A hand drawn graphic of a leaf and a caterpillar.

Let's Talk About Interviewing

Daren Worcester
Oct 5, 2023
48 minutes
A hand-drawn doodle of an asterisk.

#admissionchat episode 4 welcomes Kila McCann, dean of admission and financial aid at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida, and Lisa Pelrine, the former director of enrollment management at Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall in Waltham, Massachusetts, to discuss what they look for in candidates during private school admissions interviews. The questions asked include:

  • What do you want to learn about prospective students during the interview?
  • What advice would you give to students looking to prepare for the interview?
  • What would you say to a shy student to help them feel at ease in the interview?
  • Is there anything a student has said or done during an interview to stand out?
  • Are there any topics that students should avoid in the interview?
  • What advice would you give to parents?

Listen to the episode above, ask your smart speaker to play #admissionchat, or subscribe on your favorite podcast platform: Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Pandora, Spotify.


Daren Worcester: Welcome to #admissionchat. Let's talk about interviewing.

[Intro music]

Daren Worcester: Hey there, I'm Daren Worcester, and in this discussion, I'm happy to be joined by Kila McCann, the dean of admission and financial aid at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida, as well as Lisa Pelrine, the director of enrollment management at Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall in Waltham, Massachusetts. Kila and Lisa, welcome to #admissionchat.

Kila McCann: Thank you.

Lisa Pelrine: Hi, Daren. Thanks for having us.

Daren Worcester: Thank you both for joining me. I'm really excited for this conversation. Let's start by having you each tell us a little bit about yourselves and your career in private schools and in admission departments. I'm going to go alphabetical order, so Kila, why don't you go first.

Kila McCann: My name is Kila McCann, and I'm currently at The Bolles School here in Jacksonville, Florida. I believe I'm in the start of my 10th month, so you can ask me lots of things about admission, maybe not just finite things about Bolles just yet, but I'm working on it.

I've started my career like most Admission folks, just by happenstance. I worked for my alma mater college in Ontario, Canada in the Recruitment Department and bit the bug. And from there moved into this wonderful world of independent schools, working for Fulford Academy and then on to Darlington school, and then Fountain Valley. So, I've made a trek all the way back down to Florida, which is really where it sort of all began for me in terms of my career. And right now, I'm happy to say I'm enjoying the sun and sand. Sorry, Lisa.

Lisa Pelrine: I won't hold it against you.

Daren Worcester: So, Lisa, despite us being in the Northeast and jealous of Kila's tan, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career, please?

Lisa Pelrine: Hi, everyone. I'm Lisa Pelrine, director of enrollment management here at Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall School in Waltham, Massachusetts. It's currently a high of 32 right now, so very jealous of Kila. But yeah, I actually went to business school and did recruitment for software engineers prior to coming to CH-CH and kind of just like Kila, we just kind of all fall into this job in different ways. But so, I've spent my entire career at CH-CH. This is my 19th year, which is amazing that I've been here for so long, but it's also gone by so quickly, so pretty much, I've grown up here.

So, in addition to being director of enrollment management, I did spend 10 years as a dorm parent on campus until I started my own family and then decided, my two little girls are more challenging than raising 26 teenage girls somehow. I never thought I would say that, and did some coaching. But I just love being able to take my business background and being able to apply it to the admissions world. And being in a small boarding school and day school, things are constantly changing. So, in particular this past year, so things are always different.

I'm also a board member on the Small Boarding School Association. I'm the Chair of the Conference Committee. So, I also enjoy my work supporting that board as well.

Daren Worcester: Excellent. Thank you both for joining. Let's take a minute now, too, to kind of give you an opportunity to tell us a little bit about your wonderful schools. Lisa, why don't you go first this time?

Lisa Pelrine: Yeah. So, as I mentioned before, CH-CH for short, is in Waltham, Massachusetts. We're lucky enough that we're about 10 miles outside of Boston, which is incredibly helpful, just having a day in boarding school. We're about 60 percent day, 40 percent boarding. We have about 20 percent international students, which is really, really cool and amazing to work with students from around the globe. But we're a small school. We're grades 9 through 12 and offer a postgraduate program. We are co-ed. But our motto here is we teach the way students learn. And so, we are a college-prep school, but sometimes we're working with students who just don't reach their full potential in that traditional big public high school.

Lisa Pelrine: Our kids are super bright and capable, but we have an amazing Academic Support Program here at CHCH that allows students to continue to access a traditional college prep curriculum, but maybe teaching them skills around executive function, for example. We have an amazing Performing and Visual Arts Program. We just opened a new Arts Building last year right when the pandemic hit. So, we're finally getting to use it this school year, which has been great and we also have a number of varsity and JV sports as well, so we have the athletics program as well.

