A school admission interview evaluates a student’s suitability for admission beyond their academic performance and test scores, which is why it is vital. A well-designed admission interview helps the school gain a deeper understanding of the student’s personality, interests, goals, and values, as well as their fit with the school’s culture and mission. However, designing a successful admission interview process is not an easy task. It requires careful planning, preparation, and execution. This article will provide some practical tips on conducting an effective and fair interview.

What is the Purpose of the School Admission Interview?

The first and most important thing to understand before designing an admission interview process is clarifying the purpose and objectives of the interview. What do you want to learn from the interview that you cannot learn from other admission criteria, such as grades, test scores, essays, or recommendations? How will the interview help you make a more informed and holistic decision about a student’s admission?

One of the main purposes of an admission interview is to assess the non-academic aspects of a student’s profile, such as their character, motivation, communication skills, leadership potential, creativity, and resilience. These aspects are often difficult to measure or quantify through standardized tests or transcripts, but they are essential for a student’s success in school and beyond. An admission interview can also help you gauge a student’s interest in and enthusiasm for your school, as well as their fit with your school’s values, vision, and expectations.

Another purpose of an admission interview is to complement and verify the information provided by other admission criteria. For example, an interview can help you confirm or challenge a student’s academic achievements or abilities or provide more context and explanation for any gaps or inconsistencies in their academic record. An interview can also help you validate or clarify a student’s extracurricular activities, achievements, or awards, or explore their passions and hobbies in more depth.

When you understand the purpose of the interview, you can design an interview process that aligns with your school’s admission goals and criteria, and that provides you with valuable insights into a student’s profile.

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Preparing for the Admission Interview

Once you have established the purpose and objectives of the interview, you need to prepare for the interview process. This involves setting up a structured planning phase before implementing the interview process. 

Some of the steps involved in preparing for the interview are:

  • Selecting and training the interviewers: Choose who will conduct the interviews, and how many interviewers will be involved in each interview and provide them with adequate training on how to conduct an effective and fair interview.
  • Developing an interview protocol: Develop a consistent and standardized protocol for conducting the interviews. This includes deciding on the format (individual or group), duration (short or long), mode (in-person or online), location (on-campus or off-campus), and schedule (fixed or flexible) of the interviews. You also need to determine the types (open-ended or closed-ended), topics (academic or personal), and difficulty (easy or hard) of the questions that will be asked during the interviews.
  • Communicating with the students: Communicate with the students who have been invited for an interview about the details and expectations of the interview process. Inform them about when, where, how, and with whom they will be interviewed; what they need to bring or prepare for the interview; what they can expect from the interview and how they can contact you if they have any questions or concerns.

Defining Criteria and Competencies

To begin, outline the specific criteria and competencies that the school seeks to evaluate in the applicants. These may include academic performance, extracurricular involvement, leadership potential, personal qualities, and fit with the school’s culture and values. The criteria and competencies should align with the school’s mission, vision, and educational objectives, as well as reflect the expectations and standards of the school community. Moreover, the criteria and competencies should balance the applicants’ academic and non-academic aspects, as they are equally important for their success and well-being in the school.

Tailoring Questions to Assess Criteria

Craft interview questions that align with the identified criteria and competencies of your school. The questions should be designed to elicit thoughtful responses from the applicants and provide insights into their character, abilities, interests, and goals. The questions should also be relevant, clear, and appropriate for the age and level of the applicants. Furthermore, the questions should encourage open-ended responses that allow the applicants to express themselves fully and demonstrate their skills and knowledge. 

Training Interviewers:

Train interviewers to ensure consistency and fairness in the interview process. Ensure the interviewers are familiar with the criteria and competencies, as well as the questions and scoring rubrics. 

They should also be aware of the best practices and techniques for conducting interviews, such as establishing rapport, listening actively, probing effectively, taking notes, and providing feedback. Additionally, the interviewers should be objective and avoid biases during interviews, such as stereotyping, halo effect, or confirmation bias. 

These biases can affect the accuracy and validity of the evaluation and lead to unfair outcomes. Therefore, the interviewers should collaborate and share insights for a holistic evaluation of the applicants.

