Tips for a Successful Interview and Tour

Most independent and private schools require a visit and an interview as part of the application process. It’s not only an opportunity for the school to get to know the applicant and the family, but it’s also an opportunity for the family to experience firsthand the school’s culture and to ask questions that are not easily answered by a brochure or webpage. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about the interview process.

When should we schedule an interview and visit?

Generally, visits and interviews can be scheduled in the fall and up until the application deadline. Since each school might have a slightly different way of handling visits and interviews, start by visiting each school’s website.

Unless one of your schools requires an application to be submitted before visiting, scheduling a visit and interview before you submit your materials allows you to get a feel for the school and learn more about it before answering application questions.

How should we dress?

Dress presentably but comfortably. Resist the temptation to overdress; use the student dress code to guide you on how to dress. Remember to wear comfortable shoes if there is a working tour.

What types of questions will be asked during the interview?

We realize that many students have never been interviewed, and we try to make the experience meaningful and relaxing for them. Most schools will use this time to get to know your child and see if the child is a good fit with the school. There are no trick questions or wrong answers, and often, the “interview” becomes a spontaneous conversation and an exchange of ideas and interests. Try not to answer with just a “yes” or “no.” Expand on your answers. We always remind our applicants to relax and be themselves! We want to know the real student, not who you think we want you to be.

What should we expect?

Think of the visit and interview as an opportunity to connect and get to know one another authentically. Students should be ready to talk about themselves so we can understand their interests. They may feel uncomfortable by the attention, and it is normal for them to feel this way. The admissions officers will ask questions, but you have the opportunity to ask questions, too, so have some questions prepared so we can address your needs and concerns. Remember that most schools conduct separate interviews for the students and the parent/guardian.

How should we prepare?

Before the interview, talk to your child about what will happen; for example, there might be a separate interview for the student and parent/guardian. Remind your child to practice good manners and establish eye contact. Research the school’s website to gain insights into the school’s programs, offerings, mission, and core values. Although your child may feel anxious, encourage them to have a good night’s sleep and a full breakfast.

What types of questions should we ask during the interview and visit?

This is a positive experience where you can explore the various opportunities available to your child. At the end of the visit, you should feel that you know the school and that the school knows you.

• Dig deep. Try not to ask questions that you can easily find on the website. It’s an excellent opportunity to discuss the school’s philosophy and mission.

• Ask about the small but important details. How early can a child be dropped off? How does transportation work? What is the food like?

• Make a list of aspects of the school that are important to you and ask about those things

• Ask about the school’s expectations of parents/guardians, which may differ from day to boarding school.

Sketchbooks Immerse Students in Literature

Beth Repp, Middle School English Teacher

Approaching a novel for the first time can be daunting for students. What is the plot? Who are the main characters? How can I make sense of this? One of the most effective ways to help students engage deeply in a work of fiction and derive their own personal meaning from it, is to have each student create a literary sketchbook for each novel they read. 

What’s a Literary Sketchbook?

A literary sketchbook is like a scrapbook, a repository of meaning. It’s a place where the worlds of literature, poetry, and art meet and are explored creatively and thoughtfully. As students read and ponder a novel and its setting, characters, themes, and motifs, they find and create a variety of visual and verbal components that reflect their own responses to the work.

Students then carefully select and arrange these varied items in a notebook or scrapbook in an organized, intentional way to create a mosaic of meaning, an anthology of their own learning. 

Because the books are assembled by hand and not on a computer, students experience the authenticity and pleasure of artists and craftspeople as they savor the direct brain-to-fingers connection. Many students carry the books wherever they go so they can add a sudden insight or reflection at any time. 

The verbal items in a sketchbook might include:

• information that helps students better understand the novel, such as chapter questions, character profiles, outlines, quotations, plot summaries, and lists of themes, scenes or conflicts 

• their own personal reflections on the novel, such as short essays, poems, observations and accounts of related events or memories from their own lives

• relevant passages or quotations from other literary works 

The visual items might include: 

• their own drawings, maps, graphs and diagrams featuring arrows, dotted lines, and web-like filaments of connection 

• photos, illustrations and graphics from magazines, newspapers and other publications 

• collages blending their own illustrations with those from other sources

What Does an Actual Literary Sketchbook Look Like?

