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Admissions Directors Offer Insights into Interviewing

With the busiest season for interviews coming up, we offer readers an inside look at how Admissions Officers see this element of an application. 

William D. Leahy, Director of Admissions
Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH

Q: How do interviews fit into the application as a whole?
A: The interview is often a candidate’s first impression because we haven’t yet received a written application. This is a student’s chance to tell his or her story, giving a strong voice to the application and framing other information that comes in. 

Q: How can candidates prepare?
A: Most importantly, they should relax. Some families put so much energy into preparing that students come in feeling scripted. They may quote lots of things from the website to demonstrate having done their homework. Or they try to say what they think admissions officers want to hear. These strategies lead to stiff interviews and students miss out on the real opportunities of this forum. Admissions officers like getting to know kids and when they relax, we can have authentic conversations to do that.

Q: What is your goal in an interview?
A: As an admissions officer, my goal is to draw out the best in each person. Every child has something remarkable to celebrate, and I hope that comes out in the conversation. Candidates often feel very scrutinized as they fill out applications. I want everyone to walk out of my office feeling appreciated. 

Q: How can parents best help their child prepare?
A: Parents can help set expectations, explaining that interviews are an exchange of information and ideas. Then parents can step back and encourage their children to relax. 

Erby Mitchell, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid

The Hotchkiss School, Lakeville, CT

Q: How do interviews fit into the application as a whole?
A: I see this as a conversation about each teen’s life and family. I like to discover what kids enjoy about life and what makes them laugh. The interview helps us discern the kind of person we would be welcoming into our community. 

Q: How can candidates prepare?
A: Candidates should relax. What often interferes with authenticity is when adults have been too active in trying to shape a message for the young person to deliver. I like to say that students should show up, be engaged, and be prepared. Showing up means bringing a genuine interest in the school, not just being driven by a parent’s direction. Being engaged means listening to the questions being asked and also asking me questions about the school. Being prepared simply means expecting to talk about themselves and feeling comfortable doing that.

Q: What is your goal in an interview?
A: When someone leaves my office, it’s important that two things have occurred: 1) I hope candidates have more information about our school than they had before the interview. 2) I want the students to feel cared for and that if offered an opportunity, this school is a place they would like to be.

Q: How can parents best help their child prepare?
A: Parents should help their children get a good night’s sleep and not schedule too many interviews in one day. It is pivotal for teens to spend time on a campus to experience its culture. Allow ample time for the interview, a tour, and to reflect on the experience.