When it comes to moving prospective families through the enrollment journey, admission offices can’t afford to remain passive and rely on their reputation alone to draw in new students.
With an ever-growing number of competitive school choices, it's more important than ever to ensure that families stay engaged and interested during the inquiry phase and beyond. A major challenge that many schools face with their enrollment strategy is losing families even before there’s a decision to be made about whether or not to apply.
A proactive, responsive, personalized, and yes—sales-driven approach is essential to keeping inquiring families excited about the prospect of joining your school community, and that process can make or break any private school's admissions strategy.
And so much of that is within the power of admissions offices.
Like it or not, admissions is sales, and a carefully curated, sales-like strategy can keep families connected, interested, and committed until they’ve applied and enrolled. By understanding the families' needs, the art of effective communication, and the value of nurturing relationships, your school can attract, nurture, and retain families.
So why can’t your admissions team seem to “close the deal” with families? Sales would say…
"There’s no sense of urgency"
When families inquire at your school, they expect a prompt response. A lack of urgency in communication can quickly turn them off.
When a family indicates an interest and there’s a quick response, the 5-Minute Rule suggests that leads are 100x more likely to connect and 21x more likely to convert, as opposed to waiting an hour.
It is important for admission offices to respond to inquiries as fast as possible and follow up with any additional information requested. Even a small delay can lead families to believe that they are not a priority to your school.
So, how does one respond quickly with a personalized message? Workflows can help fix that problem. With automated workflows, emails can immediately be sent to contacts when they inquire, submit a contact form, or download your viewbook, allowing your admissions team to follow up with families with resources and communications as soon as they indicate an interest, download content, or sign up for an event.
Editor's Note: As I write this, I recently inquired about a home-repair project with a company five days ago and I still have not heard a response. Guess what? I’m moving on…why would I give them my business if they don’t prioritize me as a customer?
"You let families randomly book times for tours and interviews"
Consider your family's availability when scheduling tours or interviews. Your admission office must offer flexible scheduling options, including late afternoon or weekends (sorry!) to accommodate busy schedules and working parents. Providing a variety of options to choose from and confirming the date and time will ensure that the family feels respected and valued.
Take a look at The Independence School and what it's doing with its admission events. With the calendar feature in Finalsite Enrollment, your team can publish time slots available for 1:1 meetings, campus tours, or student interviews, and families can then select and schedule the time that works for them.
There’s even the option to view the first available meeting or browse the calendar weeks or months in advance. No more email tag and back-and-forth scheduling changes — automated alerts and reminders work for families and your team.
"You don't establish the importance of your school"
Families want to know why your school is worth their investment, so cut to the chase — your admission office needs to communicate your school's mission, values, academic achievements, and anything else that sets you apart from other schools.
By constantly providing specific details about what makes the school unique, families will be more motivated to pursue the application process — some schools don’t do this nearly as well, or as clearly, as others do.
So often, families feel a sense of “why is this school charging X for tuition?” and providing the supporting experiences, programs, and relationships that go into that number can help answer that important question.
Sandy Spring Friends School shares so much on its tuition and value page. Quotes from students and families, information about financial aid, fast facts — they present it through the lens of “this is why our tuition is what it is.”
"You’re not confirming the next steps"
After an initial inquiry, prospective families need to know what the next steps are in the process — plain and simple. Your office must clearly communicate the process for scheduling a visit, submitting an application, completing an interview, or whatever the next step is.
If families are left to guess what to do next, they may become disinterested, confused, or frustrated, which could lead to them giving up.
Make sure these steps are outlined not just on your admission pages, but also in your email communications, and within any profile of your enrollment management system so families can reference their specific point in the process.
With each panel providing more details, Malvern Preparatory School outlines the steps in its process with a branded design element on its admissions page. Once families have inquired through Finalsite Enrollment, they’ll be able to see what supporting materials they still need to provide and exactly where their application stands.
"There’s a lack of value and trust"
Building trust is essential to attracting new students and retaining prospective families. Admission offices should provide accurate information about your school, including curriculum, faculty, facilities, and resources. Open communication, social proof, and transparency throughout the enrollment process will ensure that families feel informed and confident in their decision to pursue enrollment.
Here are some tips and strategies for increasing student enrollment and helping build trust:
- School branding: Stick to your school’s brand at every click and communication — it’s all about consistency and setting expectations. Graphics, language, imagery, design, emails, tone, voice….every touch point is an opportunity to create trust and lean into your brand.
- Sharing testimonials: Quotes work as social proof and play a pivotal role in establishing trust between prospective families and your school. As genuine, unbiased feedback from current or former students and their families, they’re an authentic glimpse into your school's environment, curriculum, faculty, and overall experience. When prospective families can relate and see that others have been satisfied with their choice, it instills confidence and trust in your school's ability to deliver a quality experience.
- Reviews: Reviews serve as proof, showcasing your school's strengths, weaknesses, and overall atmosphere through the eyes of current or past students and their families. Prospective families can gain a better understanding of what to expect, making them feel more confident in their decision. By reading through genuine opinions and experiences (yes, even the less-than-stellar reviews...) about student success, families can gauge your school's performance, values, and fit for their family.
- Parent ambassadors: Parent ambassadors can share their own experiences and offer valuable insights to families. Whether by providing genuine unbiased opinions, creating personal connections, or offering ongoing support, prospective families can relate to the ambassadors as fellow parents, and they are more likely to trust their recommendations.
"You have an ineffective admission process"
An inefficient admission process can be frustrating for families, and cause them to lose interest (and faith) in your school. Too much friction, an unclear process, too much red tape… Admission offices must provide clear guidelines on application requirements, deadlines, and documents needed to complete the process.
Admissions software for private schools can streamline that process and set the tone for the overall experience for your school — if applying is fraught with complications, it’s a red flag for families!
"There’s no relationship building"
Not all families will find your school to be the right fit for their child, but that doesn't mean your admissions office should write them off completely. Even if a family ultimately decides not to enroll, maintaining communication and building a relationship with them can be beneficial.
Positive experiences with your admission office can still lead to referrals or future consideration for your school.
Pro tip: Follow up with families 4-6 months after they don’t enroll, and ask how things are going at the school they did move forward with. By then, they’re either satisfied with their decision, or second-guessing their choice — the perfect time to pop back on their radar and reestablish your communications.
Admission offices play a crucial role in attracting and retaining prospective families and by addressing the reasons why families may lose interest, admission offices can improve their communication and processes, and build stronger relationships with families. Ultimately, a successful sales-like approach can ensure that families feel valued, informed, and guided throughout the process.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.