These items from one student’s literary sketchbook for “To Kill a Mockingbird” suggest the range of subjects, media, and approaches  students display in their books:

• a schematic map depicting the novel’s setting, literary techniques, language, and narrative structure

• descriptions of the main characters, along with photographs of the actors who played them in the film version of the novel

• a drawing of Boo Radley’s oak tree and a list of items hidden there

• a page describing the fears of the children and the student’s own childhood fears as well 

• a spiderweb chart depicting the ideas exchanged among students during their class discussion of the novel

• several pages devoted to the main themes, such as prejudice, courage, violence, loneliness

• poems by the student, each written from the perspective of a different character

• a mind map about the story’s villain, Robert E. Ewell

• an imagined dialog between Scout and Boo Radley fifteen years after the events of the novel

• a collage of images associated with Boo Radley, including a whimsical cartoon ghost shouting “Boo!”

How Do You Assess the Quality of Each Student’s Sketchbook? 

Assessing creative work is subjective, so I approach the evaluation process in a thoughtful and systematic way. I give critical and reflective feedback to each student on the items gathered and presented for the literary sketchbook. These include content, depth and detail, balance of verbal and visual elements, and the care and creativity shown in arranging the materials.

I hope to find in the sketchbooks evidence of a student’s deep investment and ownership. It’s easy to tell, for instance, how much time a student has spent searching for the “right” picture or photograph that perfectly captures the moment in the text.

The literary sketchbooks are works in progress, and by the end of the school year, students can flip through the pages and see a thoughtful and meaningful representation of their growth and the joy they’ve experienced through literature.

The Perils of Perfectionism and Delay

David Baker ’04

Upper School History Department Chair

What constitutes academic success? Many of us make the mistake of defining academic success as perfection. Considering this view, a test, essay or project isn’t a success unless it’s flawless and earns an A or A+. As a result of this mindset and message, students are likely to obsess about their work, to spend hours making endless revisions on a paper, or cram every particle of information into their heads for a test.

This frantic quest for perfection often leads students to ask teachers for extensions of deadlines or postponements of assessments. Such requests are often accompanied by statements such as, “I just need more time to make this paper better!” or “If I had just one more night to study, I know I’ll ace the test!”

• The Value of Making Mistakes 

By pursuing this false god of perfectionism, students are seeking to avoid an essential component of the educational process – making mistakes. Deep and essential learning often takes place when a student gets an answer wrong and discovers why it’s wrong, or when a student responds to a teacher’s suggestions for improving an essay. Goals are achieved during the process of learning, not by turning in the final product.

Not getting it right the first time is OK. This provides the opportunity for constructive feedback, productive adjustments, and for thoughtful revision. Just by doing the work and trying, a student is already succeeding.

But when students seek perfection, they’re trying to avoid the mistakes they actually need to make to understand the material and, more importantly, themselves. Fear of being imperfect can also erode a young person’s willingness to try new activities and experiences. A runner, who focuses solely on training only for the 200-meter dash, for instance, is missing out on the success and enjoyment to be savored by trying the 400-meter or the high jump. Those additional events can help with the 200-meter training and can lead to new growth as an athlete and competitor, even if the times and heights aren’t as competitive.

• Doing, Not Delaying

As high school students have already discovered, there are no extensions in the real world. Before firing the gun at a track meet, the starter doesn’t pause and ask the runners “Does anyone need more time to prepare for this race?” A barber doesn’t keep customers when he turns people away because he’s still perfecting his craft. An attorney doesn’t help a client if she misses the trial because she still needs more time to prepare. And future professors, bosses, or colleagues won’t say, “That’s OK; just turn it in tomorrow” when deadlines are missed.

Thus, a key responsibility of educators is to prepare students by establishing high standards, not only for the quality of academic work but for its timely and consistent completion. Students learn most effectively when expectations are high and they’ve done their best work in the time allotted to do it. Doing so helps students become more resilient and more independent as lifelong learners and as soon-to-be adults in a demanding world.

• To Delay Is To Stress

Ironically, the stress generated by continually asking for exemptions from deadlines can actually lead to lower rather than higher grades. This desperate scramble produces even more stress in students because now, rather than completing the work and being done with it, they must agonize over the assignment for an even longer period. This takes time away from their work in other classes, leading to even more academic panic. It’s better to do the work than to delay it.  