Creating a Welcoming Environment

One of the most important aspects of a school admission interview is to create a comfortable and inclusive environment for the applicants and their parents. A welcoming environment can help reduce interview anxiety, build rapport, and convey the school’s values and culture. Here are some ways to create a welcoming environment:

  • Choose a suitable location for the interview. Ideally, the interview should take place in a quiet, well-lit, and spacious room that is free from distractions and interruptions. 
  • Arrange the seating in a friendly and comfortable way. Avoid placing the interviewer and the applicant across a large desk or table, which can create a sense of distance and formality. 
  • Greet the applicant and their parents warmly and introduce yourself and your role. Make sure to use their names and pronouns correctly and respectfully. Smile, shake hands, or use other appropriate gestures to show interest and appreciation. 
  • Start the interview with some icebreaker questions or activities that are relevant to the school or the applicant’s interests. For example, you can ask them about their hobbies, favorite subjects, or extracurricular activities. You can also use some games or puzzles that are fun and engaging, such as word associations, trivia, or riddles. 
  • Be attentive and respectful throughout the interview. Listen actively and attentively to what the applicant and their parents say. You can show your interest by nodding, smiling, or asking follow-up questions. Avoid interrupting, judging, or criticizing their responses, and respect their opinions and perspectives. Use positive feedback and encouragement to boost their confidence and motivation.

Assessing Non-Cognitive Skills

Another key aspect of a school admission interview is to assess the applicant’s non-cognitive skills. For example, their communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. These skills are essential for academic success and personal development. They enable students to cope with challenges, collaborate with others, and express themselves effectively. 

However, assessing non-cognitive skills can be difficult, especially when using traditional methods like standardized tests or grades. Therefore, it is important to integrate innovative techniques that can elicit more authentic and meaningful responses from the applicants. Here are some methods to assess non-cognitive skills:

  • Use scenario-based questions or role-playing exercises that simulate real-life situations or problems that the applicant may encounter at school or in life. For example, you can ask them how they would handle a conflict with a peer or a difficult assignment. These methods can help you observe how the applicant thinks critically, creatively, and ethically. You can also learn about how they communicate, cooperate, and cope with stress.
  • Use behavioral questions that ask the applicant to describe specific examples of how they demonstrated non-cognitive skills in the past. For example, ask them about a time when they overcame a challenge, helped someone in need, or learned something new. You can also ask them to share their goals, aspirations, or passions that reflect their non-cognitive skills. 
  • Balance the assessment of non-cognitive skills with academic qualifications. While non-cognitive skills are important for school admission interviews, they should be within the applicant’s academic achievements and potential. Therefore, balance the assessment of non-cognitive skills with academic qualifications such as grades, test scores, transcripts, or portfolios. You can also use academic questions that require non-cognitive skills such as analysis, and synthesis.

Post-Interview Evaluation:

After conducting an interview, it is important to have a structured process for evaluating and documenting the interview outcomes. This helps to ensure consistency, transparency, and accountability in the decision-making process. Some of the steps involved in post-interview evaluation are:

  • Reviewing the interview notes and ratings for each applicant, using a standardized rubric or scoring system.
  • Comparing the interview outcomes with other sources of information, such as academic records, test scores, essays, and recommendations.
  • Discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each applicant with other interviewers and admissions committees, using evidence-based arguments and respectful language.
  • Reaching a ranking based on the overall assessment of each applicant, taking into account the institutional goals and priorities.
  • Documenting the final decisions and the rationale behind them, using clear and objective language.

Post-interview evaluation is not only important for selecting the best applicants but also for providing timely and constructive feedback for continuous improvement. By reviewing the interview outcomes, interviewers can identify areas of improvement for themselves, such as asking better questions, avoiding biases, or managing time more effectively. They can also provide feedback to the applicant, such as highlighting their strengths, suggesting areas of improvement, or offering advice for future interviews.


Continuous Improvement and Adaptation

The interview process is not static, but dynamic. It needs to be constantly evaluated and adapted to meet the institution’s and applicants’ changing needs and expectations. To ensure continuous improvement and adaptation, it is important to:

  • Encourage feedback from stakeholders, including students, parents, and interviewers. Feedback can be collected through surveys, focus groups, interviews, or online platforms. Feedback can help to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the interview process. It can also increase the satisfaction and engagement of the stakeholders.
  • Stay informed about industry best practices for continuous improvement. Interviewers can learn from other institutions or organizations that have implemented innovative or effective interview practices. They can also attend workshops, webinars, or conferences to update their knowledge and skills on interviewing techniques and trends.
  • Experiment with new ideas or approaches for improving the interview process. Interviewers can try out different formats, questions, scenarios, or technologies to enhance the quality and diversity of the interview process. They can also monitor and evaluate the impact of these changes on the interview outcomes and stakeholder feedback.


Designing a school admission interview is a complex but rewarding task that can help the school select the best candidates for its programs. It provides an opportunity to get to know the applicants beyond their grades and test scores. It also allows the candidates to learn more about the institution and its culture.


  • Olayemi Jemimah Aransiola
  • on 9 min read


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