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How to Ace the Interview

The last, and often most dreaded, step of the application process is one that only your child can do: the personal interview.


Ace interview

photo: courtesy of carden academy


For parents or guardians, school admissions interviews can be an intimidating mystery. What do schools measure when asking the nebulous question: Is this child a good fit?


Most schools speak of a “good fit,” but what does this mean for your child? Should they know how to read or do advanced mathematics? Play an instrument? Pua Fernandez, director of admissions at Kamehameha Schools’ Kapālama campus, and Megan Meyer, director of admissions at La Pietra Hawai‘i School for Girls, let us in on the thinking behind the interview process.


“Most schools look for students who will be positive contributors to their student body,” says Fernandez, citing character, academics and interests.


Schools examine applicants holistically, with particular attention to youngsters’ abilities and potentials. “Most schools are looking at a child’s overall readiness in school,” says Meyer. “Some schools are very play-oriented and really take a creative approach to kindergarten, others have more of an academic emphasis.”


What schools focus on also depends on grade level. “Interviews for applicants to grades six through nine are designed to get to know the applicant, their interests, ideas, communication skills, character, etc.,” says Fernandez.


While interviews with older applicants may explore established characteristics, Fernandez says, “Observations for kindergarten are a little different. We simulate a ‘typical’ kindergarten day and we are looking at social skills, classroom readiness skills, creativity and problem-solving.”


In the end, this is only one part of the application, providing crucial perspective not visible on paper. “It is the only personal contact we have with the applicants in the process,” says Fernandez.



1) Read to your child, as this helps build imagination and vocabulary.


2) Ask lots of questions and let your child respond. This builds communication skills. 


3) Explain to your child what will happen during the interview. Be straightforward with older children that this is an interview, but “for younger children,” such as kindergarten applicants, “we advise parents to simply tell their child that they are going to play games with a teacher to see if this is a good school for them,” says Fernandez. 


4) On interview day, don’t overdress your child in uncomfortable shoes or clothes. “We tell parents that their children should dress neatly, but comfortably,” says Fernandez.


5) As much as possible, have your child get a good night’s sleep.  


6) The day of the interview, be sure your child eats a good breakfast.


7) Your attitude the morning of the interview will affect your child’s stress level, so make the school visit a fun adventure. Keep your own anxiety in check and do not worry your child unnecessarily. “For young children, if it’s a new environment, we encourage parents to bring their child to campus beforehand to get comfortable,” says Ella Browning, director of admissions  at Mid-Pacific Institute.


8) Prepare your child—and yourself—for the possibility of rejection. Keep your disappointment in perspective. “Rather than feeling like you won the lottery if you get accepted school A or school B—it’s about finding the right fit for your child,” says Meyer. Buying into a win/lose mindset can be harmful for you and your child. Remember that there are many different roads to success and a kindergarten rejection is not likely to dictate your child’s future. 


9) If significant changes (i.e., family emergencies, unexpected events) occur, communicate with the admissions office.


10) Tutoring for kindergarten is not recommended; instead, focus on home development. “It’s about the social-emotional readiness. If you can’t work with someone, take directions, or collaborate …” says Browning. In fact, most preschools already cover what admissions committees are measuring in applicants.


11) Be clear on your own family values and take the opportunity to learn about the school’s mission ahead of time, says Meyer. If in doubt about something, call the admissions office.


12) You should not have to pay for reference reports or recommendation letters. “I have never heard of a teacher or administrator requesting compensation to provide a reference,” says Fernandez.


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