The independent school admissions process has come a long way in just a few years. We're almost done with paper forms that need to be physically brought in, transcripts are now submitted online, and applicant reviews can be done asynchronously and remotely.
But the biggest hurdles are still taken on by the enrollment or admissions office: tracking inquiries, reminding applicants of important dates and deadlines, and countless other manual tasks are on the plate of just a few people on your team. You’re also showcasing your school to potential families and building relationships with each and every applicant.
You have a lot to do and a short window to do it.
An enrollment management system (EMS) can help your team work more efficiently, save team time, and engage the best-fit families so you can get back to the work that truly matters — building relationships with your community.
Let’s review what to ask when deciding on an enrollment system and what to expect when you improve your admissions process.
1. What are your biggest pain points?
The first thing you need to ask yourself is: what problems are you trying to solve? If you have some aspect of your school website's enrollment process that is less than ideal, you may know exactly what the pain points are.
Some schools have resigned themselves to certain idiosyncrasies within their system and aren’t aware of the time and money they could be saving by creating a more efficient system.
Let’s do a quick math problem as an example (don’t worry – we’ll keep it easy!) Let’s say you have 1,000 inquiries a year (whoa!) and 500 applicants that you're in charge of monitoring, nurturing, and moving through your funnel.
For every inquiry, you spend three minutes manually moving that information over to your tracking spreadsheet. When you zoom out to account for all 1,000 inquiries, that ends up equalling 50 hours of work. And when there are 1,000 event RSVPs, you spend five minutes on an invite and reminder email to each family: that’s over 80 hours of work!
When you move on to applications, it grows even more. You spend 15 minutes moving each application to a shared folder on your computer so the team has access to everything — that’s 125 hours of work or a little over three 40-hour work weeks.
After that, you want to remind each applicant of the deadline and make sure they know what sections of their application are missing. A check of their application, noting missing items, finding the right parent email, and creating the message takes you eight minutes (at least). For your 500 applicants, that’s almost 70 hours of manual work.
And don’t forget about the family-facing side of this process as well. If you’re skipping email reminders for events, your open houses might be ill-attended by families who simply forgot they RSVP’d. Or possibly your application process has a big point of friction when it comes to accepting transcripts and teacher recommendations. Is there a burden on a parent or guardian to ask for, collect, and send those items to you? While it might not seem like a big deal, that could turn a parent off from submitting applications and enrolling at your school.
Ask yourself: what aspects of your day are costing you? It goes beyond dollars — don’t forget about parent satisfaction, time, and your sanity.
Too often, enrollment managers are tied to their desks pouring over spreadsheets, sending one-off emails, and tracking data by hand. Your enrollment software should free up your time so you can build meaningful relationships with prospective families based on information they have shared about what is important to them.
2. Which features of admissions software are most important?
Once you can pinpoint exactly what your pain points are, you can start to look for solutions to solve them.
For some schools, the manual data process (like in our math problem above) was costing them time and money they didn’t have. Admissions teams were overwhelmed and burnt out, their data wasn’t always accurate, and the family experience suffered.
So what can the right features do for you?
Key admissions and enrollment data and metrics
Smarter inquiry and applicant management in one system can replace a mountain of spreadsheets, allowing you to gain more insight into when prospective families became interested in your school. After that, you can easily track movement through the funnel — without manually moving them over to another spreadsheet.
With the right automated communication plan, a family is in touch with your school without being overwhelmed, and reminders are up to date with missing checklist items – without you sending individual reminders.
Convenient scheduling options
Once you create calendars for campus visits, interviews, test dates (or play dates!) parents can book appointments easily. They’re automatically sent confirmations and reminders that you set up once – not for every individual attendee!
Always remember: The applicant and family experience needs to be seamless. You can schedule reminders about open houses, campus tours, 1:1 meetings, and other admission events with automated (but still personalized) emails sent at the right moment.
