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How to Form Applicant Personas for Your Independent School Campaigns [Free Guide]
Gretchen Pancak

Imagine the possibilities if your independent school's website was a window where admissions staff could see exactly who was on the other side of the screen perusing their site pages, abandoning forms, and clicking calls to action.

It would be a pretty ideal way to gather everything you've ever wanted to know about the kinds of families you attract, recruit, reject, and retain. Having the ability to know exactly who your school attracts (and of course, who you want to attract) is the first step in a successful inbound marketing strategy.

And while technology gives us some pretty useful tools like Google Analytics to track website behavior, nothing gives us that window just yet.

This is why every independent school marketing and admissions team needs to work to form applicant personas.

Applicant Personas

What is an Applicant Persona?

An applicant persona is a semi-fictional character based on who your school's ideal prospective student(s) are. They are meant to help you better understand your applicants, and make it easier for you to tailor content based on needs, wants, interests and concerns.

An applicant persona can encompass the qualities of an ideal student, or an ideal family — particularly relevant to lower schools.

When creating an applicant persona for your school, it is important to gather as much information as you can to have an accurate picture of:

  • What type of students are applying to your school
  • What type of students you want at your school
  • The type of students that will excel at your school

In a time where some schools are seeing decreasing enrollment and some pretty scary retention rates, it can be tempting to simply recruit as many students as possible.

But the success of a school relies on recruiting the right students. Quality over quantity here, folks.

Why do applicant personas matter?

In their simplest form, applicant personas allow you to target the right content to the right people at the right time — the core of any inbound marketing strategy.

Applicant personas are a critical piece to the admissions process because they allow us to say "this is who our messaging needs to apply to," or "we need to generate new content to appeal to this type of applicant."

Without this kind of messaging, your marketing and admissions campaigns are bland and un-targeted. Once schools have the ability to create personas for each segment of their target audience, they have the ability to reach all prospective students in a meaningful way.

Guide + Template: Create Applicant Personas for Your School

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How can you form applicant personas?

To create an applicant persona, start with what you know: the basic demographics of your current students, such as age, gender, family income, and where they're from. These pieces of information will allow you to segment specific students and build more characteristics and detail into your personas.

Once demographic information is collected for your current students, the next step is to take a look at the wants and needs, digging into their psychological and lifestyle behavior patterns. This is best achieved by surveying current students — asking them questions like: why did you choose this school, what activities are you involved in and why, what they like most about the school, and so on. The list of questions used will be specific to what culturally defines your school.

Once you've collected enough data on your current students — it is time to start grouping types of individuals together based on:

  • Demographics
  • Background
  • Goals and interests
  • Personality and demeanor
  • Challenges and objections

This is the step that brings your applicant persona to life. When creating your persona, give your school an identity and add a name or picture to build a realistic representation of who your prospective student is.

Here is an example applicant persona:

"Suzie the Scholar"

Suzie is a local incoming freshman that is in the process of applying for schools. She is an overzealous student who is interested in both academics and extracurricular activities. Suzie already has an impressive 4.0 GPA, and is motivated to continue her academic success. She is not interested in sports, but she is altruistic, honest, kind and welcoming. Suzie is worried about the cost of your school and will need a large scholarship in order to attend.

Applicant personas can greatly benefit a school's inbound marketing strategy. When putting the Scholarship-Needing Scholar persona to good use, schools have the ability to make decisions on marketing content, ways to communicate their message, as well as adopting other strategies specific to this persona.

You can also take the time to form negative applicant personas — groups of applicant that you certainly don't want to target. By eliminating groups from your target audience, you'll save time and resources.

Does my school have any other personas besides applicants?

Applicant personas go far beyond prospective students. A persona can be created for anyone that a school wishes to communicate a message to. This includes current students, parents, and alumni. Lower schools in particular should focus on families, rather than an individual.

Like the applicant persona, each of these segments can be split up into multiple personas unique to their wants and needs. Not all students, parents and alumni are the same, so make sure to identify different characteristics within each group.

When schools give themselves the ability to have a full understanding of their target audience with the use of personas, their marketing strategies and tactics will be more effective and meaningful.

Guide + Template: Create Applicant Personas for Your School

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