Lisa Pelrine: But just really that small close-knit community feel where students are really able to kind of roll up their sleeves and really get interactive with their teaching and learning here. So, it's been really an amazing place for me to see so many kids being able to kind of have that transformative experience. And now, having been here so long seeing them as young adults and just kind of continuing their success. So it's a great little gem in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Daren Worcester: Awesome, thank you. Kila, how about you?

Kila McCann: So, The Bolles School is located in Northeast Florida in Jacksonville. I can say that in comparison to my time just recently out in Colorado, the weather certainly helps with us, especially when you're looking to play those outdoor sports year-round. So, that's a win-win for us. It's always amazing to me to see swimmers in the pool in January, which is outdoors, year-round, so—

Daren Worcester: Just keep rubbing it in. Keep rubbing it in.

Kila McCann: Yeah, sorry. We are a pre-K through 12 school, coed. Again, as Lisa said, college preparatory with a very small boarding program. I would say Bolles is probably most well-known for our pre-Olympic swimming program. Many folks look at us for our swimming program. However, one of the things that I've learned about Bolles, which is refreshing, but also, is interesting in terms of the students that look at us, we don't do anything halfway. So, if we're going to build a new complex, such as another outdoor pool, then it's done to the very highest level. Our athletic program is quite robust and many of our students here at Bolles are student athletes.

We're a very large school with 16,140 students. So as you can imagine, there's never a dull moment. And so, for me, one of the adjustments has been coming from a fairly small school, such as Lisa's school to then transitioning into this very large school where there's a lot of moving parts and a lot of factors. And so, it's changed how I look at admission and how I look at the students that are looking to come to Bolles. As I said, it has a very small boarding program. However, if you look at the student makeup of Bolles, it's actually quite diverse and Jacksonville is quite a diverse city. And so, we have students who are coming from all walks of life and from all over parts of the world and represent many different groups, which is awesome.

I think because we're a day school, many people would think that that wasn't the case, but it would absolutely be completely the opposite. Much like Lisa's school, again, it's college preparatory and at Bolles, we believe all things are possible. So, we want our students to really excel in many different areas and not just in the one area that they're passionate about, but really to take a bite out of many aspects. And I think the beauty of independent schools is really being able to engage on a deeper level, both in and outside of the classroom and try many new things, but I would say Bolles is definitely a place where that can happen.

Daren Worcester: Great. Thank you both for giving us the insight into your schools. So, our topic today is really focused on interviewing and the interviewing process. And I'm just going to kind of jump right in with the big question that I think probably parents want to know and students as well, as they're going into the process is what are you looking for in a student in the interview process? Kila, why don't you go first?

Kila McCann: I think, for me, I want to know organically who that student is, why they want this experience and how they plan to leverage this experience. And I don't mean, I want to go to a great college. This has to mean more than just a place you're going to school. This has to be a place where you can really achieve all the things that you want to achieve, but also try many new things and explore and take some healthy risks and leap off the ledge.

And so, when I interview I really want to hear from the student, "Why does the student want this?" Not why their parents want this, not the form answers, not the rehearsed answers. I want to know that you've done your research and that you've said, "You know what? I read your online student newspaper and I think it is the coolest thing ever. And here's some articles that I've written that I think I could contribute." I want to know that they've really done their homework. It's fascinating. I think many of us will say, "Well, where else are you looking, just out of curiosity?"

And really what we're looking for is are there correlations between those schools? It's not to know who our competitors are, it's to say, "How much homework have they done?" Because, I know Lisa will agree, if a student is looking at Bolles and they're looking at CH-CH, I mean, there's very little similarity other than we're an independent school. And so, I'm looking to sort of find out where that similarity is if that is the case. So, in the interview, I really am looking organically at why the child wants this. I think it's a little harder at middle and lower school, but certainly in the upper school, definitely.

Daren Worcester: Perfect. Thank you. Lisa, how about yourself?

Lisa Pelrine: Yeah, and I would agree with many of the things that Kila said. And I think, at the end of the day, I want to see that authenticity from a student, right? I just want to see who they are in an everyday situation. And I always tell families like, "We want them to be comfortable." Just kind of come as themselves, don't dress up in a suit and tie because we don't have a dress code and then the student is so uncomfortable during the interview. We just want to see who they are. And for us, I think it's you have to know the mission of your school and what students do best. And not every student who interviews at your school is going to be the best fit. So, I think it's all about finding the best fit both for us as a school, but also for the family as well.

And so, for us, students might not have been successful in their current learning environment. And that's why they are looking at other options, right? And so for me, I really have to peel back the layers of that student's profile because it's not one-size fits all. It's really, "Can the student have the potential to be successful here at the school? And what does that look like? How do they see themselves here?" And for those kids coming from a public school, it is much more of a commitment. Like Kila said, you aren't only going to be having to show up every day and participate in your academics and being part of that learning process, you might be going from a classroom of 25 kids to a classroom of eight, and you can't hide, so you're on, right?

