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How to Form Applicant Personas for Private Schools

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

The ability to know exactly who your school attracts (and of course, who you want to attract) is the first step in a successful admissions AND inbound marketing strategy for your school.

And while technology gives us some pretty useful tools to track website behavior, we don't have those insights to understand people better — yet. This is why every independent school's marketing and admissions teams need to work together to form applicant personas.

What is an Applicant Persona?

In the context of private school admissions, an applicant persona is a detailed profile of an ideal candidate that your school wishes to attract, enroll, and retain. This persona is based on your school's mission, values, educational approach, and the type of student body you want to build.

It may include academic achievements, extracurricular interests, personality traits, learning styles, family background, and any other characteristics that align with your school's mission, culture, and goals.

If it sounds like a marketing persona, you're not wrong. Yes, both are fictional representations of an ideal target; however, there are some distinct differences between a marketing and applicant persona.

A marketing persona is typically used to tailor your school's marketing campaigns to meet the needs of a particular segment of the market. Whereas a clear and detailed applicant persona can create a cohesive and successful student body that aligns with the school's educational philosophy and long-term goals. Let's take a closer look:


An applicant persona guides admissions strategies, including outreach, interviews, and selection criteria. They help your admissions officers identify and evaluate candidates who will not only benefit from but also contribute to the school community.


Applicant personas are focused on the qualities of potential students and concentrate on educational and developmental aspects, whereas marketing personas focus on consumer behavior, preferences, demographics, and psychographics relevant to inquiring or applying.


Applicant personas might include specific educational goals, learning needs, extracurricular talents, social and emotional characteristics, and family involvement. Marketing personas often include buying motivations, media consumption habits, brand loyalty, and the customer’s role in the buying process.

When creating an applicant or admissions persona for your school, it's important to use your school's admissions and enrollment software 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

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 students, over the quantity of students, will assist in retention efforts.

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 you 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 risk being 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.

EMS Tour

How can you form applicant personas?

To create an applicant persona template, 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.

Admissions software, like an enrollment management system (EMS) collects and organizes the data points and patterns of your applicants. That information is priceless when understanding who, why, and when students are inquiring, applying, and enrolling.

Once demographic information is collected for your current students, the next step is to look at their 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 personas 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 of an applicant persona:

"Suzie the Scholar"

Suzie is a local incoming freshman who 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 3.8 GPA and is motivated to continue her academic success. She's not interested in sports, but she is altruistic, honest, kind and welcoming. Suzie's family is worried about the cost of your school and will need a large scholarship to attend.

Applicant personas can greatly benefit your school's inbound marketing strategy. When putting this persona to good use, your school had the ability to create content that resonates, adjust how you communicate your message, and adopt other strategies specific to this persona.

You can also take the time to form negative applicant personas — groups of applicants that you don't want to target, such as high-need students or families outside a geographic area that need transportation. By eliminating groups from your target audience, you'll save time and resources.

Persona Worksheets

Does my school have any other personas besides applicants?

Applicant personas go far beyond prospective students. A persona can be created for anyone in a school who wishes to communicate a message. 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.

Key Takeaway

Crafting detailed applicant personas is vital for schools to tailor their admissions strategies effectively. By utilizing data from enrollment software, current students, and feedback, schools can construct accurate personas that guide their enrollment efforts, ensuring a targeted approach in all school communications and marketing.

Finalsite Enrollment Tour

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