A personalized enrollment experience for families
With the time saved, you can now curate a meaningful and personalized enrollment journey for families as they research and evaluate your school. When you find a family that’s interested in the arts, you can offer them free tickets for the fall drama production or band concert. You can see which sports an applicant is interested in and pair them with an athlete for their revisit day. And you can start to plan for the future and create campaigns to re-engage families who may not have enrolled last year.
We all know that asking for technical support can sometimes be a painful or arduous process. Guess what? It shouldn't be. Much like the schools you are in, your vendors should be thrilled to meet you where you are in your tech journey. Some of us just need the keys to the car, while others may want to ride along in the passenger seat for a bit. Make sure that you research the level of support you will be getting with your software. It is almost as important as the software itself.
Your support team should be as warm and accommodating as your sales team. They should be invested in your success and happiness.
Look at things like their Net Promoter Score and the average response times for support tickets. Think about the ways you are able to communicate with a person: do you prefer to chat over email? Find out if they offer options for updates or fixes that match your skill or comfort level. If you are not comfortable with the system, will they walk you through how to make changes or even do them for you — at no additional cost? Is the support team personable and do they make you feel comfortable to ask even the most basic questions?
3. What are others saying?
No two schools are the same, but you can learn a lot from what your counterparts at other schools are doing and saying. When researching EMS options, pay close attention to things like online reviews, case studies, and the user training options they offer.
A San Francisco Catholic school has very different needs and uses than a boarding school on the east coast. With varying website providers, tuition collection options, and student information systems, there is one constant: clear, concise, and accurate data from their admission process.
Our number one tip: Ask for references when you’re talking to a sales representative. They should be able to give you contacts for schools that are similar to yours: in size or other commonalities that will show you how a platform can be the best fit for you.
Attend training or other professional development opportunities – in person or virtual. You can network, ask questions, and get to see an EMS in action. You’ll learn ins and outs, tips, and best practices for not just your platform but for a smoother admissions process in general.
4. Who else should be involved?
While you will likely be using an enrollment management system every day, it’s important to gain the buy-in from others at your school. Your head of school and IT directors should all be involved early in this process. They can offer valuable insight and perspective on what’s happening school-wide. On top of that, you can offer school-wide benefits with an EMS that you adopt. With a streamlined enrollment process, retention can increase and tuition collection rates can rise as well, which benefits the entire school.
And of course, you need to involve your CFO and business office. The ROI example above is going to resonate with them. Prove that using better software will give you the results they want to know: Where are inquiries coming from? Which advertising channels are working best for the school and which aren't performing? What events are parents interested in?
It’s also important to bring in your marketing and communications team to align your enrollment goals and decide on appropriate messaging and content that’s most valuable to families. When inquiry and application data are in one shared location, both teams can seamlessly communicate with families without sending duplicate (or worse, conflicting) messages.
As enrollment leaders, you need to accomplish a lot in a short period of time with limited resources. There is a better way to work — no matter your school’s size or budget. The right software solution can help you work faster and smarter when it comes to the tedious, time-consuming tasks that fill up your day. Knowing which features are the most important to your school and your working style are keys to success. With Finalsite Enrollment, you will gain powerful insights into data and you’ll cut down on (some of) the stress that enrollment season brings.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Emily joined the Finalsite team in February 2020 after nine years of event marketing. She is now in charge of the email marketing strategy to connect Finalsite with schools around the world, and helps them learn how to communicate with parents, students, and their communities. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, daughter, and two 60-pound lap dogs.
With 11 years of experience as a director of enrollment management and advancement in private schools, Cristy brings extensive admissions and enrollment expertise to her role at Finalsite. Her master's thesis focused on stemming enrollment loss in Catholic schools, and her doctoral dissertation focused on internal communication practices at private schools and the capacity afforded to the enrollment manager to positively impact enrollment growth. She lives in Newbury Park, CA and loves spending time with her husband, daughter, and son.