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How to prepare for a private school interview

Interviews are a crucial part of almost every private school’s admissions process. Whilst private school interviews can cause...

3 years ago

Interviews are a crucial part of almost every private school’s admissions process. Whilst private school interviews can cause stress and anxiety for parents and students, with the right preparation and guidance, they can become an opportunity to enjoy rather than a challenge to overcome. Whether your child is being interviewed as part of the 7+, 11+, 13+ or 16+, knowledge is power, and so here at Scholato we want to cover some of the most frequently asked questions around private school interviews so that parents and students can feel as happy and confident as possible.

Why do private schools interview pupils?

Simply put, interviews provide an opportunity for the school to assess candidates in a more holistic way rather than simply looking at results. Private schools are generally incredibly oversubscribed and often more pupils pass the entrance exam than there are places, and therefore schools need more information in order to decide which candidates they will offer places to. Interviews are often used to gauge a pupil’s interests and intellectual curiosity, as well as their ability to engage in conversation with an unfamiliar adult across a range of topics. This should hopefully tell the interviewer – as well as the student – whether they will be a good fit for the school.

What format does the interview take?

Students can normally expect to undertake one or two interviews, each one lasting between 15-40 minutes. Some schools interview on the same day as the entrance exam (particularly if it’s for a smaller intake, such as the 16+), whilst others may call back all students on later dates or just the students who have passed the entrance exam. 

The exact format of the interview will also vary from school to school – City of London School for Boys, for example, observes pupils in a group team-building exercise as well as an individual interview, whilst Rugby School asks students to fill out a questionnaire about hobbies and extracurricular activities in advance and then uses that as a starting point. 

How can I make a good impression at a private school interview?

For students, there are two main aspects to consider in order to make a good impression: firstly, the general way in which you present yourself, and secondly, the quality and depth of your answers.

For the former, body language is key. Students should remember to give a firm handshake, maintain eye contact, sit up tall and don’t slouch or fidget too much. They should give the interviewer their full attention and ensure they do not chew gum, check their phone, and, especially for younger students, try to resist the urge to indulge in nervous habits like biting nails or playing with their hair. Politeness also goes a long way, and students should remember to say please and thank you, hold doors open for people, and, if they are having lunch at the school, ensure good table manners.

Further, students should aim to be enthusiastic and detailed in their answers and, where possible, give examples to back up their skills, hobbies and interests. Whilst practice can definitely help, it is also important to remember that it is obvious to interviewers when responses are overly-scripted, and you want the conversation to be as natural and spontaneous as possible. 

Clearly some students will be more confident than others, and whilst interviewers will be skilled in coaxing and encouraging shyer or more reticent students, the discussion still needs to be a two-way process. The worst thing a student can do is simply sit there and not say anything, and so parents can help their children by preparing them on how to respond if they freeze up – for example, asking interviewers to repeat or clarify the question, or asking politely for some thinking time.

What sorts of questions are asked at a private school interview?

The exact questions asked will vary from school to school, but commonly asked questions include:

  • What are your best or favourite subjects?
  • What do you want to do when you leave school?
  • Why are you interested in our school? If you went on a tour, what did you like about the school?
  • Tell me about a challenge you have overcome?
  • Who in your life has been the greatest influence on you?
  • What will you do to contribute to our school?
  • What do you do for fun in your spare time? What are your hobbies / interests? 
  • What do you see yourself doing in 10 years time?
  • Do you read much? What books do you read? Do you have a favourite author or series?
  • What story in the news in the past few months has really caught your attention and why?
  • If you could solve one problem in the world, what would it be and why?

What should I wear to a private school interview?

For simplicity’s sake, most schools require or suggest that pupils wear their current school uniform to the interview. If this is not the case, then choose sensible smart-casual attire, and in general avoid jeans, leggings and anything too revealing or informal like a t-shirt. Many private schools have strict uniform dress codes and so you want to make sure you are dressed appropriately.

As a parent, how can I help to ensure the private school interview is a success?

As a parent, you can help by supporting your child academically and pastorally. For example, you can regularly ask your child practice questions (in an informal, non-pressurised way) so that they become more comfortable talking about themselves and their interests, and you can do some research on the school with your child beforehand so that they know why they want to go to this particular school. Parents should also ensure their child gets a good night’s sleep beforehand and has a healthy, hearty breakfast on the morning of the interview. Interviews can be exhausting – particularly if they are on the same day as other activities such as entrance exams – and whilst it can be tempting to skip meals on a nervous stomach, students are going to need plenty of energy for the day.

Finally, parents should ensure that the school has all relevant information before the interview, and update the school if there are any extenuating circumstances that might affect a child’s performance, for example illness or bereavement. Parents should never try to hide anything from the school – this includes everything from past suspensions to special educational needs statements or education, health and care plans – as non-disclosure could jeopardise a child’s enrolment at the school now or in the future. Schools have the right to ask for all information about your child, as well as the right to speak to your child’s current or previous schools, and so honesty really is the best policy.

About the author: Kristina Murkett is a teacher and a freelance writer specialising in education, film, literature and women’s rights.

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