Admissions directors have long-lived by the phrase “if we can just get them to campus, we can get them to enroll.”
But what happens when they can’t get to campus?
Boarding schools and international schools have wrestled with this problem for a long time — coming up with creative ways to have both families and faculty from across the country (or world!) say “we choose you!”, sight unseen.
But it wasn’t until the COVID-19 global pandemic where all schools — from small montessori schools to large universities — are now quickly pivoting and adapting their strategy, because they can’t just get them to campus.
So, what can you do?
Review and Update Your Website
Prospective families are going to be looking at your website to figure out what they should do next, and how COVID-19 might affect their plans.
Your school’s website updates should include:
1. Adding a page pop on your homepage or within your admissions section that directs prospective families where they should go.
In this example from Avon Old Farms, they are directing families to both their distance learning hub and revisit day information. This works well because it assures prospective families that even though the school is closed, the learning goes on — something very important to parents who are investing big in education.
And in this example from The Hill School, their admissions page features an informative page pop about their “reimagined revisit days”. (Just the name “reimagined revisit days” takes a positive spin on a challenging situation, and we love it!)
2. Creating new landing pages that promote any virtual events families should know about.
While your school is virtual, we recommend hiding any standard in-person event pages from your navigation so that the virtual events are in the spotlight.
The Independence School’s headline on their admissions page shows that they have embraced virtual admissions.
Amity International School simply updated their “Visit Us” page to reflect the current closure.
Conserve School, located in Land O' Lakes Wisconsin has had a "virtual visit" page on their website for two years! "We've had a Virtual Prospective Student Day with a Virtual Tour (on the same page) for two years, as our location is rural and sometimes hard to get to," said Jennifer Anderson, the school's assistant director of enrollment.
The page is well-done, organized, and jam-packed with video overviews that definitely give prospective families enough information without having the make the trip.
As schools look to the future and plan for "what's next," it definitely makes sense to consider a "virtual visit" page not just a short-term solution, but a long-term strategy to reach more families.
3. A heavy focus on tuition and financial aid.
The global economy will definitely have some families wondering if private school is the right investment at the moment, so making financial aid information clear is important.
Whitfield School’s “Tuition and Affordability” page on their website does an excellent job of reassuring families that the tuition is worth the investment, and that they do everything they can to help.
Latin School of Chicago offers “financial aid scenarios” drop down on their tuition page, which clearly details how much families will receive.
The Rectory School uses Finalsite’s Forms Manager to offer this tuition estimator, which can also be useful to families.
As you make changes to your tuition and financial aid content, remember this: the changes and updates you make now will likely help you in the long-run. (For more on tuition page best practices, read: How to Create Tuition Pages that Convert.)
4. Share Testimonials.
Now more than ever, the authentic perspectives of your community will play a key role in enrollment and re-enrollment. We’re seeing many schools use the tool Padlet to create testimonial walls on their websites. The free tool allows you to crowdsource content easily without any work from your team.
Host a Virtual Event
Revisit days, open houses, and other in-person, enrollment-focused events have been cancelled. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get your prospective families together. Right now everyone is craving community, and any sense of interaction — and a virtual event will give families exactly what they need right now.
Here are a few ideas for virtual events:
Virtual Open House
If you had a spring open house planned, don’t cancel it! Keep the same date, and simply shift your in-person open house to a virtual open house.
Ryan McDonald, the Public Relations Coordinator for Maine School of Science and Mathematics (MSSM), helped their school quickly pivot their in-person open house to a virtual open house event. His best piece of advice “Keep everything as similar to the regular event as you can!” That means:
Instead of cancelling ads, change them to promote the virtual event.
Keep the day’s structure the same — but shortened. Start with a welcome, and then invite your standard open house speakers to present, and then answer questions. From here, move on to other elements — such as tours, meeting with other students, or Q&A.
David Willows, the director of advancement at International School of Brussels re-created the school’s in-person “admissions game” on their website using Finalsite Posts. While the “game” is an interactive event in-person, ISB’s team made the online experience interactive, too.
A Panel discussion is a great way to involve many community members — almost in the same way you would an open house — while allowing prospective families to get their questions answered.
The Hill School recently hosted a virtual panel discussion, featuring faculty, parents and students. The 90-minute live panel discussion is now on their YouTube channel, and #ChooseHill admissions landing page.
Virtual Visit Day
Similar to a virtual open house, a virtual visit day is an opportunity for prospective families to experience your school community the best they can, virtually.
Looking for inspiration? De Smet Jesuit High School is located in the highly competitive St. Louis, MO area. Their personal and well-thought approach to a revisit day is commendable. Their new “virtual visit day website page features:
A video from the school’s assistant director of admissions (and her adorable kids) candidly filmed in the comfort of their home.
Two photo slideshows to showcase the experiences of visit days and shadow days
Two helpful content offers — including a viewbook and guide for choosing the right high school
A form to submit questions and get answers
Avon Old Farms School has also moved their in-person revisit day to be a livestream event.
