By Sarah Achenbach

It’s open house season in the independent school world. Prospective students and their parents are examining your school, in person and online, in search of the “right” school for them. Does your admissions strategy have the answer they are looking for?

An admissions strategy is part art/part science, a true left brain/right brain experience. Families are looking at you through their own lens of what the parents or child wants, what they can afford, location and convenience and many other factors, many of which you cannot control.

What’s the one thing all parents want from their child’s education?

Knowing what every parent has in common can help you shape the experience of your prospective families.

Admissions Enrollment Funnel

Admissions Enrollment Funnel

Every parent – helicopter, Velcro, hands-off, Millennial, whatever the type – wants the same thing from their child’s school and education: a happy child. It’s one of the most important drivers of families through the admissions enrollment funnel.

They want their child to love learning and get as many opportunities as possible to do just that at your school. They want their son or daughter to bound out of bed each morning, excited to go to school. They want to know that their child is in a caring community that truly knows how their son or daughter ticks. Students want to know that they will have friends and fit in.

Private School Review’s “Choosing a School:10 Things Which Matter to Parents” puts happiness at the top of the list. Yes, the “c’s” are on the list – curriculum, campus, cost, co-curricular program – and, of course, the quality of the faculty, but happiness “trumps every other consideration,” according to the article.

There may not be a secret sauce for independent school marketing, but a smart admissions strategy makes sure a healthy dose of happiness exists in person and online.

The “happiness” funnel

Typically, prospects will experience different emotions at different stages of the enrollment funnel. During the “attraction” phase, they are gathering information, getting to know your school and (often) feeling a high level of emotion as they experience your school. As they get closer to close – the application stage – they may seek more facts and become more analytical.

But the emotion is still there. At the heart of questions about how many APs your school offers or can their son play basketball and perform in the musical is their child’s well-being. And once the application is submitted, the emotions swing up again.

Of course, these generalities vary from family to family, but finding the right “fit” – that undefinable yet palpable factor – never leaves the equation. Wise marketing strategies give prospects what they want and need at every stage of the funnel.

How did Vanderbilt, the #1 happiest college in the land, according to Princeton Review’s top 20 colleges for happy students, find its happy place in its marketing? One of the ways was a landing page that details why its students are happy and student video interviews about what makes them happy at Vanderbilt.

Is your admissions strategy “happy” when prospects visit?

Your admission materials, website and social media are filled with smiling faces, teachers and students. How does that translate when visitors are on your campus?

The most fundamental checklist for any prospective adult or student shadowing in your classrooms is whether it is a place in which they’d want to spend time. Are the teachers engaging? Is the room inviting and vibrant? Most importantly, are the students immersed in the material/lesson/group work? Or are they bored and waiting for the bell to ring?

What’s in the halls? Kids, laptops and stuffed backpacks are just fine, but what’s on the walls? Student artwork, flyers of a vibrant co-curricular life, spirit posters? They all play a role in announcing the kind of atmosphere your school engenders.

What photos are in your admission officers’ offices and admissions lobby? Smiling students in a variety of roles at your school (class, lab, playing field, art studio, hanging out, etc.) – or sterile photos of a sweeping campus vista with nary a person in sight?

What messages are your volunteer parent, teacher or student tour guides and open house participants sending? You carefully chose them to participate because of their devotion to your school, activity level (for students) and “cheerleading” ability.

Don’t assume they know what messages they need to share.

  • Ask student and parent tour guides to think and use specific examples about what makes them happiest/what they love most at your school. Yes, they should know facts and program details, but make sure there is joy injected in sharing those details. Parents want to hear from other parents that your school addresses your child’s intellectual and emotional well-being.
  • Gather these moments as videos on your website on a landing page with student profiles. (For proof that it works, revisit Vanderbilt’s student videos. LINK) Of course, share their impressive accomplishments – prospective families need to see outcomes, too – but ask students to fill in the blank to “At [your school], I am happiest when I am…” The genuine answers you get will resonate with prospective families.

Don’t forget one key group of happiness ambassadors: all your faculty and staff. Have you asked the teachers, administrators, staff and coaches to be ready to say to every visitor why he or she chose to teach/work at your school and what he or she loves about it? This isn’t an elevator pitch, but a quick, genuine one- or two-sentence answer. Ask if some are willing to let you use their answers on your website and through social media. (Bonus: alumni will love reading what their beloved faculty has to say on Facebook.)

Doing this can be highly strategic and impactful for your internal community, too: the act of thinking and sharing answers makes everyone feel good.

What is your admissions strategy? How do you share “happy” in your marketing messaging?

We can help you inject the happy into your admissions strategy. Contact us.

October is Strategic Marketing Month for Kalix. Check out our recent post Strategic Planning Check-up for Heads of Schools.

Sarah Achenbach is Director of Communications for Kalix Marketing.