Private Preschool Admissions Tips: The Parent Interview

The private preschool parent interview has a lot in common with a job interview — except, of course, that your performance will affect the educational options open to your little pumpkin.

So, how should you get ready? Well, just as you would for a job interview.

Know the Preschool’s Values

As with the written application, be sure you know something about the school’s philosophy so you can convey — hopefully, honestly — your interest and commitment to being part of that particular community.

This knowledge will also help you tailor your answers so they mesh with the school’s principles. For instance, if a preschool is all about fostering local community and pushing its incredible eco-friendly-rooftop-garden-based-sustainability-young-chef’s program, don’t open with a witty remark about your long, polluting commute to get there. (In fact, don’t open with that anyway — you don’t want them to think you’ll end up transferring to a school around the corner from where you live.) Instead, focus on how you cultivate your own single-origin herbs and teach your little one how to cook with ingredients she grows herself (if that’s something you do).

Be Prepared for Anything

Parents may be interviewed in a variety of ways. I participated in an enlightening conversation about toilet training with a head teacher; an improvised game-playing session in a director’s office (“Pick a word from the bag, and use it to catalyze an anecdote. QUICK.”); a nerve-wracking conference call (“What’s your parenting philosophy?” “Um, Stoicism? Pragmatism?”); and a group interview in which I was asked to describe my child — in one word — in front of a room of prospective parents.

To the extent that preparation is possible, you can get ready by chatting with local parents who’ve probably applied to many of the same programs. Ask them about which interview style each preschool favors and what questions were tossed at them.

Consider the Adults, Too

The parent interview is important — at some schools, it’s the most critical part of the process. The degree of parent involvement and community orientation varies by school, but at the stage of early childhood, most schools are accepting a family as much they are a child. (One preschool teacher who observed my daughter and took a particular liking to her later revealed to me that she’d jokingly told the director to accept her, “even if her parents are crazy.” Hmm.)

The more progressive schools are particularly focused on fostering community and socialization: If you don’t like the adult community in the classroom, consider your choices carefully — perhaps that particular school is not right for your family.

Come With Questions

As you would with a job interview, always have a few questions ready to go for awkward silences or moments when it seems like you should be showing curiosity. Try to come up with queries that are original, specific, and true to your concerns — but focus on the school’s highly thought-through offerings rather than on where it “places” graduates. And try not to be that parent who can’t stop asking questions at group events when everyone is itching to go back to work or to relieve babysitters — because everyone remembers you afterwards. For years. (Or so they tell me.)

Be Courteous

In general, you are (usually) applying to school, rather than shopping for one, so don’t be cocky, and do be respectful. The school staff members are also taking time from their insanely busy days to meet with you, so put away those phones and make eye contact! (Or, if you will have to take a call or send an email, let your interviewers know in advance.)

A Final Thought

Having said all that, if you or your partner doesn’t like the director or the school, take that seriously, too. While I enjoyed the “frenetic energy” of a bohemian, Euro-hip, artsy, open, loft-based nursery where we were asked to fill out our application three times after they “misplaced” the first two, my husband “couldn’t stand” the “grotesque lack of organization” and knew he’d never be able to work with that type of administration. And remember that you and your partner need to both be on board — your little gourd’s education will become a major part of your family’s everyday lives, and this isn’t an area where you want to disagree.