How to prepare for the interview

‘I take the boys to lunch and offer them chips or vegetables, those who choose the broccoli show me they understand the meaning of delayed gratification.  This Eton housemaster’s vegetable test is not every school teachers yardstick but highlights the uniqueness of an interview.

The school interview is the opportunity for your child to represent their, ability, character and interests. It allows the school to assess if your child will contribute to the school environment in a meaningful way and shares the school’s values and ethos.

This is an opportunity for your child to be themselves, to share their passions; to be engaging and polite. To be interesting and interested. The interviewer will ultimately be assessing ‘Will I enjoy teaching this student?’ Will this pupil make the best use of their time here and make the most of the opportunities they are presented with?’

How do you prepare for an unscripted 20-minute conversation? Many schools discourage it and it is obvious when pupils have been over-prepared however here are some pointers to help get you started. 

  • Manners – eye contact and good posture 
  • Questions which will be asked: ’Why their school?’ – to help answer this research the school’s website, be aware of any famous alumni, understand the school motto. 
  • If your child has previously visited the school, what did they like? The Art department, Music rooms, Sports Hall etc. 
  • ‘Do you have a question for us?’
  • Encourage good vocabulary; positive adjectives and verbs 
  • Books your child has enjoyed and is currently reading 
  • Follow up on questions and offering more than one word/ one sentence.  
  • Favourite subjects, why? 
  • Evidence of working in a team; sports, music, theatre – it doesn’t have to be all three.
  • If your child is applying for a boarding school, the master will want to be confident your child is happy living at school during the term time. Any examples of spending time away from home e.g Summer Camps and/ or examples of showing resilience. e.g doing an activity out of their comfort zone.
  • Wider interests; History, current affairs
  • The interviewer will be a teacher who has dedicated their life working with children, – they enjoy getting to know pupils. This is not Jeremy Paxman interviewing your child. 

How do you build these conversational and confidence skills? Develop interests? It can often be simple things. Sitting around the table once a day as a family.  Allowing your child to explore their own interests. Designating some time in the day for your child to read – if your child struggles with novels, subscribe to a weekly publication e.g the Junior week, The National Geographic or follow AA Gill who testifies he learnt everything from Radio Four.

On the day of the interview – treat it as normally as possible, dress your child in their school uniform, don’t feel the necessity for both parents to take the day off, your child will sense the occasion. Remind your child the meaning of an interview, ‘to see’. After all, the opposite of an interview is an interrogation – where you are encouraged not to speak!

Most importantly, at this stage schools want to see the best in your child. One senior Harrow master encourages pupils to prepare their own stories – much like successful chat shows, well-crafted stories will allow your child to present themselves in a positive manner.  This is Graham Norton, not Newsnight. 

Pupils are reticent to talk about experiences that they don’t feel are relevant but the most successful interviews end up with pupils spending most of their time talking about historical sites they have visited, why films are better than books and how they wish of growing up to become a chef and sharing their own recipes. 

And, if cooking doesn’t spark your child’s interest, at least you can encourage your child to eat their peas and carrots. 

by Harry Cobb, Tuition Director at Bonas MacFarlane