On our last admission blog post “Top 2 Tips from a Private School Admission Officer,” we received the following comment from a reader:

I’d love your insights on how to help a slow-to-warm/”shy” child with their interview process and your experience with students who are more introverted at first.

We love and value the introverts on our campus! In fact, we hear from parents that one of our strengths is making space for quiet students in classrooms and in leadership positions. We are sensitive to the challenges interviews can pose for those who are quiet, and our interviewers work to make all students at ease and to bring them into the conversation.

With that said, we know a student interview can feel overwhelming or scary, and we would like to help demystify this step in the private school admission process. We sat down with two members of the Westridge admission team Margaret Shoemaker, Ed.D. (director of admission) and Sarah Jallo (senior director for enrollment management and student outcomes) to discuss their thoughts on how to prepare an introverted student for their interview.

What is your advice for parents who are preparing a “shy” student for their interview?

Shoemaker: I think, especially for a more introverted student, that not knowing what to expect and feeling caught off-guard can be challenging. I think parents can and should talk to their student about what’s coming so that they are informed about the circumstances or format of the interview. That includes information around how long the interview will last, who may be in the room or Zoom call with them, and whether it’s a group interview with other students (like Westridge’s interview process) or a one-on-one meeting.

Jallo: It’s also important for parents to help their student understand that their interview is one piece of a bigger picture. Schools use interviews to better understand who the student is beyond what is written on paper through the application, report cards, and evaluations. All these pieces eventually come together to be looked at as a whole and none are viewed in a silo. If your student feels a lot of pressure or nerves around an interview, it can help to contextualize this step within the larger process. Admission does not hinge on one single step in that process.

What is your advice for introverted students entering this process?

Shoemaker: I would want every student, introverted or extroverted, who is entering this stage of the process to know that we are looking to make connections in the interview process and to envision ways you will both thrive and be challenged at our school. We are on your side, and the interviewer is there because they want to get to know the authentic, real you.

Jallo: Exactly. The whole admission process only works when everyone is authentic—the school, the family, and the student. We want to honor who the students actually are in all their unique ways, and we’re not trying to look for a cookie-cutter set of qualities on a checklist through this process.

Shoemaker: For the introverted kids specifically, we are not expecting you to be someone you’re not. But you do have a responsibility to show up, be present, and engage, even in small ways, because we all learn by participating. It may be a little uncomfortable and that is okay.

Jallo: There is a place for both introverts and extroverts in society and in school. An interview might be a little outside of your comfort zone, but we really do value your voice and want to honor who you are. This is an opportunity for you to share that with us, in your own words.

What are some interviewing strategies that you’d recommend students think about before their interview?

Shoemaker: Make as much eye contact as possible or, if your interview is online, practice looking into the camera when you’re speaking and keep the area around you distraction-free.

Also, be an active listener! That means paying attention to what’s being said in the interview when you’re not speaking. If you are participating in a group interview, for example, do your best to be present during the conversation even when you are not speaking so that when it’s your turn, you can share your own thoughts and maybe even build on what was said by someone else.

Jallo: I think it’s important not to try and over-prepare your child for an interview. As noted earlier and in addition to Margaret’s comments, preparing for the format and what to expect is the best preparation. We find that when students are anticipating certain questions or have prepared for what one assumes would be a “typical” interview question, they try and fit those prepared answers into the conversation rather than being an active listener and authentically engaging in the conversation. When you are busy trying to get a prepared answer into the conversation, it shows.

Any final thoughts?

Jallo: Every child has unique qualities that make them truly themselves. The admission process overall is designed to help build a class that includes diversity of thought, personality, and background. The most important thing you can do at any point in this process, from the initial application to the interview, is to be true to who you are.


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