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Wednesday, 02 August 2017 21:10

Interview Questions to get into a new school

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Helping a boy in South China:


Back in the spring  a few years ago, I got a message on WeChat from a mother in Shenzhen, China. It went something like this:


We met about a year ago, when you talked with my son online. We did not sign up for your classes then, but we are in trouble now. My son has applied to an American school here in Shenzhen. He has passed the written part of the entrance exam, but he has failed the oral interview with an American teacher. He has taken the interview two times and failed both. He has a third interview in late May, but that's the last time. If he fails that one, he cannot get in. I am almost feeling desperate. Can you please help us?



How we helped that boy:


Of course I wanted to help her, so we set up a time to meet online. I assessed her son's English level, heard more about about their goals, and we made a plan. Her son would have four 1 on 1 classes each week with a teacher, over the next two months or so, leading up to the interview. Each class lasted fifty minutes. His teacher used these and other questions as the teaching material.

1. The teacher would ask the question, so the young man would practice his listening skills. Let's face it: if you can't understand the question, there is NO WAY you can answer it correctly!

2. The student would try to answer the question, to the best of his ability.

3. The teacher would coach and correct the student, to help his word choice, pronunciation, and overall clarity. 

If all this sounds like a lot of work, it is. As the old saying goes, "There is no shortcut to success." But the student and teacher met consistently and worked diligently for many weeks, about four nights per week.

The result? During the last week of May, I asked his mom how things had gone. This is what she told me:

Thank you, teacher, we are so happy! My son passed his interview and will enter the new school this fall. Thank you so much! 


That mother's news made the other teacher and me SO delighted to hear. Thanks to that targeted, intensive time of classes, that young man got into his desired school so he can pursue his dream. That's what we want to do at Help you make your dreams come true!


Helping other students too:


Ever since we helped that student get into a famous school in Shenzhen, we have also helped students get into US schools too. During 2017-2018 we offered six classes a week (Monday - Saturday) to a student in Beijing so he could prepare to attend a high school in the US state of North Carolina. Last time I spoke with him and his mother, he was very happy and successful there! During the spring of 2019, we are helping two other students, also in Beijing, prepare to enter US high schools in Illinois and Virginia. 


The application and interview process:


In short, here are the steps to enter a US school:

1. Apply to the school.

2. If the school officials like your application, they will schedule an online interview with you, to assess your English skills and other traits.

3. Take the online interview with the school.

4. If the school officials offer you admission, they will start the process to issue a US student visa.

5. You will receive notification to attend a second interview, this time at a US embassy or consulate in your home country. A US diplomat will interview you, also to judge your English level and suitability to attend school in America. This is second interview total.

6. If you pass that second interview, you will then be issued a US student visa, so you can make travel plans to come to America. However, if you do NOT pass that second interview, you will need to schedule another one, and try again. As you can see, this process has many steps and can take several months, especially if you have to retake your visa interview. Therefore, it is usually good to find a school and start this process in February or March of the year you plan to start your studies in the US. 

**For more information about the process to attend a high school or college in the US, please contact Scott Dreyer today to find out more and create a plan just for you or your child.



What the US school officials are AFRAID of:


When you apply to a US school (high school or college), it is normal for you to feel scared and nervous. However, you need to realize the school official is scared and nervous too! Why? The official is scared that if they choose a poor student for their school, everyone will lose.  The school will lose, because the teachers will complain that the student is not doing well. The parents will lose, because their child is not growing as he or she should, and the student will lose, because you are only young once and the student is losing precious time.


Specifically, the school officials are afraid of:

  • a student who is coming to the US, because they were not successful in a school in their home country. Some parents are frustrated because their child is not working hard and doing well in their home school, so the parents think, "I will send my child to the US, because American schools are a lot easier than Chinese schools."  True, the workload in most American schools is probably a lot less than in Chinese schools, and the school days are shorter, etc. However, some parents do not seem to understand something. In the US, all the school work--the lectures, reading, notes, tests, writing--is in ENGLISH. Also, ACADEMIC ENGLISH is much harder than simple CONVERSATIONAL English where you can just talk with a friend. In ACADEMIC ENGLISH, you will have specific terms for science, history, math, etc., and the vocabulary overall is at an advanced level. 


  • a student who comes to the US but does not "dig in" to life here. What does that mean? That is the student who rides to school looking at Chinese on his or her phone; sleeps a lot in class because he or she was up late the night before watching Chinese movies or listening to Chinese music; stays mainly with other Chinese students at school so they can speak Chinese together; goes straight home instead of joining after-school activities; and stays up late that night watching more Chinese movies, etc. Then, if you ask them "why aren't you spending more time with American friends?" they may say, "I don't understand what they are talking about." It is very sad, but if the student would "dig in" to life here more, they would get more out of it.


  • a student who is cheating. Rather than doing the "hard work" of actually preparing and learning English, some students try to cheat on their testing or online interviews. Some school officials have told me they have actually heard a person off-camera whispering answers to the student. In early 2019 the world was shocked by the college bribery scandal, where many wealthy parents had paid to cheat their kids into top universities. So, school officials now more than ever are looking for students who actually "know their stuff" and have the English and maturity to do well in school. At, our philosophy is to give students the skills and confidence so they can open their own doors by their own merits.


