Interview on getting into school: Kimberly Carter

Kimberly Carter, Director of Enrolment Management at Branksome Hall, shares insights about getting into private school

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Kimberly Carter is Director of Enrolment Management at Branksome Hall, an all-girls school in Toronto, Ontario.

We asked her several questions related to the issue of how to get into private school. We covered topics such as what schools look for, interviews, and standardized tests. Here’s what she 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: What are the dos and don’ts of admissions? What is your most important piece of advice to parents/families looking to maximize their chances of admissions to your school?
A: What should they do:

  1. Consider what type of learner your child is? What are your child’s strengths and areas for growth?
  2. Visit the Our Kids website to help begin your search of an independent school. You can filter and search by region, curricula, and type of school.
  3. Attend open houses to visit the schools. Each school has its own identity, programs. and feel. It is important to consider the learning environment, the approach to teaching and learning, and the sense of community to understand fit.
  4. Apply to schools that you are truly interested in.
  5. Take time to complete the application, and respond fully and honestly to questions posed by the application.
  6. When you visit or tour a school, don’t hesitate to bring along a list of questions. This will help you strengthen your understanding of the school and what it could offer your daughter.

What should they avoid doing:

  1. Don’t visit schools completely unprepared. Parents should try to be proactive by reviewing the schools’ websites in advance of your visit to show you have done some initial research.
  2. Avoid overly relying on the admissions office via calls and emails. Be proactive and ensure you read every aspect of the admissions section of the school’s website to have your questions answered.
  3. Try not to ask for special arrangements during the admissions cycle.
  4. You will get the most out of your school visit if they ensure that they have a scheduled appointment at schools, instead of simply dropping in. Schools want to give you a proper experience and require time to prepare in advance.

Q: How hard is it to get into selective private schools? What are your admissions standards? What do students who gain admissions need to have or show?
A: We look for students who are curious and interested in learning. They should be well-rounded with diverse interests. For Branksome, applicants should have a solid academic standing, with mostly As. Extracurricular interests are important, but we are looking for quality of experience over quantity. We are fortunate to receive more applications than we have places available. We accept students at every grade level from JK to Grade 11, but the number of openings varies grade to grade. Once we have gone through the application process with each family, they will receive an offer of admission, or a place on our waiting list, or a decline.

Q: What is the typical admissions timeline and process? What steps can parents take?
A: Begin your research in the spring before the application is due.

  1. Visit schools in the fall during open houses.
  2. Submit your application by the deadline. For Branksome Hall, the application deadline is the first Friday of December each year
  3. Tours and Interviews take place between November and February at Branksome Hall.
  4. On admissions decisions day, usually in February, families hear if we are able to make them an offer of admission or not, or if they will be waitlisted.
  5. Our return of offer day will be in early March. This is the deadline for families to accept any offers made.

Q: What do schools look for? How do you evaluate students applying for admissions to your school?
A: Main considerations:

  1. “Fit” refers to how successful the applicant will be in our learning environment. The purpose of the application, interview, and assessment is to get a sense of the applicant’s suitability for the school.
  2. We review the application and report cards/transcripts in advance of the interview. At Branksome, we are looking for strong applicants with diverse interests.
  3. Be open and honest about what you are looking for, to ensure it aligns with the school’s philosophy and mission.
  4. It is important to understand the admissions process and evaluation at each grade level. Typically, the application, interview, report cards, and assessment are each one piece of the overall picture of an applicant.

Q: How important are report cards to you?
A: Report cards give us a window into the applicant’s learning style and social and emotional development. We review marks, learning skills, teacher comments, days late, and days absent to get a broader profile of the applicant. At Branksome Hall, we require the two previous years’ June report cards and any interim reports from the current year, so that we can assess and understand a girl’s patterns and growth.

Q: What if my child doesn’t have strong marks?
A: Parents should consider what school is the right fit for their child. There are many good independent schools and there will be one that is right for their daughter. Parents shouldn’t consider a school if it is not the right academic fit for their child.

Q: What role does the interview play in your admissions decisions? What are your interviews like? How is it best to prepare for interviews?
A: We interview every applicant who applies for grades where we have openings. The interview is an important step where we can get to know the applicant and her family personally. This personal connection helps us to ensure that our school’s values, philosophy, and culture align with what our applicant families are looking for in a school

We interview parents and applicants together for grade 1 – 6. For JK and SK, we interview the parents only. For grades 7 – 11, we first interview the applicant alone and then we invite the parents to join in for the second portion of the interview.

  1. Interviews are typically one hour in length.
  2. We are looking for an honest conversation of interests, strengths, and areas for growth.
  3. We ask questions about extracurricular interests, interactions with friends, learning styles, favourite subjects, and future goals.

Parents and students should be genuine and ask questions they are curious about. While you can help your daughter prepare her ideas for the interview, don’t overscript her. We suggest that you ask your child some questions over dinner to get them used to sharing their thoughts and ideas.

Q: How important are entrances tests to your admissions decisions? What are your entrance tests like?
A: We require an admissions assessment at each grade level. The assessment varies based on age level but includes reading, writing, and math competencies. We require the SSAT for Grade 9 – 11. We require a Portfolio Share for local Grade 7 & 8 applicants, which includes samples of graded school work. Our Junior School assessment mirrors the assessments we do with our current students around reading, writing, math, and social development. The assessment is one of the components of the admissions process. Where openings are limited, the assessment may be weighted more heavily.

Q: How upfront should families be with admissions officers?
A: The relationship with our admissions team should be seen as a partnership between the family and the school.

  1. The school interview is very different from a job interview, which is performance based. The way we see it, the school interview is a conversation to assess fit and feel, to ensure we, as a school, can meet the needs of the learner.
  2. Be transparent about your child’s strengths as well as the areas where they can improve.
  3. Families should know that it is not just about getting into a school, but about being successful as a student in the school. Our aim is to ensure the success of each girl who attends our school, and we will make our offers of admission accordingly.

Read our profile of Branksome Hall Principal, Karen Jurjevich.

Read our other  "getting in" interviews

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