The Handshake

Today I’m going to discuss the importance of the handshake. The first week of school is always an exciting time, one of hope combined with nervousness. I have wished my student clients well this past week for their school journeys and they and their parents know that as their consultant I am here in reserve to be a support to them as they go through the year. I hope they used good handshaking technique as they met new people at their new school orientation. 

In September, admissions staff sigh with relief at getting the year started and seeing the young people they courted now settling in. They strike a balance between keeping a sympathetic eye and ear out for these youngsters and letting them take their first steps to thrive in this new boarding community.

Admissions people were the first adults they encountered on the journey. So, it’s critical that they keep a close watch on these new kids. At the same time, these staff must slowly begin to look outward into the world to find the next crop of the right students that will fit their school. The courting process begins all over again!

It's hard to get into a good school. It's even harder to get into your dream school. Canada has around 30 boarding schools and the United States around 300. While there is a great deal of choice, the competition for a place can be intense. One of the factors in the admissions equation is making a good first impression. 

I read with interest an article a short while ago by one of my former students, Garth Friesen, who is the CEO at 111 Capital Management, a former advisor to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and a regular contributing writer for the Wall Street Journal. I spoke with Garth last week and he has  kindly  given his permission for me to share his thoughts from a recent piece of his in the WSJ about a critical aspect of the first impression: the handshake!

As many young people and their parents begin researching schools, I thought this article might prove helpful before you make visits in the next few months. So, here are Garth’s thoughts. He’s talking about the hiring process, but the same principles apply for an admissions interview!

“Unfortunately, many people ruin their chances to get hired at first contact by failing to execute a simple maneuver: the handshake. As a person who interviews prospects regularly, the handshake is critical. Although I have never hired a candidate because they had a great handshake, on many occasions I have written somebody off if the initial greeting was awkward or strange. I'm amazed at how many people fail to follow basic etiquette when it comes to the basic handshake. Everybody knows to give a "firm handshake", but it seems that definition requires more detail. For those who are struggling to interpret its meaning, here are three tips to follow at your next interview.

Stay Traditional
No fist bumps. No front side/back side. No bro hugs (yes, that really happened to me a couple of months ago). Use one hand, not two. Extend your hand vertically, not horizontally or on an angle. Target the "web" between the thumb and index finger of other person's hand so you meet palm to palm. Ensure you don't grab their fingers, or it can get uncomfortable very quickly. Make it last around 2-3 seconds and have 2-3 "pumps".

Get a Grip
Not hard. Not limp. Firm. You are not trying to pop a tennis ball with your bare hands, ok? Believe it or not, you can damage somebody's hand if you squeeze it too tight. I had a 6'5" college lineman damn-near break a bone once. Similarly, too loose of a handshake sends the wrong message. It displays weakness, and quite frankly, very little knowledge of social etiquette. The handshake should be firm. What does that mean? Strong enough so the person could not pull their hand away easily if they wanted, but not so hard that it feels like you are trying to dominate them. If you still don't understand what firm means, just mirror the pressure of the person you are greeting.

Pay attention to your body posture
The handshake is just part of the first impression you are delivering, so make sure you have the other basics to go along with it. Stand up, don't stay seated if you are in a chair. Look the person in the eye and smile. Don't pull the person in too close. Keep your loose hand out of your pocket and off the arm or back of the person you are meeting.

Getting off to the right start in an interview is critical. If you follow these basic tips, you will avoid making a bad first impression. You may have all the skills in the world, but if you can't get the simplest of greetings right, you're not going to get a chance to use them."

My thanks to Garth for this great advice. All best wishes to students as you research and visit schools. Be warm, be friendly, look people in the eye, remember their name – and make sure your handshake is a good one!

JARVIS AND ASSOCIATES : Phillip J. Jarvis Phd.

Associate Member: IECA
US/Canada Boarding School Placement
Primary contact: 250-595-0468

Shawnigan Lake School – the end of an era

In June, I visited a number of boarding schools in the United States and the United Kingdom. While I live on Vancouver Island and visit the boarding schools here on quite a regular basis, I had the opportunity to make more formal visits to some of these schools very recently.

