Hope you find these private school interview tips useful.
* * * CONTENT UPDATED OCTOBER 2020 * * *
How to succeed in a private school interview
So your child has done all the hard work, right? They’ve passed their 11 Plus entrance exams. Now all they’ve got to do is show up for the school interview and that’s it. They’ll be heading to their chosen school next September.
Well sorry, it’s not quite so simple. Private schools routinely interview children after entrance exams to assess whether they are suitable for the school. Some even interview the parents too! And many consider the interview just as important as the written exams. Indeed they may see it as an opportunity to ‘weed’ out as many candidates as the exam process.
Part of the reason for the interview is to identify children who have been tutored to within an inch of their lives and those who are considered teachable. In other words, those who have a natural ability or ‘spark’. For the schools, it may also be an opportunity to see children who haven’t performed quite so well in their exams. Often these are younger children with birthdays later in the school year.
Nor are the schools necessarily looking for the most extrovert children. In other words, those who are so full of confidence they can engage adults in conversation on a range of topics for hours. Instead, they are looking for a good balance of children for the school. Those they believe will fit into the environment.
Preparing for your private school interview
Most parents know how to deal with 11 Plus exams. There’s a wealth of information online, past papers to study and of course hundreds of tutors to choose from. But when it comes to the big interview, information is much scanter. Probably deliberately so.
For example, Latymer Upper School simply says in its guidelines: “We do not encourage children to prepare for an interview but we do expect those we call back to be able to answer the academic questions with ease.”
Some even have group interviews – like mini-lessons – in addition to individual interviews. This makes it even more difficult to prepare. For example, City of London School for Boys writes: “No specific preparation is required or expected for the interview or group session, which are designed to explore a candidate’s intellectual and personal qualities, his interests and aptitudes.”
Can I get an interview coach?
As with job interviews, there are several companies that offer both one-to-one coaching and group coaching for 11 Plus interviews. One such company is London-based JK Educate. And while these sessions may benefit some children, opinion is divided on whether they are really all that necessary.
Instead, it seems more important for children at interview to relax and try to be themselves. There is nothing worse than pretending to like Norse mythology only to be caught out when a teacher starts talking about Odin and you have no idea who they’re on about!
That said there are certain questions that nearly always come up. These include ‘why do want to come to this school?’ and ‘what are your interest outside of school?’ So it is worth preparing them.
Below we offer some advice on how to get ready in the days leading up to the interview. We also provide tips on how to behave on the day itself. Good luck!
10 top private school interview tips
Before the interview:
1. Watch the news and read the papers
Most schools will be looking for well-rounded individuals so make sure you have a grasp of what’s going on in the world. Read a paper (it doesn’t have to be The Times or The Telegraph, a free paper will do). Also, watch the news for at least a few days before the interview.
2. Ask your parents and siblings questions about themselves!
Interviewers will be curious to find out more about your background. Knowing what your parents do for a living, how old they are and their upbringing may prove useful. Similarly knowing the likes/dislikes of your sister/brother could be handy too.
3. Cultivate hobbies and interests
Schools like candidates who have plenty of interests outside of the classroom. This shows they haven’t spent all hours being tutored for the entrance exams! So if you like to spend your spare time playing chess think about what it is you like about it. Similarly, if you play Sunday League football be prepared to answer questions about where you play, how the team is doing etc.
4. Rehearse standard questions
As with a job interview, you will almost certainly be asked why you want to go to that particular school. Make sure you have an appropriate answer prepared rather than answering ‘because my Mum wants me to’ or ‘I’m not that bothered, I’ve got other schools I’m interviewing for.’ Other standard questions you may be asked include:
What is your favourite subject at school and why?
Who is your favourite author?
If you had unlimited money what would you do with it and why?
5. Conduct a mock interview
You don’t need to go to a professional to brush up your interview technique. Once you’ve prepared answers for some of the questions above, it’s a good idea to go through them in a mock interview with your parents to practise your interview technique.