And that looks different for everyone. We're not going to obviously call you out make you feel uncomfortable, but you really do have to be part of that learning process, and be willing to kind of roll up your sleeves and get in there and be curious and want to try new things. But we also do require the co-curricular program every day after school for them to participate either in something with the art or the athletic program. So they're not getting home till 5:00, 5:30 sometimes for the day students, so it is a bigger commitment. So, just really making sure the family understands that and are ready to be a part of your entire school community, not just the academic piece.

So, I again, I think it's really important just to really get a sense of who that student is on a day-to-day basis versus how they're kind of presenting themselves as a package per se on the day of the interview to really kind of take away. And sometimes, the parents are ready to head upstairs to my office with the kid. And I'm like, "No, no, no, no. Nope." We interview the students by themselves because like Kila said, I want to know from them, "Who's driving this process? What stands out to you about CH-CH? Why do you like this school?"

And I do ask, I go like, "What other schools are looking at?" Just to kind of see like on the spectrum of your list, right? Like, "Okay, that makes sense," or "Whoa, this is way off. Maybe it's not the best fit school." So, we as admissions directors really have to, again, make sure we're peeling back those layers and really, it's a discovery process as we're going through the interview. But I would say that's one of the biggest parts of the application process, because you're really getting to see the student that they're presenting themselves on paper, how are they presenting themselves to you, and being able to communicate why they should be in your community.

Daren Worcester: Interesting. So, what are the types of questions or things that you would ask to get to know the student and whether or not they're a fit for your school? Lisa, why don't you keep going with that?

Lisa Pelrine: Yeah. I always ask them, talk to me about a challenging situation that you've had and how did you overcome that? Whether it was in school or outside of school, just to kind of see, does that student kind of have that grit? Do they have the capacity to collaborate with an adult or ask for help or advocate and try to figure that out and be proud of that moment that they've overcome? I always asked them to tell me how they like to learn, because we're not a traditional learning environment. I think that's the beauty of independent schools is that, again, you're rolling your sleeves up and being super hands on with what you're doing, so really getting a sense of kind of who they are as a student.

And then I also asked them like, "What makes a good teacher in your opinion?" And then how would a teacher that you've really connected with because again, some of our students haven't been successful in school but an adult or teacher that really knows you well, how would they describe you as a student in their class? And for us, having been here so long and looking at what makes a successful student is really are they able to collaborate with the adults in this community? Are they able to make those connections with peers?

So, for us, that's really a key thing of what we're looking for. And again, at every school, it's different. Again, every school has a different mission and the type of kid that can handle that academic environment. So, I think it's really important for school leaders to really have a sense of what makes a student successful in that environment. So, really tailoring my questions around that and trying to get more information.

Daren Worcester: Kila, what would you add to that?

Kila McCann: Yeah. There's two questions that I would add to what Lisa said and one of them would be, "When you close your eyes and you picture what this, when you imagine what this experience would be like, what do you think? What are the things that come to mind? What do you hope it will be like?" And then the second question, which spoke to something Lisa said earlier was, especially if they come in with maybe not so much of a traditional background, maybe they've had a hiccup somewhere along the line, maybe there's something that comes to light that we do want to dig a little bit deeper on. And getting them to reflect on that and I would say own that hiccup a little bit is also to me important.

If a student reflects upon something and says, "You know what? I just got caught up in the moment. And if I had to do it all over again, this is probably what I could have done differently." Without prompting, I would say. It's not like I want to lead them down the garden path and get them to answer that way, but you can tell pretty quickly if the student has authentically reflected on that experience.

And I think you can ask the same question whether there's a hiccup or not, "Tell me about your high school career or your previous school career. What would you have done differently? What do you think you did well? What strengths do you bring to the table? What's your chink in the armor?" Right? "What's the thing that you have to work on?" And I always say, "Look, we all have that thing." I mean, we all have something that we go, "Oh, why did I do that?"

And so, "What's that for you?" And getting them to go, "You know what? My friend say I talk too much." And like it's just, or whatever it is, right? Getting them to really go through that self-reflection process, I think is important, too because I think you can peel back the layers, as Lisa said, and dig a little deeper.

Lisa Pelrine: One thing I want to add is I ask, too, at the end of the interviewee is that if I'm talking to you, Kila and it's your senior year, and you're looking back over your four years at CH-CH, "What goals would you hope to have accomplished during that time?" And then that's really important to kind of get an inside look of like, "What they're hoping to either participate in?" or like you said like, "I'm really good at this, but I'm not good at this. And I need to work on that." And for them to own that and just kind of have a sense of just kind of that self-awareness for me is super helpful just to kind of see what their goals are.