Alumni Speakers and Spotlights
Virtual events make it possible to include community members that may not normally be included at an open house or visit day — namely alumni. Invite your school’s alumni to host a speaker series for prospective families. This will also be greatly beneficial for families on the fence about the financial investment during this time.
While each of these events is slightly different, here are a few best practices to keep in mind:
Structure your day to be as similar to the in-person event as possible
Involve a diverse group of community members
Promote them on your website, social media channels, ads, and other standard mediums
Keep it personalized and human by using video and authentic content as much as possible
Offer additional takeaways, such as guides, videos, or an FAQ document
Keep an Active Social Media Presence
Your prospective and current families are craving a sense of community and normalcy, and you can use social media to help provide that. Here are some ideas for staying active on social media during this time:
Continue your normal posting cadence — which should include posting at least once per day on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. (No more than twice on Facebook and Instagram, though!) While we’re currently in the middle of dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak, it is okay to post about other things!
Keep your ads running, but update them to promote virtual events.
Share content about distance learning and how your community is staying connected, engaged and inspired. Being transparent during this time will help with admissions.
Use social media to livestream some of the virtual events you’re hosting. If you’re using Finalsite Streaming, you can do this automatically to reach a wider audience. If your school is using zoom, you can automatically stream your zoom webinar or meeting to Facebook and Twitter!
Go live on Instagram. We love using Instagram live to host Q&As because of the simple interface. If you’d like to go live, remember that if you want to save it to post again later, videos on Instagram can only run up to a minute, and only up to 15 minutes on IGTV. If you have any trouble saving your live video, you can post it to your story directly after ending your live stream and simply screen record the footage within the 24-hour window that it is available.
Create a Facebook group for accepted students and/or parents. While we know Gen Z is the least active generation on Facebook, Facebook groups host a wealth of opportunity for connecting current and prospective students and families. It is a safe place for them to ask questions and connect with other accepted families in a familiar environment that doesn’t require another username and password. If you create a Facebook group, you can also share your livestream events directly to the group to keep them engaged with your virtual admissions experience.
Get Creative With Your Virtual Tour
Just because you can’t get to campus right now doesn’t mean you can't find a way to walk prospective students through campus virtually.
If your school already has a virtual campus tour, you are luckily one step ahead. The Independence School showcases their 360 virtual tour on their “virtual admissions office” page to allow prospective families to get an excellent glimpse of life on campus.
If you don’t have a virtual tour, you can still create a tour-like experience! Depending on your state or country’s current regulations, getting onto campus might be near impossible. But, if you don’t have a virtual tour, you can still do your best to showcase your campus by repurposing content you already have. Collect images and videos of campus and compile them into slideshows, or a PowerPoint presentation. You may also be able to crowdsource content from your community.
Need a little inspiration?
Felsted School has virtual tours segmented by type of tour and school, making it easy for parents to find the information they need to make a decision.
International School of Brussels’ David Willows candidly shared in a webinar that before campus closed, they were able to run around campus and grab a few shots to put a video together for their virtual visit web page.
Once you have your virtual tour set up on your website, you can take it one step further and make it a real event. To make your virtual tour more engaging, you can:
Set up a webinar and invite parents to join you for the virtual tour. We recommend hosting tours at the same time consistently, so families can easily join — such as Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4PM. During the webinar, you can walk them through photos, videos, or 360-tours yourself. This way, they can ask questions and meet with someone one-on-one.
Get testimonials from parents, faculty and students (yes, even though they are home!) and use those to accompany photos of campus. Or, ask some students and faculty to join you for a webinar.
Personalize and Humanize Communications with Video
There’s no better time to get comfortable in front of the camera than right now — because you’re probably doing it a lot. (Zoom fatigue anyone?)
You can incorporate video into many aspects of your admissions strategy, including:
Emails: Using free tools like Vidyard and Soapbox, you can create personalized videos for each of your accepted families. Keep these videos to 120-seconds or less in length. In addition to these personalized videos, you can share other videos in emails to increase opens and clicks. (For more video marketing strategies and ideas for COVID-19, check out this blog post!)
Social media: Go live on Facebook more often, and encourage leadership to get involved. We recommend doing something daily to stay connected.
One-on-one meetings between families: Because everyone is virtual right now it provides a new opportunity to connect families and alumni that may have never been able to connect at an in-person event. Use this new virtual lifestyle to connect new families with current families most similar to them — or, connect them with alumni who have already been through similar experiences. You can set up one-on-one meetings with Zoom, or even Google Hangouts.
It’s safe to say that COVID-19 will likely impact enrollment and re-enrollment — but by implementing creative measures to make the most of virtual scenarios, admissions professionals can hopefully tip the scales in their favor.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's director of demand generation, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, eBooks, and reports, including Finalsite's Inbound Marketing Benchmark Report.