Commonalities Between Successful Candidates in US Boarding School Interviews

Working as an admissions counselor at a US boarding high school for the past 2 years, I have interviewed a diverse array of candidates. Interviewing prospective students was the best part of my job, because I got to meet amazing students and have engaging conversations. The most challenging part of my job came right after the interview, when it was time to assess the candidate’s performance. Every single student I have met has been their own wonderful mix of traits and accomplishments, but sadly the boarding school application process can be highly competitive and does not allow a spot for every student. While every student is unique and every interview is distinctive, there were a number of behaviors and qualities that top candidates displayed in their interviews. In this article, I lay out the top 5 commonalities that successful US boarding school applicants displayed during their interviews. My hope is that through reading this article, you can get a better sense of how to prepare for interviews. 

  1. Start with a Warm Greeting

As schools began to control outbreaks of COVID-19 in 2021, many US boarding schools began offering in-person interviews once again. As a faculty interviewer, I had the pleasure of meeting with my candidates in person. When visiting a boarding school community in-person, first impressions are critical. I like to tell students that your interview begins before you even walk through the door. This means that the way you behave on campus and in the waiting room for the interview signals a lot to the interviewer. For example, if your interviewer has to call your name multiple times because you are distracted by your phone in the waiting room, you might not start off on the best foot. 

I found successful candidates were often waiting with their phone away, and looking eager to be called into the interview. When first meeting a candidate, it is lovely to be greeted with a warm smile, firm handshake and eye contact. However, it is critical to note here that this form of a greeting is culturally unique to the United States. If handshaking or eye contact is not common practice in your culture, then you do not need to alter your customs to please an interviewer. If you are accustomed to greeting others in a different way, this is a great opportunity to tell your interviewer about your unique cultural greetings!

  1. Answer Questions Directly and Completely 

Interviews at US boarding schools usually provide candidates with a list of questions that they can prepare before the interview. Answering these questions fully and efficiently signals to your interviewer that you took time to prepare. Taking the time to polish your responses shows the interviewer that you care about the interview, and that you could be successful in preparing for coursework throughout the year! Sometimes there is a set of questions that you do not get to prepare for in advance, but these questions are equally important. 

Successful candidates always answered all the questions fully while also making space to share more about themselves. Sometimes it might be easy to answer a question in one sentence. But longer answers that provide more context and show more of your personality are way more engaging. For example, if an interview asks you: “how was your day?” The easiest response might be to just say “good.” However, a more engaging and complete response will find ways to weave in more details. Something like this is bound to impress an interviewer: “My day was great, thank you for asking. I am really excited to be here, and I really enjoyed touring the campus this morning. I saw your photo in the English building, so I hope I can ask you some questions about the English program during our interview today!” 

Always stay on topic, but don’t be afraid to add more information. 

  1. Do Not Be Afraid to Pause

Some students come into interviews really nervous. Even the most successful candidates might be shy when the interview first begins. That is totally normal! But what set apart successful students was their ability to relax and ease into the interview. Instead of talking a-mile-a-minute when nervous, it is wonderful to see students who are not afraid to take a 30 second pause to collect their thoughts. Taking this time to slow down means that your answers will be more focused and genuine. 

A short pause in a conversation is natural, and can help you get back on track if you start to feel distracted. You can even ask your interviewer to repeat their question if you need a little more time to collect your thoughts. The interview is your time to shine, so don’t be afraid to take those extra few sections to craft the perfect response.

  1. Make Your Interest in the School Clear

Interviewers know that candidates might apply for more than one boarding school. However, we are really looking for candidates who want to go to our specific school. Selecting students for entrance is a mutual decision: the student should want to go to the school as much as the school wants to have the student! A student might have an excellent application, but if they make it clear in the interview that they are not interested in your school, they are likely not going to do very well on the interview evaluation.  On the other hand, students who shared glowing reviews of the school they were interviewing for were often the most successful. You can show the interviewer you are interested in their school in two ways. The first is to share specific elements about the school that make it unique in your mind. The second is to ask questions. Asking questions about the school is a great way to show the interviewer you are picturing yourself as a student there and would be excited to be a part of the community. 

  1. Show Your Gratitude

After interviewing a student, it was always really nice when they ended the interview with some words of gratitude. It can be as simple as saying “thank you for your time,” but it goes a long way. Saying thank you signals that spending this time with your interviewer was important to you, and that you appreciate that you had the opportunity to meet with them. 

Feeling nervous about an upcoming interview? Try meeting with an experienced tutor or coach at Aegis Advisors. Contact us today to see how we can help.