When my first daughter applied to Loomis Chaffee, I knew little about the application process. Although at one time I served as an admissions director at an independent K-12 school, it had been over a decade, and that school’s admissions requirements were different (for one, preschoolers don’t take the SSAT). Therefore, as a Loomis Chaffee college counselor, I assumed that applying to Loomis was more or less similar to applying to college. Testing, application, essays, recommendations, transcript. Pretty straightforward. In most ways, I was right. Applying to a secondary school is similar to applying to college. In one way, however, I was quite wrong: my 14-year-old had to interview.
Now that I work in the Loomis Admissions Office, I can’t imagine not interviewing students. For one, it’s often the best part of my day. I love talking with students. We all do, or we wouldn’t be in admissions to begin with. But more importantly for the school, the value of meeting a student, even over a video platform or Skype, is significant and is ultimately driven by the developmental stage of our applicants.
Our students are at the cusp of adulthood and undergo significant transformation in the years they are with us. So as admissions officers, we must determine whether our applicants are ready for the challenges Loomis presents, and the interview is an important piece of that assessment. In addition, our goal is to create a diverse community of people — and when I say “diverse,” I mean “different.” As Dr. Derrick Gay describes, I mean those who are shy, those who are outgoing, and those who are both depending on the circumstance; those who are familiar with the boarding school world already and those who have no experience outside of reading Harry Potter books; those who come from schools that provide the type of education that we do, and those who come from schools very different from ours. We look for potential and promise in all types of people.
We sleuth this out with various clues across various requirements for each applicant — the interview being one. In some ways, it’s the best resource we have. We learn a bit about what makes the student tick and find more information to help us gain a fuller picture. In other ways, it’s the worst resource we have. It is prone to bias and a chance that we don’t see the “real” person. Interviewing may be the greatest challenge admissions officers face, even more than reading applications and making decisions. In application review, we have multiple resources to draw upon. In the interview, we only have one: the student’s presentation of themselves. It is arguably the least objective metric we have. And yet, what we get from the interview is something we won’t get anywhere else: an idea of how the student will adapt to the unfamiliar.
This was made crystal-clear to me when one of my daughters interviewed at Loomis. Considering my assumption at the time that the interview was relatively unimportant, the exacting preparation she received consisted of “Don’t worry about it! Just be yourself!” This lackadaisical approach seemed extraordinarily misguided when after her interview my husband and I sat down with the admissions officer to talk about our young superstar and he chuckled wryly, “well, she’s sassy, isn’t she?”
My husband and I exchanged highly awkward smiles while simultaneously thinking something like:
Sassy?? Did he say “sassy??” He didn’t say our daughter was sassy, did he???
Followed by indignantly mentally asserting:
Did he interview the right student??? We did NOT raise a sassy daughter! No way, no how!
Ultimately concluding what any good parent would:
WHAT DID SHE SAY, and HOW DID SHE SCREW THIS UP???!!!! She’s not getting ice cream after THIS!!!
The shock we experienced was rattling. “Sassy” was probably the LAST ADJECTIVE IN THE WORLD we would have used to describe our darling daughter. Brilliant, yes. Kind, absolutely. A bit of a perfectionist? Okay, if you say so. Possessing unlimited potential waiting to be tapped by the Loomis Chaffee School? YES. Sassy?? NO.
I relive this painful parenting episode to illuminate two truths about the secondary school interview:
1. Admissions officers do not get to know a student in thirty minutes. This comes as a shock, I know. No matter how much you prepare your teen — or not — he or she is going to navigate an unfamiliar and awkward experience on their own. That’s all there is to it. Apparently, my daughter chose to attack this challenge with a “skill” we had no idea she possessed. But I digress.
2. Admissions officers do get to know how your teen will navigate an unfamiliar and awkward experience on their own in thirty minutes. And guess what? That’s exactly the kind of experience your child will encounter at some point, or points, at schools like ours. This is the kind of experience you are seeking for them, or you would not be considering this educational path to begin with. Your teen will be challenged like they are in having a conversation about themselves with a total stranger whom they are fully aware has influence over their future. How they navigate this tells us even in a small way about the type of person they are. Does it tell us everything? No. But that’s what we rely on the other parts of the application to learn.
The best advice, then, about interviews is to help your teen put them in perspective. Will it matter? Yes, because we want to learn something about the student and how they might fit into our institution. Will it be the one determining factor? No, because it must be used in combination with the rest of the application materials to paint an accurate picture of the applicant.
I still have no idea what my daughter said in her admissions interview. But the fact remains that the admissions officer learned something about her that her parents did not know. I love that she showed him a side of herself we didn’t see. Maybe a bit of sassiness even helped her get in. I’m oddly proud.
Amy Thompson is the dean of enrollment at The Loomis Chaffee School, a 9-12/PG boarding school in Windsor, Conn. Prior to her current role, Amy served as director of college guidance at Loomis Chaffee, director of admission at McDonogh School (MD), and assistant director of admission at Georgetown University.