If you are applying to a Christian school, the officials might also be afraid that you will have a bad attitude toward their religion. Most Christian schools require a Bible or religion class every day, and probably a chapel once a week. In addition, if you are living with a Christian host family, they will probably expect you to go to youth group, Sunday School, and church with them each week. These activities might take 3-4 hours during the week, outside of school. And when you go to church or youth group, you should stay awake, sit up straight, be friendly, and try to understand what is going on. Nobody will force you to believe what you are hearing or accept a religion--but you should be respectful. Besides, even if you do not accept Christianity or believe the Bible, going to youth group and church is a GREAT way to improve your English, make friends, and better understand American culture! For example 25% of the TOEFL test is listening, so even if you do not believe what you hear in the Bible classes or at church, just listening to the speakers and understanding what they are saying is GREAT practice for the TOEFL, communicating in English, and understanding the American mindset


School officials are afraid that their new students might have these kinds of problems, so in your interview, show them that you are NOT like this, but that you want to be an ACTIVE member of the school and community, not a PASSIVE observer. 

Do you want to know more or how to start applying to a US school?    12809711 m 410x300

Contact me today to find out how we can help you!


Here are some of the questions the teacher used with the young man in Shenzhen, China to help him PASS his school entrance interview:

The interviewer might ask you some of these questions too! 

1. What are you looking for in a school?

2. Tell me three things you would bring to this school?

3. What  classes are your favorite and why?

4. If you could meet one person from history, who would that be and why? 

5. Do you hold a leadership position at your school? Do you want to in the future?

6. Where do you see yourself in ten years?

7. Who are your heroes?

8. What are you most proud of?

9. Are you involved with sports?  Which teams?  What position?

10. Do you like music or art? What type of music do you like? Do you sing in a chorus?  Do you play an instrument?  Are you involved with acting? Do you want to continue with these interests?

11. Do you keep a journal? 

12. Are you involved with a community service project?  What did you learn from this project?  What was most significant about this project or projects?

13. Do you read outside of school?  If so, what types of books do you like? Why?  

If not, what books that you have read in school do you like? And why?

14. Do you like to go to the movies?  What types of films are of interest to you?

15. Who was your best teacher ever and why?

16. Did you ever have trouble communicating with a teacher or coach? If so, what did you do?

17. What do you like to do with your friends outside of school?

18. What did you do this past summer? Go to camp? Work? Go on a remarkable vacation?

19. What does your typical day look like?  How much time do you spend doing your homework?  How organized are you and what types of methods do you use to keep yourself organized?

20. When you are faced with a problem, how do go about solving it?

21. What activities do you like to do with your family?

22. Tell me one thing about your current school that you most appreciate?

23. Why do you want to come to this school? 

24. What do you see yourself involved in, if you were to come here?

25. More students apply here than we can accept. Out of all the qualified applicants, why should we admit you? What unique qualities or background do you bring to the table?

26. Do you have any questions about this school?


What if they ask YOU to ask THEM a question: 


This relates to question #26 above. Many times, in a school or job interview, the interviewer asks if YOU have a question for them. In these cases, probably the WORST thing you can say is "no." Why? If you are applying for a school or job, they believe it is because you want to be there. And if you want to be somewhere, you should want to know all about it that you can. So, to say "I have no questions at all" sends a bad message. It may tell your interviewer:

  • you are passive, not active-- you are willing to sit back and let things happen to you
  • you don't care-- you don't want to be in the interview and you really don't want to go to the new school
  • you are not curious-- you do not want to know more about the place
  • you did not prepare-- if you researched the school or job, you will have discovered questions or "holes" to fill, so not asking questions can show that you do not know what questions to ask


So, if you get the chance to ask something, what are some good questions to ask the interviewer?

  • What makes (your school) special? 
  • What makes (your city) special?
  • Of all the schools in the USA, why should I attend your school?
  • What sports and activities does (your school) offer?
  • (To ask if you are applying to a Christian or religious school): If a person is not a Christian, will they be welcomed at your school? Do I have to take Bible or Religion classes?
  • What are your English classes like? Are they mostly grammar or literature-based? How much writing is there?
  • Does your school offer extra English help for foreign students? 
  • Are there any other Chinese students there? Are there any other foreign students there? If so, what countries are they from?
  • BEFORE your interview, carefully read the school's website, taking note of interesting points or things you want to know more about. You should mention this during your interview. It shows that you are curious, an active learner, and you researched the school in advance. Also, it shows you know enough English to read their website! In the interview you can say something like, "I was reading your website and I noticed (....) What does that mean? Please tell me more about that." This is a GREAT question to ask! Plus, if you feel nervous during the interview, (which is perfectly normal), asking this lets the OTHER person talk for awhile, so you can get a short rest and not have to talk for a bit! 

Closed-ended vs. Open-ended Questions:

As you prepare for your interview, be ready for both Closed-ended and Open-ended Questions.


