by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
Once you've decided that attending a college preparatory school is the right thing to do to advance your educational goals, the next step is choosing the best prep school. Once you have narrowed your choices to a select few, the final step -- for both you and the prep school -- is the interview. The interview is a chance for you to shine, to showcase your fit with the school, or explain weaknesses in your academic record.
The purpose of this article is to show you how to succeed in your prep school interview. Here are the eight most important things you need to do to excel in your quest.
1. Prepare for Each Interview. Thorough research is an essential element of interview preparation. You should have a solid understanding of the school and its guiding principles, as well as knowledge about the backgrounds of the people interviewing you. The more you know, the more you can succeed in wowing your interviewers with your knowledge, and the better you can judge whether the school is a good fit for you.
2. Develop Answers to Tough Questions. Expect some challenging questions about why you want to attend the school, who you are as a student and person (including your academic qualifications), and what you're doing to overcome any obstacles or deficiencies in your academic record. In preparing your answers, consider specific anecdotes or stories to help illustrate your point. The more you prep for your interview, the more confident you'll become.
3. Dress Appropriately. Many prep schools have a dress code, and whenever possible, you should dress accordingly. At a minimum, young men should be in an oxford shirt, pressed slacks, and comfortable shoes. (You might also consider wearing a sport coat, sweater, or tie.) Young women should wear a conservative blouse and skirt or dress, with comfortable shoes. Remember the importance of first impressions -- and you want to look like you fit in at the school with your interview attire. (When in doubt, ask about attire.)
4. Stick to Safe Topics. While the interview can sometimes stray from the challenging topics and become more conversational, remember that you are being judged at all times. Use the rule of social settings and avoid controversial topics such as religion, sex, and politics. It's much better to stick to topics that showcase your knowledge, interests, and academic prowess.
5. Provide Detailed Responses. The interview is your chance to shine -- your chance to show that you have the credentials to be admitted. Thus, avoid providing short and one-word responses to interview questions. If the interviewer asks a yes-or-no question, provide an answer -- but do so with a detailed explanation of that answer.
6. Show Interest, Enthusiasm, and Confidence. In almost any interview situation, the three most important things you can do are to show interest, enthusiasm, and confidence. Part of the secret for doing so is thoroughly researching the school (including teachers, administrators, and alumni), but the other part is using body language, especially posture, eye contact, and smiling. Remember to talk up your achievements -- this is your one chance to brag a bit about yourself (as long as you don't take your confidence too far and come off as arrogant or egotistical.)
7. Ask Questions. One of the greatest secrets of securing a successful interview is to ask pertinent and insightful questions during your interview. Not only will these questions showcase your research and intellectual abilities, but some of the answers you receive may help you in your decision about which school is the best fit for you. (And yes, you can ask similar questions about the school in each interview -- that way you can obtain multiple perspectives to the same question.)
8. Send Thank-You Notes. People unquestionably like to be appreciated for their efforts, and there's no better way to show the school's faculty and administrators who took the time to meet with you that you appreciate them than by writing each of them a personal thank-you note. (An email is generally acceptable.) And here's a tip -- you can also use the thank-you note as a way to reinforce your fit with the school and your desire to attend.
Final Thoughts on Prep School Interviews
As with everything that has value in life, you have to be prepared to work hard to achieve your dreams -- including the work that needs to be put into preparing (and succeeding) in preparatory school interviews.
Just remember to pace yourself. If you are like most teens, you have a list of schools you're interested in attending -- some of which may be in close proximity to each other. Even though it may be more convenient to fit several in a day, it's much better to space out the interviews -- even if just for a day -- to give you the time to recover, reflect, and recharge from each interview before heading to the next.
Finally, remember that from the moment you walk onto the campus, everything counts. The student who gives you the tour will have something to say about you -- as will everyone else you interact with until you leave the campus. Always be on your best behavior, with an eye on the prize -- remembering that you want to come off as confident, competent, and friendly -- and a good fit to the school.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Find all the career information, prep and high school articles, and college-planning advice and in tools that we offer teens at Quintessential Careers: Teenage Jobs, Careers, and College -- Including College and Career Choices.