And then when I'm meeting with the parents, what are their goals as parents and as a family and do those lead up? Are the parents' expectations out of line or are they in sync with what their child's goals are to because it's a partnership. You're not just working with the student, it's really the entire family. So, I think that's important to get a sense of that as well.

Daren Worcester: I remember my middle school and high school years vividly, as if it was yesterday, because obviously, it wasn't that long ago. And I was a very shy kid. And the idea of going to a school interview probably would have made me really, really nervous. What would you say to a student such as myself, to make me comfortable and feel at ease in the interview process, and really open up to share the things that you're trying to learn?

Lisa Pelrine: I would say, we always give them a tour of campus first, right? They're not going right into the interview. So, they're walking around as a family with the student tour guide and just kind of taking it all in. For some students, they might be coming from an independent school that goes through 8th grade, so they're kind of used to that environment. And for some kids, this is a whole brand new experience, right? So, just to kind of ease them in, take the tour, and then when they come back, just kind of taking some time to reflect on that.

But I always say, "Is this your first interview?" And then if they say, "Yeah." I'm like, "You know what? It's really a conversation with you and I. It's nothing to be nervous about." Again, for who our students are, sometimes they have high verbal skills, right? And that's kind of their thing, but for other kids, they are more introverted and shy, like Daren might have been in his middle school or high school years. And so I say it's really just a conversation. It's a chance for what I'm going to learn on your application to come to life.

Lisa Pelrine: And you know what, to be honest, you're interviewing us as much as I'm interviewing you. Right? At the end of the day, it's all about fit and if this feels right to you, and you feel connected here, and that's okay, if it's not, but if it is, that's great, let's talk about that. But it's just, making them feel comfortable and just, it's a back and forth. They're not on the hot seat. It's really for them to be able to shine and for me to get to know who they are. And I say you can ask me questions, too. I'm not going to just be asking you questions, so just kind of getting that from the get-go right front and center, I think kind of relieves some of that anxiety or stress.

And we do a lot of prep before a family arrives on campus, just to say. We're not a school with the dress code, so feel free to wear what you'd like. So, I think those things and just kind of, like Kila said, doing your research and knowing what the school community is about ahead of time, I think kind of relieves some of those anxiety. So, we try to give some tips before the student even arrives for their visit, just to kind of know what to expect as well. Because I will say the parents are just as anxious, if not more, than the student. So, sometimes they're harder to work with, so yeah.

Daren Worcester: I bet. Kila, would you add anything to that?

Kila McCann: Yeah. So, there's a couple things. I mean, I do, very similar to what Lisa, shared. There's a couple of caveats to that. I think. Sometimes I gauge the situation like if we're sitting in a waiting room, and we're all talking and we're having a casual talk, but I'm learning lots through this casual conversation about the child, about the parent, about their expectation, I'll just start asking the student questions that I would have asked in the interview, just to see, how they're answering.

And then, depending on how it goes, I might go, "Hey, guess what? You just did the interview, like you're done. You didn't even realize what was happening because we were having such a great conversation." I sort of read the situation and how things are going. If it's an incredibly shy or somewhat introverted student, I might start out by saying something like, "Are you nervous? I bet you're nervous." And they're like, "Oh, yeah. I'm so nervous."

And I say, "Okay, just breathe, just breathe. It's all going to be okay. We're just going to have a conversation. I expect you to ask me some tough questions maybe that I maybe that I'm going to struggle with and I love that, so it's okay. And if I don't know the answer, I'm going to say, 'I don't know.' and it's okay. So, this is just an opportunity for me to get to know you. And so, the more you share, the better job I can do." And the other thing I always tell students is, "Look, I'm on your team. If you at the end of the day go, 'Oh, Bolles is not the place. I'm okay with that."

This has to as Lisa said, it has to feel good. You have to listen to that little voice in the back of your head or that intuition in the pit of your stomach that goes, "Ooh, this is an ouch moment. This doesn't feel good. This is not a place where I think I'm I could really see myself." I think we would all agree that's okay. It's really okay. And I think setting the tone of comfort is really important. In that situation.

I would say I've been known to do interviews walking around campus with incredibly nervous students. In fact, one of the hardest interviews I ever did was with a friend of mine's child, who clearly the friend had prepped the child in not so much of a great way. And that child burst into tears, the minute that they walked into my office, not once, but twice. So, on the third try, I said, "You know what? We're not going to do this, we're going to go for a walk."

And when we went for a walk, and I changed the setting, and it wasn't so formal, that child opened up, and it was, she was more relaxed and there was just a different feel. So, I think most of us would read the situation, too, and say, "We maybe need to approach this child a little bit differently and give them..." We're all built differently. We all thrive in different situations. So, changing the venue sometimes helps a little bit, too.