• A Healthy Balance

Adolescents today are pulled in many different directions. This requires them to learn how to plan and organize their time, balance the simultaneous and competing responsibilities of academic, athletic, extracurricular, and personal activities, and make difficult but necessary decisions about priorities, preferences, and passions. 

In my experience, students actually do better academically when they’re actively and authentically involved in a variety of activities outside the classroom. That’s because the organizational skills and resilience they’ve developed to handle competing tasks bring discipline to their studies as well. Moreover, participating in sports, performance groups, publications, and clubs provides an invigorating break that enables students to return to the classroom refreshed and re-energized.   

• True Academic Success

A complete and effective education means, not only absorbing information and mastering concepts, but also developing the self-discipline, resilience, and resourcefulness to meet the challenges and tasks of learning: to complete essays, homework and assessments on time, to do one’s best work under existing constraints, and to forsake perfect grades for true learning and a happier, less stressful life.  

A Mindful Education

By Kata Baker, Upper School Science Teacher, Head Coach Girls Swimming, Form Three Dean

We talk a lot about “managing” in education. “Good management” is generally held in high regard because it suggests students who achieve this skill are on the path toward accomplishing their goals – and impressive ones at that.

We say that students should manage their time, manage their stress, and manage their workload. This often means juggling several honors or Advanced Placement courses with an elective, Model United Nations, a varsity sport, and theater rehearsals. 

We say that students with good time management skills will be able to research, write and edit an English paper while cramming for a history test and preparing for a debate tournament the next day. We might even describe such students as “managing their stress well.”

Crisis Management

“Management,” in its essence, means “authority.” It implies having control or facing challenging odds and “coming out on top.” By using the word “management” in education, we’re subconsciously acknowledging that there ISN’T enough time, there IS too much work, and that students SHOULD feel an unbearable amount of stress – but that we want them to trudge through anyway. 

Under this mindset, putting together a “successful” four-year education for high-school students requires students to forget about discovering their true interests, abilities, and values, and instead to check off boxes and keep score – courses taken, clubs joined, sports played, leadership positions acquired, volunteer work performed. Students become so busy with everything, that they actually commit to nothing.

Education, when not tended and nurtured with the support and guidance of mindful adults, can easily become a goal-oriented, process-blind way of approaching life. The result is a school culture that values accomplishments over authenticity, performance over purpose, and superficiality over substance. This is not what teachers want for their students. 

Yes, curriculum and classroom lessons should invigorate, challenge and stretch students. Yes, it’s natural there will be time limits; teachers want to make productive use of the 60 minutes they have with their students. Yes, there is a task, a goal – work! And, yes, students will feel challenged. There IS some stress. 

All these things, in moderation, create a joyful, invigorating, and powerful education. But when pressure, deadlines, and rigor become excessive, teachers and students are simply managing.

Mindfulness, Balance, and Self-awareness

The role of teachers, advisors, and parents – the beautiful triangular support system our school provides – is to think mindfully about the life each student wants to live and about how to help each student strive for balance. 

Here’s what I wish for our students:  

• Quality over quantity. Sample, and then choose. ONE THING. Take an A.P. course only if you’re in love with the subject. Commit to one club that you can’t imagine not being a part of.

• Lead with you and your interests. 

• Listen to your body. We’re all designed to manage some stress. We naturally respond by releasing hormones that trigger a productive and appropriate response. Stress isn’t something we stifle or ignore, but we have to be thoughtful about how to react to it. 

• Learn how and when to say NO. Set boundaries. Set bedtimes. Know when enough is enough. When you decline a request for your time and participation, there’s no reason to apologize. Walk away with dignity and respect for your own well-being. It’s not that you’re not enough; it’s that the extra work and worry are too much.

• Build time into your schedule for the essential three R’s: recreation, refreshment, and rest.

• Do the thing. If you’re gonna’ do it, do it right. Dig in. Work hard, stop wasting time, and get it done. If you’re thoughtful about selecting to do what you love, this will come naturally. 

• Choose mindfulness, not management. By seeking an awareness of your true interests, virtues, values – and limits – your experience as a student will be more joyful and rewarding.     

