Admissions and recruitment seasons are getting into full swing, which means fall open houses and visit and shadow days. Digital and social media marketing are vital to raising your school’s visibility, but so are essential organic marketing efforts: events.
Events that center on showcasing your school for prospective students and families – open houses and visit and shadow days – give people a chance to immerse themselves in your school and see first-hand what makes your school special. There are other events (tours, programmatic-focused events deeper into the admissions cycle), but these “first looks” are the first impressions that count.
Open House Best-Practices
Post-Covid, some schools have backed away from the traditional open house. I still strongly believe that open houses are the best way to offer a premier look at a school. It remains a very strategic opportunity for prospective students and families to not only see your school, but engage one-on-one with faculty, students, current families, and admissions teams.
NAIS data backs up the need for a signature event like an open house. Independent school tuition is an investment for your prospect families. Give them the time to “touch and feel” the school at your open house. Families will make time in their schedules to attend. The in-person visit will reinforce what prospects research and learn online. Nothing can replace the personalization of a physical visit to a school.
What do prospective families get from an open house?
- A clear sense for how your school community presents itself
- The engagement they’re seeking from an open house’s tours and information sessions
- An understanding of how your school handles the admissions process – and keeps it personal
- A chance to see if your school is a good “fit”
- The opportunity to get questions answered about programs, cost, athletics, etc.
Open houses can be staged in many ways. I recommend making it the signature recruitment event each season. This means everyone in your school community comes together in full support of showing off their “work home” to prospective families.
Smaller open house-style events are another way to showcase your school to families. However, sometimes it takes multiple mini-open house-type events to get all your prospects to your campus. These events often require more work from the community to host more than one showcase event. Consider the bandwidth of your admissions/enrollment offices during the hectic recruitment season.
While it is nice to have events during the school day, an open house is more successful when the whole family can attend, so consider a weekend day or a weeknight. Daytime events can be tours, coffee and conversations with the head, smaller events that keep families in the funnel, and differentiating program-specific engagements.
Whether you are hosting an all-school, one-day open house or several smaller events, you need an event checklist beginning at least 6-8 weeks prior to the event.
1. Work with your Communications team to market your event through digital and social media advertising, traditional advertising, and organic marketing as early and as often as possible. In my previous school, we used Kalix’s digital expertise to create Meta and Google campaigns that provided us with direct leads we may have otherwise not reached. Cast your marketing net wide to keep the top of the funnel full.
2. Drive your marketing efforts to a dedicated landing page for your events. You want to track leads, give information specific to your event and get people excited to visit. A well-crafted, strategic landing page does that. Need help creating a great landing page? Check out our tips.
3. Identify and list everyone, active and passive, who will play a role. Facilities should be prepared to get the outside of the campus looking beautiful and landscaped.
4. Tour the school with the housekeeping staff and point out areas that need some greater attention to cleaning: baseboards, floors, windows, back hallways, and storage areas (which should be closed in for an event like an open house).
5. Signage – this is critical. If possible, put up a sign (banner) at your school entrances, along a main road, etc., to let the public know about the event. If you use school buses or shuttles, consider a vehicle wrap or magnetic banner on the side of the vehicle to advertise. Make sure you include your landing page URL.
6. Recruit and train your volunteers. It takes many hands to make an open house successful. Students, faculty, and parent volunteers need to know what to say, what to wear and understand the expectations around helping with this showcase event.
7. Prepare clear talking points for your volunteers and your tour guides, and review all tour routes so the flow of tours runs smoothly. Use your best asset, your students (5th grade and up) to serve as guides. Make sure they know the expectations and provide training for them, so they better understand their role(s).
8. Showcase music groups, art, special programs, athletics, etc. Faculty rooms should be spic-and-span clean with displays based on the subject. Videos work well in addition to any books or supplemental materials students need to be successful in that subject area.
9. Make sure your guests leave with some goodies, something that students will hold on to: tee shirts, socks, headbands, sling-back bags, etc. The list is endless. And everyone loves a good cookie in the shape of your mascot or acronym of your school (or Rice Krispies treats in school colors). While this may seem simple, simple goes a long way to making a lasting positive impression on your prospective families.
10. Make sure your checklist includes what to do AFTER the event. Who is following up? How? How have you captured a prospect’s interests and how are you addressing those? Have they scheduled a school visit or shadow day? What materials do you send post-event? Carefully create your follow-up plan, stick to it and document who does what when.
Visit/Shadow Days Best-Practices
The second critical way for prospective students to really see themselves at your school is through visit/shadow days. The chance to walk in the shoes of current students, follow them around, expand their knowledge of what to expect plays a critical role in the “fit and feel” of whether they will stay in the funnel and move to an applicant and even an enrolled student.
I highly recommend that schools with students of all ages host visit/shadow days. Even the younger students will benefit from shorter visit times that include the chance to sit in on an art class or a reading, math, or a science class, among others (even PE and recess). For the older grades, this is a must-do initiative throughout the entire admissions cycle year-to-year.
Musts for Hosting a Visit/Shadow Day
- Offer plenty of visit days but cap the number of visitors if you are a larger school so guests don’t think the day is overwhelming or that your school is “too big”.
- Tailor the shadow/visit day to a prospect’s interests, which you capture on the inquiry form on your event landing page or your CRM inquiry page. Keep this data exportable and trackable so admissions offices can do organic marketing to the prospects based on their special interests post shadow/visit day.
- Make sure the prospect knows your school rules. If phones are put away, let them know in advance.
- Faculty must be fully engaged and know well in advance, if possible, if a student will be visiting. One best practice is send a visit day schedule to all faculty two days in advance in case faculty need to add extra chairs to their classroom, among other preparations they want to do. Try not to have the prospect sitting through test after test when shadowing a student. Is there a handout about the class, subject or school they can review during test time. If your visit days are on specific days, give faculty advance notice and ask that there not be a test that day.
- Train your student ambassadors and leaders to serve as hosts for the day. Take them through scenarios they may encounter as a student host; this way, they are prepared to manage situations that might come up like their guest wanting to eat lunch with friends and not the host. Explain what to do if the prospective student gets sick during the day, has no interest in the visit and attempts to sabotage it, etc. Nothing beats preparation!
- If the prospect stays for lunch, make sure to comp the lunch. This is a simple but memorable effort so the prospective student can see what the lunch experience is like for them.
- When older students have free periods in their schedules, ask them to walk the prospective student around the school and see areas that will be of special interest to them.
- Ensure parents of visiting students have an opportunity to stay and hear from the director of admissions/enrollment and a member of the leadership team if that is plausible. Sometimes, it is nice to have a revolving schedule with faculty who may want to contribute to a parent session during a free period. While admission directors are the gateway to the school, and most well-versed in all aspects, parents are paying for the education by expert faculty and seasoned academic leadership.
Plan Your Open House ASAP
If your school has never planned an open house, I strongly encourage you to get one on your calendar between now and your decision/deposit deadline day. When done correctly, it is among the effective recruitment events a school can host.
Showcase events such as open houses and visit/shadow days are critical to the admission recruitment funnel. They are two of the best ways for families and students to physically see your school, meet teachers and talk with current students. These signature visit opportunities offer the high-level of personalization that most families are seeking. Give them value-added treatment to bring that personalization to life.
Reach out to Maureen Cannon at email@example.com for more tips and guidance on how to plan the best open house and/or create student-centered, tailored shadow/visit days. They make all the difference for your admissions funnel.