Interview on getting into private school: Bryan Ide

Education expert Bryan Ide shares insights about getting into private school

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Bryan Ide is the Educational Director at KEY Education, an education consulting firm in Vancouver, BC.

We asked him several questions related to the issue of how to get into private school. We covered topics such as what schools look for, interviews, and grades. Here’s what he had to say.

For more expert advice on a wide range of questions related to “getting in,” read our comprehensive guide. For valuable insights on the more general question of choosing the right school, read our in-depth education expert and parent interviews. You can also read our choosing guide.

Q: How can parents and students prepare for the interview? What should they know going in?
A: The interview is one of the only opportunities a family has to add that human, emotional, and personal touch to their application, so it’s crucial that you do your homework. Preparing for the interview is more than simply memorizing a set of interview questions and responses. Some quick tips on preparing for the interview:

  1. Research fully each school and understand their respective missions, visions, and core values;
  2. Understand what your family’s educational values are and how those align with the school’s;
  3. Prepare to communicate just how involved you are in your child’s life and don’t forget to provide examples;
  4. Think about how you can articulate to the school why your family and the school are the right fit; and,
  5. Come up with one or two thoughtful, non-clichéd questions to ask the interviewer.

Q: How heavily weighted are entrance exams and tests? How should they be prepared for?
A: Private schools use various standardized tests, including the SSAT, ISEE, Otis-Lennon, or Pearson, just to name a few. Each school differs in how it weighs the exam—some schools weigh it heavier than others. We find that schools that place a greater emphasis on academics as part of their curriculum will also place more weight on the entrance exam/standardized test. Other schools take a more holistic approach, so the SSAT or other entrance exam is considered to be only one component that is balanced against other criteria, including a student’s academic achievement, extracurricular activities, spark factor, and social-emotional skills.

Our first piece of advice to students is, don’t panic. It’s entirely understandable that standardized tests and entrance exams can be daunting. And, plus, we have yet to meet anybody who actually enjoys studying for tests like the SSAT! We appreciate that preparing for the test is one of the drier parts of the application process.

Generally, private schools are assessing English-language proficiency and mathematics. We advise families to start thinking well ahead, given that for tests like the SSAT or ISEE there are set test dates throughout the calendar year. So our tips for families are:

  1. Plan ahead: make sure you know precisely what testing requirements are for each private school to which your family is applying. Not all schools use the same test, so one easy way to keep track of things is to keep a list of your schools along with corresponding testing requirements.
  2. Get help: just as a personal trainer helps you in the gym, as opposed to you working out alone, a qualified test prep teacher or company can help your child be teaching testing strategies and strengthening vocabulary and reading comprehension. Also, they can potentially help keep your child’s interest through this drier part of the application. Beware, not all tutors or companies are created equal, so be sure to ask detailed questions on their approach, including how they target areas of weakness for your child.
  3. Read: encourage your child to love reading, as this will help to build his or her vocabulary.

Q: How heavily are grades weighted? What can students and parents do to prepare for this part of the admissions process?
A: As with standardized tests, grades are weighted differently by each private school. Our general advice, though, is that the more competitive the school, the more grades will matter. Especially at the more selective schools, that tend to be oversubscribed in the number of applicants, grades will be weighed more heavily, as these schools have their picks of top performing candidates.

That said, for applicants to pre-K through Grade 3, academics are not weighed as heavily. Rather, factors such as classroom readiness are important. However, as a student moves up through the grades, families can expect academics to increase in weight, especially for high school admissions.

Academic performance is an important factor, but it’s certainly not the only criterion, as students should have a balanced profile of academics and extracurriculars.

Q: What do schools consider when admitting a student? What should parents consider when applying to a particular school?
A: At KEY, we say that private schools don’t accept students, but rather they accept families. So, it’s important for parents to understand just how much they and their actions can impact—either positively or negatively—their child’s chances for being admitted. In fact, parents have just as much homework as their child does in preparing for the private school application process.

Schools are looking to admit families whose educational values are aligned, which means schools want parents who will take a positive and active role in their child’s life and education, and who are willing to make the necessary time investment in raising a happy child who has a life balanced with academics, extracurriculars, and social skills. Moreover, each private school will want to ensure that its applicants are the right fit. The difference is the fit—the applicant being able to succeed given the school’s academic and other requirements. Whereas one school may fit a particular child, it may not suit another child. So, we advise parents to focus on the concept of fit—where their child will be able to thrive and love learning. Factors such as prestige or ranking shouldn’t be the emphasis.

Acceptance rates at some private schools are lower than even some of the most competitive universities in the world. At more competitive private schools, candidates don’t simply need to demonstrate they meet the minimum requirements and can stand out in a sea of other qualified candidates. Oftentimes, successful students will have a spark factor—something that makes them stand out. Take for example one of KEY’s students who was successfully admitted to a number of top private schools for Grade 8. Not only did she have a personality that could brighten any room, but she also had strong grades, and she was very active outside the classroom. She was a vocalist, school crossing guard, and student council member. She exuded a mature confidence, being able to engage with anyone in confidence.

For the more competitive private schools, we generally recommend families to plan several years ahead, ensuring that their children have the appropriate academic and social-emotional development, as well as meaningful extracurricular activities. By thinking ahead, parents can get ahead of the game by doing some simple planning for their child’s learning and non-academic activities.

Q: How can parents help and stay connected throughout the application process?
Parents should be involved throughout the whole application process—for their own family’s sake, but also to demonstrate their sincerity to and engagement with the school—but they should so within reason. Parents should attend the relevant open houses or information sessions. If tours are available, parents should participate. Most importantly, parents shouldn’t feel shy about calling or emailing the admissions staff if they have any thoughtful questions about the school or its admissions processes.

Q: What advice or words of wisdom would you give students and parents to help them make the most of the application process?
A: This may sound a bit funny, but our advice: have fun! Stress around the application process is what parents make of it. Rather than fretting about all the components of the application or worrying about the competition, parents should view the application process as a wonderful learning opportunity, especially since the application requires a certain amount of introspection and self-evaluation. In fact, when surveyed, KEY’s parents have consistently said one of their biggest surprises is how much they learned about themselves and their children, and how much the family as a whole grew together.

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