On the interview day:
6. Dress appropriately
Many schools will encourage you to wear your own clothes for an interview, rather than school uniform. However, do check beforehand if you are unsure. As with a job interview, it is best to look too smart, rather than too scruffy.
7. Shake hands
Be prepared to shake the hand of your interviewer and look them in the eye as you are doing so. Remember it is ostensibly a formal interview so ‘fist-bumping’ or any other kind of informal greeting is a definite no-no!
8. Sit upright, sit still
There is nothing more off-putting than someone constantly moving around and slouching while you are talking to them. This is especially true for a teacher who will be wondering how you’ll behave in a classroom in a one hour lesson if you are constantly fidgeting during a short interview!
9. Do talk!
It is obviously a nerve-racking situation but it’s important that you try to articulate your answers as best as possible. This doesn’t mean talking too much and rambling. However nor does it mean ‘yes’, ‘no’ answers.
10. Stay calm –
Independent schools will usually set a task during an interview. Maybe a maths puzzle to complete or a poem to read out and ‘analyse’. While these are difficult to prepare for in advance, it’s important to stay calm and do what is being asked of you.
Keep your digital profile(s) clean. While this advice applies to all social media platforms, it also applies to the video conferencing services being utilized for virtual interviews.
Students are encouraged to keep their usernames simple: their first and last name is most suitable. Advise them to avoid using any nicknames or usernames that can be viewed as immature or improper.
Profile pictures must be appropriate. Ideally, a simple picture of the student’s face is the best choice. Again, advise them to avoid any pictures that can be misconstrued or viewed as immature.
Dress for success. Encourage your students to dress for success – from head to toe. Interviewers will appreciate the effort that a student puts into their appearance. It shows maturity and a desire to impress – both of which will help make a great first impression.
It’s estimated that over 500,000 Sixth Formers are applying to University this year. That means many more individual University applications.
In theory, it’s now possible to start University in January. It’s certainly another option to complete your degree in two and a half years instead of three.
Our University application tips
- Your application should be submitted several weeks before the end of 2018. Early offers can be made several weeks after Universities receive an application. That means applying early could mean have a University place in time for Christmas!
- Anyone applying through school or College must submit by the end of November regardless. This is to allow teachers sufficient time for checking applications and for including their reference.
- Oxbridge and other course providers may require additional tests/interviews. So, remember that these will have a deadline too.
University application advice
- Give your course prospectus and University Website a very careful final check for any special entry requirements. For example, some work experience (such as nursing courses require), or a portfolio (such as art courses require).
- If you attend an early interview then the above special requirements will be one of the main discussion topics.
- Even if it is not a pre-requisite, work experience is a great way to boost your personal statement. It clearly demonstrates a firm commitment to your specialist area.
- A strong personal statement will join up your personal experience with your skills and qualifications to date. Skills can be based on those extra-curricular activities, such as Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and volunteer work.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people meet.
- One of the most interesting new uses for video conferencing has been for virtual college admissions interviews.
- And given the flexibility of scheduling, virtual college interviews are most likely here to stay.
Uni Interview Tips
Many selective schools and leading programs require (or strongly recommend) a college interview for prospective students. These schools place evaluative value on in-person conversations with their applicants. When issues like the pandemic or geographic reach make this challenging, virtual college interviews provide a practical solution. With this option, schools and students still get the same interview opportunity, just in a more modern style.
Depending on the school and its requirements, there are two different types of interviews: informative and evaluative. The differences are significant enough that they should impact the type of support that you offer your students.
- Informative college interviews are typically optional and pretty low-key. Informative interviews exist to benefit the student, not the admissions committee.Informative interviews are about 30 minutes to an hour long. These conversations are usually student-driven. In some cases, it can even offer students a familiar contact person to connect with once arriving on campus.
- Evaluative college interviews. Here, the goals are to suss out the student’s interests, academic goals, and reasons the student wants to attend the school.
Students should always show up prepared with meaningful questions to ask.
Students should keep it simple – nothing flashy or garish – but appropriate. Think: what would I wear to my Grandmother’s 80th birthday dinner? They should be advised to keep the sparkles, tassels, and all things bedazzled in their closets for this one.