the school, and use that to learn more about something.

Example Questions:

- I’m really interested in starting the piano, but I’ve never played before. Can I start learning as a complete beginner?

- Will we be allowed to use the science lab in our free time if we want to try our own experiments?

Final Takeaways

Once you understand the various segments of the interview, and what schools are looking for, preparation becomes a matter of practice. First, they want to get to know you, your likes and dislikes, your strengths, and weaknesses. Then, they want to see how you deal with challenges and problems. Finally, they want to know why you’d like to join and if you have any questions for them.

As a side note, though more and more interviews are taking place online, we recommend being groomed well, wearing a clean school uniform, and most importantly of all, smiling and being polite!

All that’s left is for us to wish you the best of luck!

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