Guest Blogger Alice: The Dreaded Parent Interview



So you’re applying to private elementary schools and you’ve managed to actually get a date for a tour and/or interview  (which for some schools means you called months in advance and already jumped through some hoops), which generally means both you and your child will be interviewed. You’re a grown up and have survived job interviews and talked banks into loaning you money, so this should be a piece of cake.  “You aren’t nervous,” you tell yourself and pretend the new outfit you bought is for some other reason, but the truth is as much as we are prepping our kid by begging and bribing them to behave for just one hour, we know that we also have to pull it off.


In fact, when you’re applying for a kindergarten spot in the competitive L.A. private school market, it may even be more about the family than it is about the child.   I remember the butterflies.  I remember trying to look like I had money, but not so much that I was pretending to be a big donor.  I remember wondering if it’s better to look like working mom, or a stay at home mom, (as if I could fake it one way or another).  I remember frantically searching a school’s web site to see if I could think of at least one or two “intelligent” questions to ask, and then trying to memorize those questions.


I decided to go to a source and ask an admissions director at one of these schools, to sit with me and anonymously give me some insights into what they are hoping to get out of the parent interview


Alice: What’s the single most important thing you are looking for in a parent interview?


Admissions Director:  For parent interviews I want to hear in their voice that they are supportive of their child and will be of the school.  In other words, once they put their kid in the school, I want to know they will trust the school to do what it’s supposed to and not get in the way.


Alice: You mean?


Admissions Director: (laughing) Get in the teacher’s faces.


Alice: Is there a tip off that makes you know you may be talking to a difficult parent?


Admissions Director: Yes.  When they start getting really pushy, questioning the curriculum before they even spend time here.  “If my child does this or that, will you do this or that?”  They are always seeking more and more.  It’s not many parents, but you do find them.


Alice: What would your biggest tip be for a parent going into a parent interview?


Admissions Director:  For them to realize that not every school is necessarily a perfect fit for their child.  They may think it’s a fit because of the status of the school, or whatever, but they need to understand that a child has to be socially and emotionally ready for any school they’re applying to.   Some parents want to push them further than they can actually handle.  Know the boundaries of your child and what’s good for them.


Alice: Can you give me an example?


Admissions Director:  Often the child is just too young and not ready for what a school is going to ask from them.


Alice: I’m just curious, does it mater what you wear to an interview?


Admissions Director:  No.  I mean, some parents dress up and that’s nice, but what’s on the outside doesn’t matter.  It’s the way they present themselves verbally in conversation that’s more important.


Alice: What if one of the parents doesn’t show up?   Does that matter?


Admissions Director:  It’s not a big deal for one interview, but if dad, for example, doesn’t show up, I’ll reach out at some point.


Alice: You’d like to lay eyes on both parents?


Admissions Director nods.


Alice: So any final tip for us parents?


Admissions Director: Parents should do their homework about the schools they are applying to, try to talk to other families and get the pros and cons and have questions.


Alice: Sure, but what kinds of questions?


Admissions Director: Anything, about their financial commitments, what after school programs are offered, what transportation, parent involvement on campus?   What high schools the kids matriculate to?


Alice: And finally?


Admissions Director: Come in with an open mind.  Before deciding if this is or isn’t the right place for your child.  Even if you come in thinking it is right, listen and make sure before you apply.


My own final thought is this:  I once was in a group interview situation for one of the most of prestigious K-12 schools in the city and they had about eight to ten parents around a large table and opened it up to questions.  It started with one person asking how many letters from board members of the school would be too much to include in the application.  I believe the officer responded with one is likely enough and then another hand went up and a parent asked, “Following up on that, is it obnoxious…?”  I didn’t even have to hear the end of the question, because if you start with, “Is it obnoxious?”, it obviously will be obnoxious.  Sure enough: “Is it obnoxious to have someone from Clinton’s Cabinet write letters recommending our family?”   Clinton at that time was President.  I can’t say how the admissions director took that, but everyone else in the room including me, rolled their eyes.  So my personal thought would be, try not to be obnoxious.


Mother of three, Alice attended east coast private schools as a child and has been in the private school world as a parent for nearly twenty years.  Her kids attended Mirman for elementary, then Harvard-Westlake and Brentwood for high school, with one still to go.  She is a writer working in film, TV and for various magazines such as Family Fun, Wondertime, Glamour and Brides. 


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Tips To Help You ACE Your Private Elementary School Parent Interview

This piece was originally published on Elizabeth Street on January 19, 2014.

Photo credit: Adam Capriola, Flickr Creative Commons
Photo credit: Adam Capriola, Flickr Creative Commons License

Many, but not all, private elementary schools want to meet applicant parents without their kids present as part of the admissions process. Parent interviews are typically meetings between parents and the admissions director. There is no single format and each school determines how the interview will work. Some schools are very casual, while others are more formal. The tone of the interview will depend on the personality of the admissions director and the general atmosphere of the school.


If you’re applying for kindergarten, keep in mind that a parent interview is about you and your child. Some schools are very interested in how well a family will fit into the school’s culture. Other schools are more focused on whether the child will excel academically. It’s hard to know what to anticipate, but researching the school and talking to your preschool director and current parents at the school can help you prepare.


Here are our tips to help you ace your parent interviews:


1. Do your homework ahead of time. Review the school’s website and be sure you are familiar with the mission of the school and what differentiates it from other schools. Be prepared to talk about how your family fits with the philosophy of the school. Why your kid would be a great addition to the school should also be something you are prepared to talk about.


2. Review your written application and be consistent in your interview conversation with what you said in your application about your family and its values and goals. Make sure you communicate who you are and make your family’s story one that will be remembered by the admissions director.


3. Be positive AND honest about your child. Don’t try to make him/her look perfect. In talking about his/her strengths, give real examples of these characteristics. You might talk about how he/she is willing to share toys in the park. Or, perhaps your kid will include other children in playtime at preschool, rather than exclude them. These two examples indicate friendliness, empathy and maturity. In speaking about any challenges, make sure you share that you understand and accept them and are committed to working with the school to partner in serving your child’s needs.


4. Be careful about telling the admissions director you’ll definitely accept a spot if it is offered. You may feel tempted to do this, but it isn’t necessary and could hinder your applications at other schools since some admissions directors do talk to each other. And, don’t make the mistake of being too aggressive in the type of questions you ask like, “Why does this school cost so much?” or, “How much will it cost us to guarantee you’ll let our kid in?” These are inappropriate questions!


5. Arrive early. Plan your route and allow for traffic and other delays. Showing up late is a big no-no. Both parents (if there are two) should attend. The absence of one parent signals a lack of interest in the school.


6. Try to anticipate a few commonly asked questions like, “Tell me about your child,” or “Why do you want your child to attend our school.?” Sometimes, starting with a broad comment about why you love the school and then moving to specifics about why this school is right for your kid works well. It also helps to discuss your answers to these questions with your spouse/partner before the interview. You should both be in agreement about why you want your child to attend the school!


7. Not every parent interview will go well. In Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles, I write in detail about a parent interview for kindergarten that went so badly we withdrew our application from the popular school. Sometimes, the interview may feel more like the admissions director is merely going through the motions and has little interest in what you have to say. Or, you may learn more about the school and realize it doesn’t seem right for your child. However, just because you don’t think an interview went well doesn’t necessarily mean the admissions director felt that way. There are plenty of families who were convinced their interview was a disaster or just adequate, only to receive an acceptance letter a few months later!


Finally, we highly recommend approaching each parent interview with confidence, professionalism and a bit of luck.


Written by Christina Simon and Anne Simon, co-authors of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles


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