Closed-ended Questions usually have one, "black and white" answer. These can usually be answered in one or two words, often with a simple "yes" or "no." Examples include:

  • How old are you?
  • Do you like English?
  • What is your favorite hobby or activity?
  • What grade are you in this year? 
  • Do you like school?


In contrast, Open-ended Questions do NOT have one single answer. Instead, this kind of question gives you lots of freedom to answer. With Open-ended Questions, try to elaborate and give lots of details; this is a great opportunity for you to tell more about yourself and show your English skills! Examples include:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Tell me about your family
  • Why do you want to study in the US?
  • What part about English do you find most difficult?
  • Tell me about a time you had a conflict with someone, and how you handled it.




Other interview questions you can practice with:


Here is a list of 40 new topics that you might find useful if you are preparing for Part 1 of the iBT TOEFL Speaking section. These are all Independent topics of the "open choice" / personal experience or opinion type.

  1. Who is your best friend? Describe this person and say why he/she is your best friend.
  2. What is your favorite place to visit on weekends? Describe it and explain why it is your favorite place to go.
  3. What is your happiest childhood memory? Describe it and give reasons to explain why it is your happiest memory.
  4. What is your most important possession? Describe it and say why it is so important.
  5. Talk about a person in your life who has inspired you. Describe the person and explain why you found him/her inspirational.
  6. Where do most like to go to eat out? Describe this place and say why you like it most.
  7. Talk about an important national holiday in your home country. Describe it and explain why it is important.
  8. What is your favorite book or movie? Describe it and say why it is your favorite.
  9. Who do you feel close to in your family (or extended family)? Describe this person and say why you feel close to him/her.
  10. Where is a good place to have fun in your city or town? Describe this place and explain why it is fun.
  11. Talk about an experience in your life that made you feel embarrassed. Describe it and say why it was embarrassing.
  12. What was your favorite subject at school? Describe it and explain why this subject was your favorite one.
  13. Who is an important person in your country? Describe this person and explain why he/she is important.
  14. Talk about an interesting tourist attraction you have been to. Describe it and say why it was interesting.
  15. Talk about a time when you experienced success. Describe the experience and say why it was a success for you.
  16. What is your favorite style of clothing? Describe it and explain why it is your favorite.
  17. Name a person whom you truly admire. Describe the person and say why you admire him/her.
  18. Think of a place that makes you feel relaxed and peaceful. Describe it and explain why it is relaxing and peaceful for you.
  19. Talk about a difficulty you have overcome in your life. Describe the experience and say why it was difficult to overcome.
  20. What is your most useful study aid? Describe it and explain why it is useful in helping you to study.
  21. Talk about a teacher who had a positive influence on you. Describe this person and explain why he/she was so influential to you.
  22. Where is your favorite place to study? Describe this place and say why it is a good place for you to study.
  23. Talk about a positive experience with learning or using English. Describe the experience and say why it was a positive one.
  24. What is your favorite kind of food? Describe it and explain why it is your favorite.
  25. Name a famous or influential figure who has inspired you. Describe this person and say why he/she has been inspirational to you.
  26. Which place has fond memories for you? Describe this place and explain why it is memorable to you.
  27. When have you been happily surprised by something? Describe the experience and say why the surprise was a happy one for you.
  28. Describe a resource that helped you to do something better than before. Describe it and explain why it was helpful to you.
  29. Describe a person from your country’s history. Why do you think this person was important?
  30. Where would you like to go to spend a vacation? Describe this place and say why you would like to holiday there.
  31. Talk about something you and your family enjoy doing together. Describe it and explain why you all enjoy it.
  32. What is your favorite recreational activity?  Describe it and say why you enjoy doing it.
  33. Who is the most intelligent person you know? Describe the person and say why you think he/she is intelligent.
  34. Where would you most like to live? Describe this place and explain why you would like to live there.
  35. What is your favorite season of the year? Describe the season and explain why you like it so much.
  36. What custom from your home country are you most fond of? Describe the custom and explain why you are fond of it.
  37. Which person are you most likely to go to with a personal problem? Describe this person and say why you would go to him/her in particular.
  38. Name a place in your country you would recommend others to visit. Describe this place and explain why you would recommend it.
  39. Talk about an event from the past that you would like to relive. Describe the original event and say why you would like to relive it.
  40. What is your favorite way of getting around? Describe it and explain why it is your favorite means of transportation.
  41. What career would you like to pursue/prepare for? Why, in terms of your abilities and motivation, do you think you are suited for this life work?



Thank you for reading this post! I hope you found it helpful and useful. Do you want to know more, or prepare to study in the USA? Contact Scott Dreyer today to get more information and see how can help you!
Read 25906 times Last modified on Wednesday, 15 May 2019 14:13
Scott Dreyer

A licensed teacher in the US state of Virginia since 1987, Scott Dreyer has been helping Chinese speakers improve their English since 1989. Dreyer lived in Taiwan from 1989-1999 where he learned Mandarin, met his wife, started his family, and realized he loved working with Chinese students. He became an award-winning author and started teaching ESL online in 2008. Dreyer and his wife and their four adult children make their home in the beautiful Roanoke Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

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