Guest Blogger Jenny: Interviews and Student Visits: A Wealth of Opportunities to Make a Bad Impression

It Rained On Anna’s Visiting Day At Mirman

I don’t need to tell you that private school interview and student visit season is upon us. If you’re reading this blog, you’re either about to go through it, have started to go through it, or went through it already and are grateful to have it over with.

Between the interviews and your child’s visiting day or morning, there are countless ways you and yours could mess it up. These are tense, fidgety times, bringing to the forefront all your anxieties and insecurities. And your kid can sense it, too. He or she is being questioned and tested and judged, and every kid recognizes it.

But, does all this self-scrutiny really do you any good? I’m not sure, since, in my experience, the writing is often on the wall from moment one of the interview. For two years running, my ex and I tried to get Anna into St. James. Our reasons were mostly practical: she was at Third St., she’d have to switch before 6th grade to a private school, and St. James was close, good, and convenient. I know many families there, and one of my best friends put in a glowing recommendation. Yet, during both interviews, I felt that it was a perfunctory exercise. There was no enthusiasm reserved for us or Anna. We felt like numbers. And when she was denied acceptance twice, I really wasn’t surprised.

Then there was John Thomas Dye. We really liked the school. Anna loved the school, idyllic country club that it is. The Admissions Director said outright that she really liked Anna, and told us up front that she would be a shoe in for Archer (not JTD) for 6th grade. This was polite code for “we have no room for her, and it was nice meeting you.”  While I have previously mentioned our being a divorced family as perhaps being part of the reason why Anna might have been a less desirable prospect, I have no way of proving such a claim. All I know is that it was a done deal from before we ever walked through the door for the interview. She was waitlisted, and we decided after review that entrance wasn’t a possibility.

There was actually less chance of actively blowing it during the Mirman interview, mostly because the parents are only interviewed with the child present. Thus, it was up to Anna to make a good impression. Since she’s a pretty friendly, articulate child, it was easy for her to be charming and answer the AD’s questions in an engaging fashion. That part went really well.

What didn’t go as well was the morning Anna spent at Mirman. Anna’s father dropped her off at 8:00, and by all reports the visit itself went well. Anna took a test and then spent time with a Room 3 class. I was the designated pick up parent. It was a severely stormy day. I mean, like sheets of rain and major gusts of wind. Streets were flooding. I’d only been up Mirman a couple of times at that point, and had only driven there once. The school is up Mulholland on the west side of the 405 freeway. I took Sunset to Sepulveda and headed up, managed to miss the turnoff at the Skirball Center to go over the 405, and ended up driving over the hill and into the Valley.

There was patchy cell service (iPhone, of course), and I kept trying to call the school, since it was clear I was going to be late. I could just picture Anna, abandoned in the front office, wilted and forgotten, with the staff thinking, “Bad Mommy. She’s a terrible flake who will not be an asset to the school.” I would ruin her chances of getting into private school, just because I didn’t own a GPS and was an idiot.

I managed to call the school, sounding just as harassed and moronic as I was feeling. Mulholland literally looked like it was washing away as I drove up it. I found my way, finally, to the gates, parking in the wrong place and dashing through torrential rain. Anna looked relieved. I was overly apologetic. And the staff simply waved us out of there, probably thinking: “Sometimes dumb parents have smart kids.”

I worried about this bad impression. When Anna was wait-listed, I wasn’t surprised. What did surprise me is when she actually got into Mirman, despite my navigational challenges. She was off the wait-list and in from a fortuitous call in late June.

Since dealing with the school, I now know that it didn’t care what I did. The school really only looks at the kid. It’s one place where they really don’t care who your parents are. All that self-consciousness and scrutiny made no difference in the end, although it definitely raised my blood pressure.

My advice? Relax and do try to be yourselves. There are so many factors beyond your control. There’s no point in freaking out and second guessing yourself, or making your kid crazy. Trust your instincts. These schools will send you signals if you choose to recognize them. And the only way to recognize them is to get out of your own head and pay attention.
Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. Her daughter started 4th grade at Mirman School this year. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published recently in the Daily News. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.


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Christina Simon: Los Angeles, California, United States I'm the mom of a daughter (15) and a son (12) who attend Viewpoint School in Calabasas. I live in Coldwater Canyon with my family and a rescue pit bull, Cocoa. Contact me at csimon2007@gmail.com

10 thoughts on “Guest Blogger Jenny: Interviews and Student Visits: A Wealth of Opportunities to Make a Bad Impression

  1. Hello: It's been great reading your blog in preparation for three parent interviews and three school "playdates" in the coming week. As i try not to obsess, I do have a real concern: although my daughter is joyfully happy at her preschool and no longer has ANY problems separating from us there, she is STILL very cautious (or sometimes called SHY) in new situations, and the mere mention of visiting a school has her yelling "no!" I am sure these schools are used to some kids acclimating quicker than others, but what if your child simply refuses to separate? Or has a complete meltdown in the process? My preschool will attest to what a great kid she is to have at their school, and how it's not an issue any more, but what if they don't see that at the visit? Do schools really judge your child on this ONE day?
    Nerve-wracked and hoping to get through the week without a stroke,
    Anonymous (and thankful for any words of wisdom)

  2. Hi Anon, thanks for reading the blog! In my experience taking my daughter on visiting days or "playdates," I found that all of the schools were very skilled in helping kids separate from their parents. My co-author, Porcha Dodson, did admissions testing at Curtis School and often tells parents that the people working with the kids on these "playdates" are teachers and administrators who are very used to dealing patiently and kindly with young kids in a new environment. If your daughter is hesitant, they will most likely gently encourage her and make it fun for her. If she truly refuses to separate from you, the school may offer you another chance to come back on a different day. Overall, I think the schools do a wonderful job making the kids feel as comfortable as possible. Hopefully, your daughter will be excited about the opportunity to see a K class and potential new classmates and fun things to do! I told my daughter (who was very shy) that she'd be going to see real K classes and teachers and do a bunch of K projects. She loved it and had no trouble on these "playdates."

  3. Good luck! I'm sure your daughter will do great. I know how stressful this is, but so worth it to get into a really fabulous school.

  4. Christina, after thinking about it a bit more, have you heard admissions directors discuss the meaning of the playdates/group visits? what are they looking for exactly? Especially when they know that this one particular snapshot may or may not be truly reflective of that child or family?
    thanks!~

  5. Hi Anon, I'd like Anne to answer your question…stay tuned because she's traveling. But, don't forget the admissions process is about the family and the child. So, visiting day is one aspect of the entire process. As a parent at a private school for 6 years now, I know one thing the ADs say is definitely true: we want a balance of personalities i.e. assertive, shy, etc. A class full of only assertive personalities would be really difficult for a number of reasons. Balance in a classroom is key!

  6. Hi Anon, Anne advises you to talk to your daughter and reassure her that she will be fine during the "playdate." And, you may need to stay close if the school tries to separate you from your daughter for the observation i.e. right outside the door, etc. Anne adds, "I would tell her to use her judgement about talking with the Admissions Director about separation. If she thinks she can avoid a total meltdown by staying close, she may want to say something to the AD." Hope that helps! I'm going to post this as a "Reader Question" so everyone can see it in case they missed this comment section.

  7. Thanks, Christina and Anne! The visit was this morning and went flawlessly. Thank goodness! three more to go, though! whew…
    one day at a time!
    thanks so much.

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