Daren Worcester: Excellent. Yeah, I can see how that would definitely set some students at ease and probably make the parents feel better, too, is they see you going out doing something like that. And I love the two-way street mentality of it. I think that's really important for families to think about as they go in.

So, I see that both of your schools, optionally accept the Character Skills Snapshot. So, for any families listening to this that aren't familiar with that. It's an innovative online tool that we've created at EMA, which is the parent of Admission.org, if you will, #admissionchat. And it measures student preferences toward seven key character skills.

I'm curious how important is character to both of you in the admissions process. Do you like to have students submit the Character Skills Snapshot? I know it's not a requirement at either your schools at this time. And if they aren't submitting that, do you feel like you're getting an adequate assessment of them through the interview and other means?

Kila McCann: I mean, at the end of the day, I think the Character Skills Snapshot indicates a preparedness on a social emotional level. And I don't know that there's necessarily a benchmark. I think we'd all have to look at that differently. And probably, we're still in the process of collecting some of that data. I think, Lisa used the two words that I love most when looking at sort of the social-emotional preparedness and that's grit and tenacity.

What's your ability to dig deep in the face of adversity, because, one of the things that I share with parents often is if your child struggles with certain elements socially, emotionally, nothing will exacerbate that more than being at a boarding school, nothing. And so, understanding your child's ability to handle those moments in the face of adversity, such as, "I have three tests this week and two projects. And I have a cold and I'm not at home where my mom's doing my laundry and making me some soup and wrapping a blanket around me as I study. I'm having to be pretty self-sufficient and figure these things out."

And so, I think that the Character Skills Snapshot gives us an insight into that child on a social-emotional level that we may not necessarily get from the traditional application process. It's fundamental to know that about a student, specifically, I would say, for the boarding piece. Because again, I think the boarding piece is just an added stressor, sometimes to already, high rigorous academics, pretty high expectations, engagement in many levels. And then you add in, "Oh, yeah, I don't live at home and I have to do all my own laundry. I have to be pretty self-sufficient." And so, it gives us insight into their ability to thrive in that independent world a little bit more.

Lisa Pelrine: Yeah. And I would agree with everything that Kila said, right? It's just an added layer to really get to know the student in a different way. And I think Kila makes a great point that especially in a boarding environment, because for a lot of our kids, they're not coming from another boarding school, right? So, that's the hardest thing to kind of assess that minus that family dynamic, the family support, everything that they're getting, how and then plop them into a dorm situation where they're going to gaining that independence.

And of course, there are so many dorm parents and community members to help them, but what is their grit level? How are they going to thrive in that environment or can they ask for help? Can they advocate and being able to do those things? And of course, it's going to be a tough transition for some, but do they have the ability to be able to kind of make it through there.

And for some kids, if maybe, perhaps they're coming from a public school that just hasn't been the best experience. And so, teacher recommendations aren't really going to reflect who that student is in a different environment where they do have smaller classes and some academic support, but they also can be challenged where they thrive. It just again adds that extra layer of really getting to see that student's profile in a different way. So, for us, it's just another added piece that's super valuable, just to kind of get a different perspective of that student's profile.

Kila McCann: If I can add. I think the other thing that it does, and as I said, there's not really a benchmark, I think we're sort of still collecting data. But the other thing it allows us to do is if we see that there's a certain area where maybe that child is still developing, it allows us to say to dorm parents and advisors and other folks, "Look, this child probably needs some help or needs some tools in this area." They're not there yet. So, just so you know who that child is, we can give you what they're interested in, where they're from, all of those sorts of things. We can even tell you a little bit about their character.

But this gives us even much more supporting anecdotal evidence to say to folks who are going to be working with these students on a daily basis that here's some areas that they need to, there's growth, there's growth opportunity for this child here. So, it's not a pass or fail or a make or break, it's more just who are you and how do you handle situations? And where's the area opportunity for you to improve and grow and evolve?

Daren Worcester: Wonderful. Thank you. So, as students are thinking about preparing for the interview, Lisa, you sort of mentioned dress code before. I'd be interested in digging into that a little bit further and what should the kids wear at each of your respective schools. But also, should they bring anything with them? The parents might be thinking, "Do I need to fill up the application in advance?" And if they're a student, let's say, is interested in the arts, should they bring a portfolio, showing some of their artworks? Things like that. So, Kila, why don't you go first with that, please?

Kila McCann: Yes, yes, and yes. I use a phrase with our students both, who are currently here and many folks, dress for your audience. Just know who you're interviewing with, right? I mean, be comfortable. You're going to be walking around campus. Be comfortable, but just be appropriate. And every school's got a different dress code. I mean, so, know your audience. Know who you're interviewing with.

If you're going to be shadowing for a day or spending the night if your experience allows that then just dress for that experience. Just know what's going to happen. And if you're not sure, ask. Ask prior to. I would say, all of us love engagement. Reaching out, "Hey, is there anything I need to know before my interview? Is there anything I need to know about dress code? Here's what I hope to see." We love that. I mean, it just helps us get to know the student better, but also build that experience to meet what they want to see during that time.

