Many admissions offices are approaching the conversion-decision part of the independent and private school enrollment cycle. Schools with prospects near the end of their admissions funnel can do several things to meet or exceed your school’s yield and enrollment goals.
Whatever your school’s market – competitive with other independent schools or competing with public schools – here are some tips for a successful conversion period.
Double-down on Sharing Your School’s Strengths
This is the time to pull out all stops to showcase what makes your school special and differentiates it from your competition.
- Highlight all the strengths of your school’s special programs, test scores and more. Use a cross-platform approach with social media, website news, emails to prospects with infographic data, videos on your school’s YouTube channel. (Remember that YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine after Google and the one your accepted students are using.)
- Use your assets to tell your school’s story. Tap into your best ambassadors – current students, parents, faculty, alumni/ae – who can help you tell your school’s story. These are the people who live the benefits of your school, the tangibles and intangibles, and are the best advocates and most authentic voices for your school.
- Ask your ambassadors to craft and publish social media posts, hashtag campaigns and/or comment on your posts; send hand-written letters to prospects, emails/phone calls; be part of profiles on your website/social media on what they love about your school, etc.
- Consider asking a school leader to record a phone video of peers talking about a favorite class. Ask them to speak about why or what they love most about the school. Incorporate your branding into a simple edit of those clips, publish it to your school’s YouTube channel, Facebook and Instagram pages. Embed the video within the email signatures of all members in the enrollment management team.
Tailor Your Enrollment Efforts by Audience
It’s always critical to craft your messaging to your audience’s needs and wants, and never more so than at enrollment time.
For most parents of younger students, they make enrollment and retention decisions based on facts. It’s a critical audience since once enrolled, these families can be part of the school community for years to come.
A major trend for families making early-childhood and elementary school decisions is the expectation for schools to showcase how students achieve essential learning objectives while still allowing them the space to experience the joys of childhood. Schools should respond to this trend by demonstrating how students meet key learning objectives, while also getting to be “kids.”
- Focus your messaging on any play-based learning that is integrated in any traditional curriculum. Demonstrate that you know how early learners learn best.
- Use your experts and thought-leaders for this (profiles, video, a list of best-practice tips on reading with your child at home, etc.).
- Make it easy for your accepted families to find this information. Just placing it on your website is not enough. Share it in emails, on social media, etc.
Middle School: The Next Step
Clearly demonstrate how your current middle schoolers perform and get prepared for high school, academically and social-emotionally. Both are equally important to rising or prospective middle school families.
- Focus on academics like grade-level learning, advanced classes and special programs (STEAM, global languages, visual arts, Maker Space projects, etc.) that enhance learning and critical thinking skills.
- Show families the value of these key developmental years and Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Be prepared to talk about how your school incorporates SEL in the pre-teen years. How does your school approach learning in a digital age and use technology to complement book learning?
- Show outcomes. Consider a profile of a current 9th grader who benefited from your middle school program. If your school does not have an upper school, choose a graduate of your 8th grade at a nearby competitive high school.
- Highlight programs beyond the classroom: athletics, performing arts and co-curriculars. These are key to brain and motor skills learning at these ages. Families seek outlets where their children will learn as much as when they are sitting in classrooms.
High School: The Final Frontier of the Formative Years
- If your recruitment focuses on grades 9-12, you need to demonstrate to families the value, tangible and intangible, of why your high school is the right choice for students. Conversion should focus on effective, dual communication to prospective parents and students.
- Show tangible results (test scores, college admittance, accelerated and advanced learning classes like Aps and dual enrollment) and any accolades about your academics, arts, leadership and athletics.
- Balance facts with the intangibles and human-centered storytelling. Create a profile on one of your school’s aspiring environmentalists, highlighting their AP Environmental Science project focused on stream management on your campus, for example, or any other unique and compelling message from a class. In giving the list of how many clubs you have, spotlight students who started a new club and how they are leading. Publish content about your internships and service opportunities. Write about excursion opportunities available to students
Get creative! Canva is a great, free way to create branded infographics on specific classes and programs. They can include data and the heartstrings profiles that you can save and publish as PDFs.
