A prospective high school student waiving to the camera in a virtual private school interview.

How to Stand Out in Virtual Private School Interviews

December 1, 2020

Applying to private school may seem tricky if your family resides in a COVID-19 hotbed. If it’s not safe to conduct in-person school visits, you’re probably wondering—How will they truly get to know my child in a virtual interview? 

Keep in mind that the other families in your area applying to private schools are in the same situation, and with a positive mindset, you can turn this challenge into an opportunity. We’re here to help. Follow these tips and your child is sure to shine in the online application process. 

1. Prepare a virtual interview office.  

The small details matter when your child only has a short amount of time to shape a great first impression. Make sure your daughter or son is set up with front lighting from a lamp, window, or a ring light so that their smiling, happy face is clearly seen. You also want to have a solid wall behind them and avoid windows or direct light in the background as this will darken their appearance.

A commonly overlooked detail is having the camera set up at eye level to simulate a face-to-face interview. This is easily achieved by putting the laptop or camera on a box or a couple of thick books. Your laptop camera is likely adequate in terms of quality, but if you are having issues with it, you may want to consider an HD webcam.

As with the camera, your laptop’s built-in microphone probably suffices, but if you have sound issues, try testing the meeting platform in advance using the phone dial-in feature or get an external microphone.

If the interview is conducted through Zoom or another platform that enables participants to customize their background, select an image of personal significance to your child such as a photo of their artwork, them participating in a sport, or a memorable family camping trip. The background will be one of the first things the admissions officer asks about, making it a great ice breaker to calm your child’s nerves by talking about something he or she loves. It will also plant a memorable seed with the interviewer.

Last but certainly not least, select a quiet, closed-off room where your son or daughter won’t be interrupted by siblings or pets. It’s also a good idea to keep other family members off streaming video or Facetime calls during the virtual interview to avoid internet bandwidth issues.

2. Do your homework.

Take some time with your child to review the school’s website or viewbook and talk about why he or she would like to attend the school. This is guaranteed to be a key interview question. Just keep in mind that the purpose of the interview is for the school to get to know your child, so the reasons for attending the school should be his or her opinions. An experienced admissions officer is going to know the difference between how students naturally answer this question and what mom or dad coached them to say.

3. Practice makes perfect.

Nerves and jitters are fully expected, and it’s the admissions officer’s job to put your child at ease during the interview. That said, conducting practice interviews in advance using our list of private school interview questions will help your child feel better about the process going into the meeting. The key advice to impress upon your daughter or son is that there are no right or wrong answers—just be yourself!

To best simulate the getting-to-know-you vibe of an interview, have a friend, neighbor, or co-worker that your child hasn’t had a lot of contact with conduct the practice interview online. Ideally, use the same online meeting platform that the school uses if possible to test your virtual office setup. Have your child practice looking into the camera while talking as this is definitely an acquired skill.

4. Dress for success.

Dressing respectfully shows that your child cares about getting into the school and wants to make a good impression. Review the school’s dress code in advance as the standards for a Catholic day school may be vastly different than that of an art school. When in doubt, a good rule of thumb is to think of the interview as school picture day and dress accordingly.

5. Arrive early.

You get one chance to make a great first impression, so sign in to the virtual meeting five or ten minutes early to account for any unexpected software updates or technical snafus. Make sure to have the meeting info written down so that if there are any issues, you can quickly use the call-in option to explain the situation. It’s also a good idea to encourage your child to take a bathroom break fifteen minutes before the meeting and to have a glass of water available.

6.Follow up with a thank-you note.

After the interview, savvy admissions teams will follow-up with various communications to keep their school front and center for your family. If your son or daughter is old enough to write (even with some help), he or she can take a page from the school’s book by following up with a hand-written note, which shows that your child is willing to put in the extra work to succeed.

Middle and high school students can take this a step further by learning something personal about their interviewer during the meeting. For example, if your child says that they like taking the family dog for a walk, they could then ask the interviewer if he or she has any pets. Then use the information learned in the thank-you note (“Please give fluffy a pet for me!”) to show they are attentive and thoughtful.

If the admissions officer is working from home so you aren’t able to mail a hand-written note, consider a video message or e-card.

7. Take the SSAT at Home.

As with the thank-you note above, your child’s ability to stand out doesn’t end with the interview. If you are applying to a test-optional school, show that your child is willing to put in the work and take the SSAT at Home. It’s the same content as the traditional SSAT, now available online to manage health and safety concerns around COVID-19. Before taking the test, review our tips for how to prepare for the SSAT at Home.

If your family has a legitimate barrier to taking the test, let your admissions officer know why so they don’t make an incorrect assumption.

Want more tips and resources?

Join Admission Academy, our yearlong event program that supports families step-by-step through the private school admissions process.

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