If you are an amazing pianist, yeah, you know what? It's okay if you say, "Do you mind if I just sit at this piano and knock something out for you?" "Yeah. Absolutely. Let's do it." I mean, I've had kids play the trumpet, the violin, sing, share videos, share a go-kart race. I mean, you name it and we love it, because it allows us to really get to know the child. Do we want to see all of your participation awards? Probably not, but if it's something that you're really, if it's something that you're super passionate about that you think you do well, and you really want us to know about you then yes. Just share that with us, share the experience of whatever it was with us.

Again, we don't need to know that, you played in a tournament in hockey in the 5th grade. Unless that's the most proud thing that you've achieved, then we probably don't need to know that. But things that really add to what you will bring to the school in terms of who you are, but also, sharing with us who you are beyond the questions that we ask.

Lisa Pelrine: Yeah. Because I agree with everything Kila said. Like yes, yes, yeah. And it's just, for us, it's like, "Wow." Then you can kind of say, like, "Wow, that's an amazing portfolio you have there." And my visual arts teacher would love to see that and/or "Now, I can see how you can apply that in the visual arts classes here at CH-CH." So, it just kind of helps make those connections and bridge that.

And like Kila said, we as admissions, people try to get a lot of information ahead of time, so that way we can give you the best possible experience, once you're here on campus. So, if you are an athlete, and you're an amazing lacrosse player, I'm going to make sure that that lacrosse coach is available to say hi to you and talk a little bit about that program. And so, it's a back and forth, right? So, it's as much as we know about that student. And I think this is extremely helpful, too for that shy kid.

Once you kind of get that topic that they are so proud of and love talking about, that is a million bucks right there. It just like opens up that conversation. You can kind of see the weight off their shoulders and just, you know. So, it's key things like that, but 100 percent agree with what Kila said, just know your audience. And it's, again, all about best fit and where you're going and how you can see yourself in that environment or community. So, I think the more they can prepare and the more information we know, the better experience, it will be for everybody.

Daren Worcester: What about the other end of that spectrum? Is there any topic or information that perhaps they shouldn't share or any experiences where kids have said things where you're like, "Maybe don't tell us about that." Lisa, can you touch on that, please?

Lisa Pelrine: In a way, it's kind of good if they say something that—

Kila McCann: I was just thinking that. I was thinking about the exact same thing.

Lisa Pelrine: For us, those whoops moments are almost kind of good for us just to kind of, again, really get an insight to that student and such. To be honest, the more transparent a family is during the process, the best it is at the end of the day for everyone. I was just talking to a mom on my way in and I said, she was worried because... well, a lot of our kids they might struggle with executive function skills or might have ADD or ADHD and have some neuro psych testing done. And I said, "That's extremely helpful for us." Right? We can be proactive with your child instead of reactive, like had we just known that since the first day of school, now we're two months in, it's so much better.

So, for us, I love the openness and the transparency. And again, it's that at the end of the day, we want to make sure your child can be successful in our schools, right? And so, the more information we have, I agree with Kila. There's a stop to that. We don't need to know every single thing, but what's most relevant as they're transitioning into their high school experience that can help us. Parents are the child's first teachers, right? They know them best, hopefully, in most cases, right? So, how is that information valuable? So, I look at those kind of oops moments, like as a helpful thing, just to kind of be like, "Oh, tell me. Let's expand on that a little bit."

Kila McCann: I agree with everything Lisa says. I can't think of anything that has been shared with me that I went, "I don't know that I would have shared that." I can think of things parents have shared that I've gone, "I really don't need to know that." I can think of moments that were pretty nontraditional that actually made me laugh, because it broke up the monotony of just the interview, interview, interview where it sounded fairly the same.

If anything, I would say, "Don't tell me what you think I want to hear. Don't tell me that, just don't tell me and don't tell me what I can read in your application, right? Tell me more. Who are you? Don't be afraid to overshare some of the things like what you do when you hang out with your friends."

I would say two things that happen, that I've seen happen is students will share more with other students. So, I would say like probably everybody, you need to be mindful of what's on your social media, be really mindful, especially when you're touring, and you're with an admission ambassador, and you share that with another student. And that student says, "Ms. McCann is this is really, this child that came in and interviewed. There's some not so great things on here." I would say you'll get even more authenticity with student to student and then getting that feedback from your ambassadors is pivotal.