For ALL Grade Levels: Admissions Events and Financial Aid
Events continue to be very important during the decision period. Families and students need to be able to return to campus once accepted. With a different lens on them, they need to be able to see their family and themselves in your community.
Conversion/securing deposits is the time to pull out all the stops and create campus visits and welcome/acceptance events that resonate with accepted students and families so they can feel connected as they make this important life decision.
It may not be the time for a general tour, but if the student is an athlete, how can their visit focus on their intended sport? Can performing artists attend your winter play and meet some cast members?
You also need to know what parents and students are looking for at your events, especially now that they’ve been accepted. (Spoiler alert: it’s not the same thing.)
Check out my tips on creating memorable events. These are all-hands-on-deck events, too, from your head of school, faculty and staff to your best ambassadors. Now it’s decision time and your last opportunity to make a final impression on accepted students, using the cooperation of your current school community.
It’s vital that you track attendance at campus events as it is a great way to gauge genuine interest and know whom you should chase for a deposit. The more events and engagement, the higher percentage your school enrolls that family/student.
Financial Aid is on most families’ minds. While the economy appears to be doing well, some families will think they are still affected. Listen, talk and really get to their stories if financial aid is part of their decision process.
Ask how far they think they can stretch to give their child/children the advantage of an independent school education. Do all you can to work with each family who is seeking aid to secure their deposit.
Consider a Zoom webinar with your enrollment lead on financial aid and your CFO to provide an overview and answer parent questions. It shows that you understand how important these issues are to families and recognize that an independent school is an investment.
Don’t assume that accepted families understand how financial aid works. Clearly stating how your school handles it is important. NAIS created a good summary that can be an example of what to share online, virtually and in-person.
Make sure that your FAQs and all forms are up to date on your website for financial aid, too.
Personalization is Key!
When it comes to conversion, and securing those deposits, Sheryl Prion, director of enrollment at Maryvale Preparatory School (all-girls, 6-12 grades school in Maryland) abides by this golden rule for accepted students and their families.
“Conversion starts with [personalization],” she says. As applications come in, Sheryl and her team begin leveraging the ambassadors, coaches, teachers and school leadership, among others, in their reach-out efforts. Her strategy focuses on knowing their audience.
For accepted 6th grade applicants, Maryvale hosts a fun, engaging event called “Escape the Castle” (there is a castle-like building on the campus.) While parents meet with admissions and school leaders, accepted students team-up with faculty to experience an activity that resonates with them, using their own critical thinking skills and forging bonds with new classmates to illuminate how they will learn best in Maryvale’s middle school.
For all Maryvale’s accepted students, the one-on-one engagement also includes an important welcome reception where students and families hear how they can have success as Maryvale students. Conversion culminates with consistent and dedicated follow-up for all the accepted students.
Need more tips? Independent schools can learn a lot from colleges and universities. Check out Meet & Engage’s university-level Top Tips For Successful Student Conversion Strategies.
Best-Practice Conversion Communication Tools
Whether you are recruiting for elementary, middle or high school, use all forms of communications:
- Digital marketing messaging on Meta platforms should address the benefits of choosing your school. Need help figuring out what to post on different platforms? Check out our blog post.
- Testimonials/Profiles in emails, on social media, on your website, in your weekly parent newsletters for retention and word-of-mouth, on your YouTube channel
- Phone calls and notecards: traditional communication is making a return to marketing because it is a personal touch and families feel as if schools know them.
- Retention is key, too. Seemingly small gestures can mean a lot. For current families, consider putting all the photos your Communications and Marketing team has taken of fall and winter events into a password-protected album for current families. Snapfish is a good one. Then put the link in every weekly divisional newsletter or send an email to all current families with the album link and password. Families LOVE seeing their children happy and engaged and love downloading photos. (And as families are scrolling through scores of photos to find their student, they are seeing great shots of all the terrific things that happen every day at your school!)
How can Kalix help your enrollment management team take it to the next level? Contact Maureen Cannon at email@example.com for a free consultation about your school’s needs.