Antics in the Attic: Immersing Students in the Joy of Learning

Stephanie Sperber, Upper School History Teacher

Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Thesis” – that the American values of equality, democracy, and freedom were shaped by the continuous presence of the western frontier – might seem like a dry, academic subject. But if you had walked into my U.S. history class last February 14, you would have seen his ideas come alive as you encountered a scene from a western saloon in the 1890s.

My students, wearing cowboy hats, blue jeans, bandanas, sombreros, and checkered shirts were portraying cowboys, Mexican Americans, miners, members of Indigenous communities, sheriffs, homesteaders, and African Americans. 

As player piano music played in the background, they were assessing and debating the merits of Turner’s thesis from the point of view of diverse individuals. Did these westerners believe their experiences validated – or invalidated – Turner’s thesis about frontier egalitarianism?    

Because it was Valentine’s Day, students were asked to identify other people who shared their views about Turner’s thesis and then send valentines to them. Then the valentines were read aloud, amidst laughter, mirth, cheers, and whoops. The kids were tackling difficult material and having fun at the same time. 

Learning To Love Learning

As a history teacher, I have one goal for my students: that they take joy in learning. I want them to love learning so much that they look forward to every class, that they experience excitement, surprise, curiosity, and delight during class, and that they leave class bubbling about what just happened.

When we study an era of history, I seek to create that joy and a life-long love of learning by immersing my students in the sights, sounds, textures, and smells of that time. I want to transport them to a distant time and provide them with a 360° view of what the past was like. My goal is to create experiences that make them want to learn and to equip them with the tools to do that.   

To accomplish this, my classroom frequently comes alive in a wide variety of creative simulations. These include donning costumes, role-playing, eating food, playing board games, listening to music, building models, staging debates and trials, and even meditating. While I can’t always take students to restored historical communities like Williamsburg or Old Sturbridge Village, I can bring a little bit of that experience into the classroom almost every day.

Antics in the Attic

My classroom is located on the second floor of the First House, built exactly 100 years ago. With its sloped roof, dormer windows, and working fireplace, the room has the cozy, quirky charm of an attic, so it’s the perfect spot for creative activities. I want my students to have a space where they feel at home. The classroom walls are covered with posters, maps, bumper stickers, and artwork by students. 

Through these activities, I hope to foster deep and genuine learning experiences for my students. Here are some of the other “antics in the attic” my students have enjoyed this year:

• Crime Scene: For our class on the Boston Massacre, I greeted my U.S. history students at the door dressed as a British officer, replete with a redcoat and tricornered hat. Laid out before them was a crime scene surrounded by yellow caution tape: five plastic gingerbread men carefully positioned on the floor, representing patriots shot by British soldiers. After examining the evidence, students read first-hand accounts of the shooting from various perspectives and then wrote a letter arguing whether the British soldiers were guilty of murder or acted in self-defense.

• Gummy Government: I challenged students in my Global Cities class to portray different forms of government, such as monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy, by using Legos and Gummy Bears. Showing delightful creativity, they worked in pairs to build thrones, voting booths, and barracks and used different flavored Gummy Bears to represent different classes in society – as well as dead Gummy Bears to depict the dangers of autocracy. Afterward, they arranged their exhibits around the classroom to create a museum that the entire class then toured.

• Food for Thought: What foods did enslaved women cook for their own families? My U.S. history students literally got a taste of history when they prepared authentic soul food, including collard greens, okra soup and cornbread, and brought the delicious dishes to class to share with their fellow students. 

• Founders League: My U.S. history class has 13 students, the perfect number to recreate the Constitutional Convention of 1787 where each of the 13 states had one vote. I dressed as presiding officer George Washington as students, seated at tables draped in green cloth as at the original convention, presented their state’s concerns. Then all 13 students debated, compromised, and voted to choose the best form of government for the United States. 

Joyful Learning

While we usually think of high school history class as listening to lectures, taking notes, and memorizing dates, I’ve found that students absorb the facts, concepts, and understanding of history most effectively when they are enjoying the learning process. I provide simulations and immersive experiences so that they’ll approach class each day with anticipation, expecting something exciting is going to happen. I want to surprise them and engage them physically, mentally, and emotionally so that we can find the answers together as they learn to love learning. If I can light that fire, I’ve accomplished my goal.