My visit to Shawnigan Lake School - - was to give a personal fare thee well to an outstanding educator who retired at the end of this school year – Headmaster David Robertson. A 25 year career at Shawnigan, with 18 years as Headmaster, saw the school flourish under his expert guidance. I worked with David for ten of those years and was able to witness the magic he wove as a leader.

Shawnigan’s magnificent natural campus was enhanced to become one of the great world school locations. Enrollment swelled to the extent that it is now the largest boarding school in Canada. Programs were challenged to achieve excellence. Endowment for scholarships/bursaries grew immensely. At the same time, students were happy and respected David greatly, while the values he spread and espoused stand the test of time.

All you have to do as a family is to visit and tour Shawnigan to feel the school’s special atmosphere and see the world-class facilities it provides. David’s legacy is assured. He and his wife Lynn were given a great send off by the alumni and parent community around the globe over the year, and by the students and faculty at the end of the school year in late June.

US Boarding School Visits: June 2018

A vital part of being an accredited educational consultant is visiting boarding schools to assess their programs first-hand, and to liaise with admissions staff and faculty who have been a vital link in helping student clients and their parents achieve a place. 

I live in the heart of excellent Canadian boarding schools on Vancouver Island. However, in early June I visited four American boarding schools. In western Massachusetts, I was able to thank in person the admission directors at Berkshire School who had helped enrol one of my students this season. Berkshire is a traditional New England prep school consistently ranked in the top 25 US boarding schools:

Twenty minutes away in Lakeville Connecticut, I visited the Hotchkiss School, one of the top 10 boarding schools in America: These two New England schools have superb campuses.

On my drive back up to Montreal, I visited North Country School in Lake Placid, New York – a small, progressive junior boarding school with a coherent and cohesive student centred philosophy: These schools have accepted two of my students for this September.

My fourth visit was to Northwood School, also in Lake Placid: It was my first time there and it has a good hybrid of traditional and individualized programs.

The United States is a culturally and geographically diverse country. The 300 or so boarding schools in the United States reflect this reality. Boarding school options are tremendous.

The research and application process can take up to a year if a family does due diligence on their research, in conjunction with a consultant’s informed guidance and wealth of experience.

Jarvis and Associates is now taking inquiries from families who are looking for September ’19 entry to either Canadian or US boarding schools. We provide a highly personalized service and look forward to hearing from you through our web site. We are ready to listen.In two weeks I visit boarding schools in the United Kingdom.

1. With Dr. Tasia Wu - a brilliant music teacher at Berkshire who will be working with my talented student from Vancouver.

2. With Dana Anselmi, new Admissions Director at Berkshire School.

3. With Andrew Bogardus, my successor as Admissions Director at Berkshire School, and now the Advancement Director.

4. Hotchkiss School sign at the entrance way.

5 - 7. Photos on the working farm like campus of North Country School. David Damico, the Admissions Director.

8. Northwood School sign.

“We Must All Help Each Other To Succeed, Rather Than Put Each Other To The Test To Fail.” Marylyn Rosenthal

Well, it’s been quite a week of mixed emotions. Mid-March is the witching hour of first wave admission decisions for US boarding schools, and for leading day schools in major cities.

Along with my client families, I have been on tenterhooks awaiting school decisions. After years of chairing admission committees, and distributing the results, it is humbling now experiencing the nervousness felt on the other side of the equation. The loss of control over the process is tempered by knowing you have done everything you can do as a consultant to help students succeed. That is what it is all about.

In mid-March I am delighted to have helped students gain the following acceptances:


Connecticut: Ethel Walker School

Massachusetts: Berkshire School
Miss Hall’s School


California: Harker School, San Jose
Stratford School, Palo Alto

Canada: Two applicants to Canadian boarding schools on rolling admissions are awaiting decisions.

Now, on to the next season – which begins today! Many students may have been disappointed with the choices they have been left with. Other families are just beginning to look for next September as they have realized they want a positive change for their children.

So, research and choices have to be made in an encapsulated time. IECA consultants are ready to help. Feel free to call us.