What Parents and Students Really Want to See During a School Visit

You’ve planned your fall admissions events to showcase all that your school offers. But are you highlighting what prospective students and parents really want to see when they step on your campus? Our two-part series by Kalix admissions and enrollment expert, Maureen Cannon, walks you through how to create events that resonate with students and parents to hit all the high points and heartstrings.

Recruitment season is in high gear. These are exciting times for admissions offices around the nation. When prospective parents and students visit your school, they are looking at very different things. They are approaching a visit to your school, whether it’s an open house or shadow day, and evaluating it on how well the visit and your school meet their different wants and needs.  

You need to know these differences and keep their experiences top of mind, then showcase your programs, people, places and outcomes to address these.

What Parents Want From Their Child’s School

Parents/guardians are looking for how well your school delivers the education, school culture and overall experience (academic, social, emotional) that they expect from an independent school. The essential question all parents want answered is “Does the school value, know and love my child?” 

Key for all parents are the value-adds that your school has. An independent school education is expensive, and parents want to know that they are getting their money’s worth.

  • Does your school offer free meals, transportation, early drop off, etc.? 
  • Can families use the school pool for free on weekends? 
  • Are there free tutoring sessions for middle schoolers led by upper school students and teachers? 
  • A session with your financial aid officer in completing the FACTS or SST? 

Make sure you praise the “extras” you provide. 

For high school families: 

  • Parents are likely interested in how many APs, dual enrollment or honors classes are offered.
  • How can they get the best resource and social-emotional support for their child?
  • What extracurricular opportunities exist to get their child engaged outside of the classroom?
  • Most importantly, what is your school’s college process and success with college placement, including career-readiness? Parents want to see a return on their investment (ROI). Make sure that your College Counseling staff is part of any event and include in-person and/or virtual participation with young alumni (in college and early in their careers) to show outcomes. An online library of downloadable alumni profiles is a great resource to parents to peruse your school’s success stories. 

For middle school families:

  • Parents are very vested in not only how the school will prepare their child for high school and beyond, but also how they help this age group navigate those developmental years. 
  • Show examples of how your school manages social challenges, the peer-to-peer issues that arise like helping to get their child organized as she/he moves to a more independent environment. What resources are available to the students?
  • Co-curriculars are also important to middle school prospective parents. Make sure these are front and center with examples of how students make friends and are part of a community through these activities. 

For pre-kindergarten through 5th grade families:

At this age, parents are focused on the whole-child foundation and your school’s approach to teaching this young and impressionable age group.

  • How does your school deliver the educational and social-emotional approach to learning for kids ages 3-10? Is your approach research based? Perhaps share some of the research through links on your program’s webpage. 
  • Do you offer unique learning programs like Montessori or Reggio Emilia approaches to early-childhood education that parents may be considering? Be sure you explain and differentiate them.
  • How are you ensuring that children are learning through play, movement (not sitting in desks all day), recess, arts and STEM, beyond just the core subjects, which is also important to parents of young children.
  • After-care and summer camps are important to this demographic. Showcase your options.
  • Do you offer any parent education series like Coffee with the Preschool or Lower School Head on parenting issues? These are also key opportunities for parents to develop a social connection.
  • How does your school handle safety issues? This is critical to all parents but especially parents of young children.

Last fall, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) published an article on Marketing to the Digital-First Generation of Parents. The article’s three “C’s” – customer service, concierge programming and communication – that Millennial parents value can be showcased during the admissions process and cycle.

What Students Want From School Visits

For prospective students, it’s all about their personal experiences. What will the school do for them and how will they benefit from it? It’s important to understand your audience. The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently published an excellent profile of Gen Z, the generation currently enrolled in school. 

For high school students:

Data shows that at the high-school level, students are primarily making the decision about where they will attend school. What goes into their ultimate school decision? That answer is easy: What’s in it for them?

  • They want classes that will prepare them for college, that will challenge and push them. 
  • They want faculty with whom they can connect and forge positive student-teacher relationships and develop a mentoring relationship.
  • They want social interaction opportunities that help them understand how the peer dynamics work and, most important, they want to know how they can fit in socially. This is critical.  
  • They want internship experiences and important, robust co-curriculars that keep them learning, growing and leading outside of the classroom. 
  • Lastly, they want to be courted and recruited. Schools need to make sure they impress upon prospects how much they want them to choose their school.

For middle school students:

At this point, the decision making process is more 50-50 between parent-child. More and more, parents are giving middle school students freedom in “choice and voice.” 

  • Middle school-aged students want an environment where they can feel safe to be themselves.
  • They want to navigate the challenges of middle school with support from teachers and other school leadership.
  • They want to be  immersed in a school environment where they are learning, playing, growing and discovering new interests and passions. 

While you are thinking about your in-person experience for students, don’t neglect your digital face. Do your Instagram and YouTube channels showcase the vibrancy of student life and school culture with an eye for fun and community? What about your website? Check out our blog post from a 2022 high school senior on what students really think about your website.

For preschool and elementary school students:

At this age, parents are still the decision-makers for selecting the school, but how the school approaches early-childhood and elementary school education is how the students will make a connection. 

  • Play-based learning
  • Interactive and hands-on learning
  • Recess, art, and other variations of learning make early learners engage in their own learning in an interactive, supportive and fun way. 

Relationships and communication are key to recruitment. Even with all these various age group prospects, the two most important things parents and students look for when they visit your school are:

  1. How does your school present itself?
  2. How personalized is your school’s admissions process? 

Make Sure Your School is Decked Out to the Nines

In recruitment season, the school must be dressed to impress as much as the students and school community are. Make sure your hallways are decorated with student artwork, club billboards, electronic message displays highlighting important dates, cultural holidays, etc. Are the lockers decorated to show school spirit and community? How is the overall cleanliness of the school (inside buildings and the grounds)? Whether families visit for an open house or a smaller, more interactive event, the school should reflect the day-to-day experience. 

Personalizing school visits for prospects is also critical to the recruitment process. Parents and students are seeking engagement from a school and want to be “known” from the beginning. The more you can personalize their visit and the admissions process, the more a family feels like they are wanted and the more they feel connected.

Check out our recent blog post on how to master Admissions events for tips.

If you are looking for guidance or consulting, please reach out to me at mcannon@kalixmarketing.com. WIth more than 20 years of educational marketing experience and recruitment, retention expertise, I can help you improve the experience for your families.

Want more information on why events need to be resurrected post-pandemic, please join me for an AISAP webinar on Friday, November 10, 2:00-3:00 pm ET and let’s keep the ideas flowing and the conversation going.

READ PART 2 OF THIS SERIES HERE: Creating Admissions Events that Resonate with Families

President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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