And I will share a funny anecdotal moment that broke up the monotony for me, and it still makes me laugh to this day. I interviewed a student who showed up in the Charlie Sheen shirt from, yeah. And he was quite funny. I think he was a little eccentric. I could tell from the start of the interview. And we were in the middle of the interview. He had shadowed for the better part of the morning. And he, in all seriousness, stood up and said," Do you mind if I take a break? I really need some more of that hot chocolate from the dining hall. I mean, I'm just really craving it." And I thought, "Well, okay, yeah, absolutely. You should get up and go get some more hot chocolate if it's going to make you..."

I mean, and he was with all sincerity, like. "I really need to do this right now." And I thought, "Well, it's okay." This is clearly important. He likes the hot chocolate. We need to go make this happen. And I wasn't annoyed. I was more like, "Well, that was an authentic moment." I mean, it was clearly on his mind. He wanted to do that and it was a pretty nontraditional interview in every aspect. And yet, that's the way his brain worked and that's okay. And I actually enjoyed it.

It still makes me laugh to think about it when I think about the whole picture of this young man on my couch, not at all reserved or anything. And I asked him what his proudest moment in his life was. And he said, "You know what? In the 7th grade, a girl actually talked to me." And I thought, "This child is just everything was truly authentic." And I mean, some people would have interviewed him and went, "Oh, my gosh." But I interviewed him and thought, "You can't get much more real than we've just gotten right now." I'm okay. I can work with that. If you know what you're getting, we can figure it out.

Daren Worcester: Transparency is the moral of the story there. I think we're taking that away. Let's talk a little bit about the parents because Lisa, you mentioned before of separating the parents from child during the interview, and we offer some advice on Admission.org where we encourage them to practice interviewing with their kids or have a neighbor practice interviewing with the kids. And we even have sample interview questions, that sort of stuff, which I know tows a very fine line with admission teams. There's certainly a difference between practicing and coaching. What would you say to parents in that regard? And Lisa, why don't you go first, please?

Lisa Pelrine: Yeah, I think just kind of the typical do's and don'ts of an interview just to kind of prepare, but every director or associate or whoever's doing the interview, they all have their different styles, right? And there are going to be different questions, so there's only so much you could prepare them for. And if you over prepare them and then they're not ready for that particular question or style, it almost does a disservice to the student in that moment. I think just having them believe in their child, right? That they've come this far and there's a reason why you're applying to this particular school. And just really, just making sure that the student can just kind of, again, be their authentic self.

I think if you over prepare or try to do too much, it gets the student anxious, and they can't focus on kind of really what they want to talk about. And they're thinking about, "Oh, my God. My parents told me to do this, and it just is a distractor." Sometimes, like what you just said, maybe having a neighbor or someone who's not the parent, kind of do some interviewing tips or prep, I think that would be a better suggestion, I would say, because it kind of takes the stress off of that.

And always after the interview, I would say to the parents, like, "Kila, just did an amazing job. She just..." And then I was like, "The real test is your parents now. Let's you know." So, I said, "I hope they don't mess it up." Just to kind of like joke a little bit about that to know that the student did a great job and they owned it. But obviously, don't over prepare. It's going to stress the kid out. And then just to take away from the naturalness of a conversation, I would say.

Kila McCann: I think I would add and Lisa's probably going to laugh because we know each other well. And I can be a little bit of a traditionalist in this aspect. I'm a big believer in good manners all the time. I mean, eye contact, shake a hand, thank you. Again, I think it says, "This is a place I want to be." Even if at the end of the day, you said, "This isn't for me. Thank you for this experience. I really appreciate it."

I believe in some of—just manners. Again, just knowing your audience and some manners and being able to... and also, I think from a student perspective, it goes a long way. And I know, this is one of the questions as a follow-up, but it goes a long way, when families say, "Can I have my student ambassador's email? We just really want to, we want to write them a thank you note. They really were phenomenal." Or after a visit day, we send thank you notes, but it'd be nice to, it's always nice just to have that follow through from the families that says, "Hey, we really enjoyed it. We, especially liked when Lisa did this or showed us this or spoke about their own experience."

So, I just, I always fall back on just manners. And the other part I would say is, don't blindside your child. Don't show up at our schools without your child knowing that that's what you're doing. And we've all had that, where a child shows up, and they're like, "What am I doing here?" or "I didn't know I was interviewing and I'm not even sure this is what I want." And there's a misalignment between parent expectation and what the student really wants. I mean, we've all experienced that, too. So it is important to talk about this prior to coming for the visit, because we'll know. I mean, we'll know because we're going to talk to the child and the child is going to share. They're going to say, "Look, this wasn't my idea. This was my parents' idea."

And I will say for all of us, that's when I say, "Well, you know what? I'm on your team. Let's talk about why you're not interested." And if we think we can get them to kind of understand that's great, but if not, I mean, it's kind of just been a hard visit for everybody I think. So, really, really talking about your child about this experience prior to is the best preparation. But I would agree with Lisa, you really can't over prepare them. I mean, just don't do that. And then the only other thing I would add is do your research. Just do, get onto the website, talk to people, read, look at all the social media outlets. You can learn a lot from the social media outlet, so I would just say, "Look, at all those things, too."

