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Having undergone the prep school admissions process twice with our son, we thought we knew what we were doing, but our highly focused eighth grade daughter has disabused us of that notion and taken charge of the school search. Before school was out last June, she had me schedule her appointment with the educational placement consultant. She arranged for a meeting with the head of her current school to seek her input as to appropriate schools, and she started doing research on-line.
After researching about 20 different schools which included driving through some over the summer in order to get the feel of the school without students, she has narrowed her list to 11 at which she wants to interview. While her father and I would like to have her within two hours of home, she insists on considering three schools in southern New England and one in California, a school highly recommended as a good fit for her by both our consultant and the head of her current school. Our daughter is considering all-girls schools, co-ed schools and schools both with and without strong horseback riding programs. She has been thoughtful about her choices, so we are trying to be open-minded; and in fact are looking forward to our trip west.
Now as any of you with multiple children know, they are different. Our son let us drive the process, read the catalogs in the car on the way to the tour and may have heard half the advice offered by the consultant. As a boy, the whole question of what to wear was moot. The same navy blazer, tie and penny loafers worked for every interview for two years. She has had two practice interviews during which she was encouraged to provide thoughtful, expansive answers to the interviewers questions and discouraged from fidgeting, actually studied for the SSATs, and has spent the last month worrying about what to wear to which interview.
Some observations from the field on the school visit:
- Be on time. We once observed a mother and daughter break out in a heated argument in the reception area blaming each other for being an hour late.
- Turn off your cell phone.
- Have your child dress at least to the school’s dress code.
- Parents too should dress to the dress code but also should not upstage their child. I have been distracted by fathers in blue jeans and tee shirts and mothers in sequins that might have been more fitting at a holiday party.
- Wear comfortable shoes. Tours always involve a lot of walking over uneven ground and are often in the rain, cold or snow. I have regretted choosing vanity over comfortable and warm.
- Have a snack and a drink before you arrive. Most schools offer only the token cookie, and we are invariably starving by the time we leave.
- Write thank you notes promptly and your child should do the same. While I have no idea if this has any effect on the outcome, it seems the right thing to do.
The First Interview
Our daughter’s first interview was two weeks ago. Because we were worried that she would be overcome with stage fright and not speak, our consultant arranged for her to interview with a very experienced admission officer at a school where she should be a strong candidate.
The school had arranged for a girl who had attended our current school to give the tour. However when that girl failed for some reason to show up, they recruited a lively, engaging senior to show us the school. Our daughter was smitten with the girl’s passion for the school, articulate description of its strengths and, I must admit, her sense of style. They chatted away, and I might not have been there. The last time I had seen the school there had been many feet of snow on the ground, and this sunny, warm day the school seemed much more attractive. I worked my way through much of the reading material in the reception area while she was interviewed. Imagine my astonishment when my turn came, and I learned my daughter had chatted away for 40 minutes.
When we left, the admission officer gave her a rubber mascot of the school and a pen with the school’s name. Our daughter was delighted. That night she e-mailed her tour guide a thank you and received an immediate reply offering to answer any further questions and wishing her luck. She sent a prompt thank you to the admission officer and received a lovely note in return with a magnet shaped like the school’s pennant. The feedback from the school through the consultant was that the interview had gone well. Our daughter was so warmly received at this school that she definitely wants to apply and indeed feels she should go there if accepted because they have been so nice to her.
I am so grateful that she had a positive first interviewing experience to build her confidence as we go forward. We’ll see what the next ten interviews bring.
To maintain privacy and confidentiality, our author writes under
the pen name “Boarding School Mom” and all family, child consultant,
and school names will be changed or omitted. You can reach AQ’s
Boarding School Mom at email@example.com.