As I wrote this blog post, my family was self-quarantined in Baltimore complying with the COVID-19 limitations, with both my sons doing online learning. Their schools are closed, as is the college where my husband teaches. There is uncertainty about what tomorrow looks like, and where we will be as a nation and educational community as the academic calendar moves into spring.
Every school in the U.S. – independent, parochial and public – is facing unprecedented challenges in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Of course, the safety of each of our school communities is paramount as we work together, as a nation, to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
For the independent school community, though, there are many questions about what to do during the closures, which came during two critical admission seasons: accepted student enrollment time and the start of the spring/summer admission season.
My advice: Flexibility and compassion.
Businesses are closing their doors. People are feeling anxious about their health and, with the economic news, financially unstable. The most important thing that we can do in the admission arena is meet people where they are.
This is a time when we, as a country, are embracing what is means to be a community. Accepted and prospective families are paying close attention to what you are doing as a school community to support each other. Any messages that are important for your own students are equally important for accepted and prospective students.
Share specific admission/enrollment information.
Your school has done an amazing job of communicating with your current families and faculty during this crisis. Don’t assume that your admitted and prospective families are reading what is posted on your school’s website or social media about classes.
You should post information on how you can be reached during the school closure.
Create a link to the information on your homepage and include it at the top of your admission landing page, financial aid page and the page you probably already created for newly accepted and enrolled families.
Include it as part of your out-of-office email message and on your home pages for any social media platforms you use.
Consider sharing with accepted, newly enrolled and prospective families what you are doing online with your current students during this time. As a prospective or newly enrolled parent, knowing this is important. Highlighting how your school is handling the everyday right now is good information for parents thinking about what to do and shows the strengths of your community.
Post an online schedule for your different divisions. If one of your teachers has a great video lecture, consider inviting prospective students or parents to “audit” it. (Yes, prospective students have their own online learning to do, but this virtual classroom invitation is a nice gesture.)
Every school should think about writing a special message at the top of its financial aid webpage, newly accepted page, etc., letting current families know that they are a priority for financial aid. As we saw in 2008, families who were full-pay families a month ago, may no longer be. Talk with your head of school, CFO, etc. to craft a message for current families who may suddenly be feeling uncertain. They should feel important and valued as established members of the community.
Offer to chat with families and students via Facetime, Skype or Zoom. During this time of social distancing, this is a great way to stay connected, human to human.
Consider creating a low-production, video with heartfelt message from the enrollment manager that you are here to talk, should anyone have questions.
Include, of course, a message about how your school is focused on the safety of your own community.
Be honest in your messaging, such as: “We don’t know our long-term plan, here is what we are doing now.” Or, “People are struggling and trying to figure out in these times of turbulence what is next. Given this quiet time to contemplate, some of the things I have been thinking about are XYZ.”
For boarding schools, ask some of your faculty who are still on campus in their faculty residences to share videos with you about dorm life, what they miss the most when the kids aren’t there and/or what they love living at a boarding school.
And, no, this is not the time to post this video on Facebook, but you have options. Send the video links to your admitted families and prospects. And be sure to load the videos on your admission landing page, accepted families page and any other admission sub-pages you feel make sense.
Be ready for extensions.
Flexibility is crucial. If there are families who aren’t committed or were committed until their financial portfolio fell apart, offer an extension.
Be ready to extend every deadline and do case by case analysis. People may not be able to get an official teacher recommendation, but the teacher can send an email, etc. Add a new level of flexibility and use of alternative materials to make things work for people while making sure to stay true to your school’s process as much as possible.
What about your spring events?
It’s the height of the season for accepted/newly enrolled/move up family events and spring sneak peeks and open houses. Or it was.
My advice is to pick new dates for later in spring but don’t publish them externally. You don’t want to keep publishing dates to interested families, only to cancel them repeatedly. Again, be straightforward with messaging on your events page or in emails. I would suggest language such as, “We’re holding some dates in the late spring. We will let you know as we all know more.” If you must publish dates, make them TBD.
A word about self-care.
Admission people are “people-people,” and for many, working at home and doing everything on the phone can be isolating. Make sure that you touch base with your colleagues in a conference or video call. This is a great time to connect with the admission person across town or whom you met at a conference to re-energize yourself. While this is a time that can feel ideal for the introvert, make sure that the extrovert in you gets some energetic feedback.
Right now, anything you can do that shows flexibility and compassion for your families and yourself is the way forward as we walk together (though six feet apart) during these days of uncertainty. Be well!
Alison Greer is Kalix’s Admissions and Enrollment Management Strategist.
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