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Using Data to Drive School Admissions & Marketing Strategies
Connor Gleason

It’s hard to know where you’re going without a road map, and that’s when data slides into the driver’s seat.

A closer look at your school website analytics and user behavior can guide admissions and marketing strategies, inform decision-making, and allow teams to set (and hit) enrollment goals. But with so many metrics and data points, it can be difficult to decide which dashboard to follow and when to turn.

Let’s take a look at what to do with data, how those efforts can drive your marketing strategy, and how that, in turn, supports enrollment initiatives.

Create personalized and targeted messaging

Anticipating your current and prospective families’ needs is the secret to success in school marketing, so focusing on demographics like age, location, interests, and browsing behavior through Google Analytics can help you better understand users’ journey across the web and how likely they are to engage with your social media, and SEO and PPC ads. With the rollout of Google Analytics 4, schools now have an even better understanding of how families engage with content across multiple devices. 

Data-driven marketing can help you create highly-targeted campaigns with unique, personalized messaging for each user, and when your message is relevant and personalized to prospective students and families, users will be more likely to engage with your content.

Some reports suggest that nearly three-quarters of consumers will only engage with personalized messaging. Make sure you're meeting parent expectations and increase your website engagement with personalization that features targeted and relevant content. More on this later...

Understand what marketing strategies are working (and what’s not working)

Data-driven marketing helps you to identify specific content that is leading prospects through your funnel, helping determine where your marketing efforts should be spent (or not.)

Multiple channels can deliver content to your users — everything from SEO and PPC ads to automated email workflows and social media campaigns. But instead of simply creating content for all channels, measure the efforts and content types that lead to the most audience engagement.

Depending on your school, this could look like content offer downloads, posts on social media, video plays, or traffic to your blog. Track your engagement metrics and shift your efforts to the channels that your audience prefers.

At St. Thomas School, Director of Marketing and Communications Amanda McDevitt’s goal for its social media ads was to get people back to the school website. According to McDevitt, many of their best-performing ads were about what sets the school apart, like ads about the school's merit scholars, parents as partners, and their 1-to-1 laptop program.

St. Thomas ad mockup

"I post quality content and look at the amount of web traffic I'm getting from social channels to measure its effectiveness," Amanda shared. "We increased traffic from social media by 619% in our first year of implementing this strategy. Of course, the quantity of traffic doesn't matter if it isn't quality traffic, so we also look to goal completions such as time spent on our site, the number of pages viewed, etc., to make sure we're bringing the right people to our site."


Connect better with your audiences

As a school marketer, you can’t deliver the same message to every prospective family. Families are at different stages of consideration, and they each need specific information that will help them take the next step. Segmenting your prospects’ behaviors, habits, and demographics can help you organize your audience and deliver messaging that speaks to their interests.

workflows screenshot

With Finalsite Workflows, as seen above, you can send automated messages with content for each stage of the funnel. Depending on user engagement stats like open rates or timed sequencing, the right message can be delivered at the right time. With insight into your engagement, like open rates and click-through rates, you can rate the quality and relevance of your marketing collateral.

Admission data to support school enrollment and retention

Data culture is vital to identify opportunities to meet your enrollment goals, improve retention, and increase yield. With admissions software, schools can run a report or query with data points they're collecting to personalize their outreach, or they can analyze their applicant pool and gather important data to streamline and personalize the entire enrollment process.

Enrollment management software like Finalsite Enrollment can even roll up individual school data for an aggregated, diocesan-wide view of the key admission success metrics that will help you fine-tune performance across groups of schools.

Minnehaha Academy admission page

“These inquiry numbers in marketing are critical lead indicators for the admission team, the development office, and for the board,” shared Rebekah Peterson, director of marketing and communications at Minnehaha Academy. “They’re valuable because, without them, we are only running on our best guesses and our feelings, which is not a great answer to have when people are asking questions.”

“We were just in too many databases and to pull a report took a lot of time and a lot of spot-checking,” said Michelle Ulland, director of admission and enrollment at Minnehaha. “Our solution was to find a better way of tracking and a better way of seeing where the bottlenecks are during conversion and not just after the fact, but during the fact.”

That’s when Minnehaha turned to Finalsite Enrollment, an enrollment management system that's designed to help schools streamline the enrollment journey, personalize communications, and leverage admissions data to grow enrollment. 

They went into the system, reviewed the admissions data, and started asking important questions: If they need X many new students and X inquiries, how were they ever going to get the inquiries needed with a small team? “Where can we make the biggest impact?” the team asked.

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By comparing accepted and enrolled rates, they discovered they should dedicate more resources, time, money, and energy, to conversion. If the conversion rate could increase by just one percent, they realized, then the school wouldn’t need to rely on as many inquiries. Data to the rescue!

With your admission communications, are you creating personalized messaging for families based on the information you’ve collected during initial inquiries? If a prospective student indicated an interest in theater, you could send a personalized invite to the spring musical, or if a student wanted to learn more about the football team, you could send an invitation to the homecoming game. Opportunities like this arise with a better focus on the data submitted through form fields.

“We were an analytics-driven department for sure,” shared Danny Curtin, Archbishop Riordan High School's director of admissions & strategic initiatives. But after juggling so many spreadsheets and manual data uploads, it became overwhelming. “It's impossible to have good, accurate data that way," he admitted.

Homepage of Archbishop Riordan High School

“Switching over to Finalsite Enrollment has made a world of difference for us,” Curtin shared. No more questions about which families inquired, why, when, and how. No more digging for clues — the answers are front and center on the admin dashboard.

Now, supplied with knowledge about prospective family’s previous schools, gender, and household breakdowns, zip codes, student interests, and more, Riordan's admissions office can derive strategic insight into students’ passions and family demographics, allowing for highly-personalized and automated communications with families.

“The time savings is huge,” he said, adding that the admissions team is now able to get back to what truly matters — building relationships with families. “I feel like my department, even though we have a higher number of applications, spends less time dealing with applications.”

Key takeaway

If it feels like multiple departments each have a single piece of the map claiming they know the best route possible, it’s time to pause and reset. Strategies work best when teams come together, compare the data against their goals, and start mapping out a path to success. With a plan in place, data can guide you in the right direction.

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Connor Gleason Headshot


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.

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