The school year has officially wrapped in our household after our son completed kindergarten Friday. He thrived under the tutelage of his inspiring educators and, after giving a speech about how excited he was to learn to read, was presented a certificate for his love of literature.
We anticipate he will continue to feel the thrill of mastering new subjects each year as he advances through the grades toward university. And if that is the route he chooses, we hope his accomplishments combined with good character will aid him in his acceptance to a well-matched school.
College has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons this spring after news of the admissions cheating scandal broke and is still unfolding in the media. It illustrates the outrageous lengths some families will go to to get their children into top schools, sometimes spending more on bribes than the tuition itself.
When the admissions scandal broke, I contacted education consultant Hafeez Lakhani, of Lakhani Coaching, who I interviewed for a column last month. He was candid about having been asked for favors in the past but made it clear parents were asking the wrong guy.
Lakhani tutors prospective applicants in crafting honest character stories that highlight unique attributes to differentiate themselves. He uses a dinner table as an analogy. “What can you contribute to take the last seat at the table?” Lakhani asks of his clients.
This week, I expand on the topic of the school tour and its multiple elements to make for a rewarding experience.
A student’s academic record and test scores speak for themselves. An interview provides an opportunity to stand out from fellow applicants and carries more weight when applying to boarding school.
• Practice mock interviews until you feel comfortable being your genuine self, providing a few experiences or achievements in response to questions. Just like when you’re studying for an important exam, don’t cram the night before. This requires weeks of planning and preparation. Allow 20 to 60 minutes per session.
• Record yourself to provide an opportunity to review your pacing, body language and to practice omitting filler words. Debrief with a partner to see where you could improve. Practice — but not so much so that you sound rehearsed.
• Know what type of student the school is looking for and why it is a top choice for you.
• The first question sets the tone. When asked to tell the interviewer about yourself, have a two-minute answer prepared that hits on the most important points. Be specific by saying, “For example,” which steers the conversation. Be concise. “Think highlight reel, not documentary,” advises Lakhani. Be confident, not boastful.
• Brush up on current events with an emphasis on your opinions, not reciting facts.
• Memorize your questions for the interviewer. Do your homework and think of questions that cannot be answered online.
• Be presentable (business casual) with your cellphone off or silent.
• Be yourself. Interviewers want to get to know the real you.
Official visits and overnights
Recruit visits often involve overnights for prospective student athletes without the guidance of a parent. For many, it is the first time sleeping in a dorm, sitting in on classes and practicing with a college level sports team. There is a lot of pressure to handle one’s self appropriately in a variety of circumstances.
• Coaches already have a sense of your athletic talent and want to get to know you before making an offer. Ask engaging questions about the program and the school. Be friendly and acknowledge everyone you encounter. Stay on your best behavior around players, staff and trainers who might all have a say.
• Be on time and prepared for practice. Show you are a team player by helping with equipment or getting water.
• Be humble and respectful even if you play at a higher level than those you are practicing with or observing. Never speak poorly about fellow recruits, the facilities or the program.
• Keep phone time limited to quick checks or not at all during down time, meals and while being hosted by fellow students. There is much to be gained by being an active observer.
• Engage with your student host who is introducing you to the culture of the program and school while being a student themselves. Keep your belongings tidy and make your bed. Gain additional insight by speaking with students in the cafeteria or dorm.
• Avoid the temptations of alcohol at parties or any circumstance that would negatively impact your chance of an offer.
Any communication demonstrates interest and is documented in your file. Initial and subsequent contact should be professional. In the absence of a meeting, your correspondence is the only impression a school has of you. Having said that, some applicants have more resources than others to prepare and present themselves, which is why focusing on your character story is so important.
• Upon leaving an interview or office, request the interviewer’s contact information by asking for a business card or email address.
• Thank you letters show interest and indicate you took the time to express your gratitude for a tour, interview or visit. They are an opportunity to share what you liked best about the school, that it is high on your list and that you look forward to applying. They can be handwritten or, for tracking purposes, emailed. Jay LaShombe, senior assistant director of admissions at the University of Vermont, says, “We get more [thank you notes] than I was expecting. It’s very pleasing to see.”
• In direct contrast to texting, structure emails the same way you would a letter, using salutations and titles, unless told specifically to use a first name. Use proper grammar, punctuation and capital letters at the beginning of a sentence. Avoid exclamation points and emojis.
Most visiting students are accompanied by a parent or guardian. Parents are invaluable for sharing and enhancing the experience. It’s important, however, for the parent to ensure the student get the most out of the visit.
• Empower your child to be engaging and ask the questions. “They know their son or daughter better than I do, so I understand the prodding questions,” LaShombe said. But, he adds, “It’s a grown-up process, and the student should own it.”
Whether you are preparing for an interview, writing an essay or sending a thank-you note, think about how best to communicate what makes you a compelling person while being your authentic self. “There’s no one type of person who goes to college” said LaShombe.
Preparing in advance will help you ace your way to a fulfilling academic career.
Bizia Greene is an etiquette expert and owns the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Send your comments and conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org or 988-2070.
College interview questions
These sample questions, provided by Lakhani Coaching, highlight what interviewers care about. Your answers should help identify your character traits:
• If I asked your (friends/parents/teachers) to describe you, what words would they use?
• What are your biggest weaknesses? How are you working on improving them?
• How would your presence enhance the college experience for our other students?
• Tell me about a time that you faced a challenge and overcame it.
• What is your favorite (book/movie/game) and why?
• What can I tell you about this college?
What a prospective student can ask
• In your experience, what do you think sets your college apart?
• How did your particular college help you get to where you are today?
• What does it mean to be a student at your school?