Daren Worcester: As a parent, what I'm taking away from what both of you are saying is to really know your child. And so, if I have a child that is introverted and shy that perhaps having a neighbor ask him a few questions, just to get him used to the scenario is a good idea. If I have an extovert, we probably can skip and go straight past go on that one, right? And so, it's really the moral of the story for me here is try not to put undue pressure on your child.

And Kila, you did address the gratitude thing, which I did want to bring up because I've seen, obviously, handwritten note, shows that they spent a lot of time and that they were really thoughtful about it. And I've heard other admission directors say, "Yeah, handwritten notes are great, but honestly, I prefer an email because it's easier for me to respond. We've got so much going on at that time of the year." Where do you guys sit on that fence?

Kila McCann: I'll weigh in first. And again, I think this is the traditionalist in me, which I know people will be shocked to hear. I love a handwritten note. I mean, I love writing handwritten notes. I love a handwritten note, but I also realize that I mean, I'm the proud owner of a 28- and a 24-year-old. I mean, handwritten notes are not the thing, so I get it.

But I do think, even whatever platform you're on, whether it's a quick WeChat or it's a WhatsApp or it's a text or it's an email, "Hey, Ms. Mac, that was awesome. Loved it. This is..." or even from the parents, some sort of follow up is important. And just as it important for us and our teams to do it, it's important for I think on the flip side, for the student and the family to do it. Again, I love a handwritten note, so I can't... that's my personal preference.

Lisa Pelrine: I would agree with Kila that for me and my team, we actually write a handwritten note to every family who comes to the school for an interview. So, I think I kind of instilled that at the beginning from this end. And I love getting the notes. And it shows, "Wow, this kid is like super interested." I take note of that. I keep track of all that information, too. That like, "Wow. They were super interested in our school. They really liked it." And that shows me that they're taking an extra step to do that.

Of course, handwritten notes are great, but I think at the end of the day, any form of thanks is super appreciative and shows us that, again, as we're doing, I said this multiple times during this conversation about best fit, right? That this family gets it. They are connected. They understand our mission and see the fit. That shows that.

And then, I was super surprised when I came in the other day. I actually got like a handwritten note from a student to thank me for his acceptance box. Right? So, it wasn't just the interview, but just like, "Thank you for accepting me into CH-CH." Taking the time to do that. We do an acceptance video, like many schools and a lot of people reply to that. But this kid right here like, I was like, "Yes, Sam." I was so excited to see that, right? So, that just kind of shows me their investment in this process. So, I think it's always sweet to get those little touches. So, yeah.

Daren Worcester: Awesome. I think thank yous and gratitude are a logical conclusion to this episode as you both have been awesome today and shared a lot of great advice. I really appreciate it. I'm sure the listeners do as well, so thank you very much.

Lisa Pelrine: Well, thanks for having us. Happy to do this, yeah.

Kila McCann: Thank you.

Daren Worcester: And for everyone listening, thank you for joining this #admissionchat. Please look for another episode soon. And for more insight into the private school application process, visit Admission.org and check out our Admission Academy live webinar series. Thank you. Take care, everyone.

A hand drawn cloud graphic.

Subscribe to #admissionchat

Don't miss an episode—subscribe on your favorite podcast platform: Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Pandora, Spotify, Stitcher.

Save 14 hours or more applying with the Standard Application Online.
Get Started!

Let’s get going!

A hand drawn graphic of two rabbits running.

Save time applying to private schools with the Standard Application Online. Apply to any of over 400 participating schools with one set of documentation and a single student essay.

The Official SSAT Practice

The path to bright SSAT results starts with studying. Only EMA's official Online Practice and Guide Books feature four full-length tests with 600 questions created by the same people who develop the SSAT. Compared to the competition, it's no competition—you get more and pay less with our official study guides!

Get started today with the free online Mini-Practice Test to identify focus areas.

A hand drawn graphic of a plant.

Find a school that’s unbe-leaf-able!

Whatever type of private school you're looking for, we've got it. Day schools. Boarding schools. Schools that dance. Schools that play. Schools that pray. Use our Private School Search to discover the schools that will help your child hone their strengths and discover hidden talents. Where will they blossom?

Admission Concierge at Your Service

Grow your understanding of the private school application process with Admission Concierge, a free newsletter delivering timely reminders and advice throughout the application process. It's everything you need to know—precisely when you need to know it.

Stand Out With the Snapshot

The Character Skills Snapshot is an innovative measure of student preferences, attitudes, and beliefs, helping schools get to know who an applicant is rather than just what they know from grades and standardized tests—letting their uniqueness shine. Add the Snapshot to your student's application today to help them stand out.