The independent and private K-12 industry is constantly evolving, as are the trends for attracting and obtaining new students. However, one strategy remains consistent — hosting campus visits for prospective families.
There's a lot of planning that goes into creating an amazing experience for prospective students and families — setting goals, segmenting invitee lists, and promoting all needs to happen so you can support your school's admissions and enrollment goals.
But before students even pull into the parking lot, your school's admissions office needs to provide an experience that matches the online experience families found while exploring your school's website.
Hosting your private school's open house, campus tour, or shadow day this spring can be a game-changer in the enrollment process because you're giving students a chance to envision themselves as a part of your school’s community.
With a successful strategy, you can impress the best, mission-fit students with these campus visit tips.
Before the Campus Visit
Set Your Goals
Anytime you seek to execute a strategy, take time to plan out and determine what the goals of a campus visit should be. Any goals you create should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based (S.M.A.R.T) to make it easy to manage and accomplish those objectives. Let’s break it down, shall we?
Specific – To achieve your goal, be detailed in answering the following questions:
- Who will help you plan the campus visits?
- Who will help you achieve your goal?
- What do you want to accomplish? Think about what the purpose of the visit
- What type of campus visit are you planning? An open house, shadow day, or a small school tour?
- Where will you be hosting this event? Will you need specific rooms in your school reserved and cleaned before families come on-site?
- When is the best time to invite families to your school? Be sure to check other schools in your area and try to avoid dates that might make families choose between one or the other.
Measurable – How are you going to measure progress? How will you know if you reach your goal? Think about setting some milestones leading up to the event to make sure you stay on track.
- How many families are you expecting to attend?
- How are you tracking which families are signed up for the event?
- How will you track each marketing tactic you choose to engage families?
Attainable – Do you have the tools and personnel in place to make this event a success? If not, what do you need?
Relevant – Can families see themselves attending your school after their visit? Are the campus events relevant to your admission goals? Getting everyone’s buy-in and support sets the tone for the rest of the recruitment process.
Time-based – Do you have enough time to plan and execute this strategy? Where should your metrics be one month before the event? One week?
Make Registration Easy
Setting up a campus visit should be easy for families, especially while using a mobile device. Complex, unbranded forms don't do anyone any favors — and if you're complicating the registration process, you're starting a family's experience off on the wrong foot.
Using an enrollment management system to collect registrations not only provides families with a customized experience, but you're entering students and parents directly into your enrollment system so can begin your outreach.
Kent Hill School uses Finalsite's enrollment management software to handle registrations for campus visits, inquiries, and information sessions all with just a few clicks. They're also collecting information about the student's interests and passions, so they can personalize communications throughout the entire admission and enrollment process.
Segment Your Invitee List
In order to find the best, mission-fit families, each campus visit needs to be catered to a specific target market. With marketing segmentation, you can start to narrow down your list(s) and know who to invite to a campus visit and when.
What is marketing segmentation? It's the analysis that helps decide how your school will break down its list of students and families into smaller groups based on characteristics such as grade level, interests, location, etc. These subset groups will help target families and provide a better understanding of how to cater to them specifically.
Here are a few examples of how to segment your lists:
- Is there a big home game coming up? This would be the perfect opportunity to invite all prospective families that indicated their child is interested in playing a sport at your school on their inquiry form or application.
- Perhaps the art department is putting on a play in a few weeks. Create a subset of all prospective families who marked their interest in performing arts on their inquiry or application form. Invite all those families to tour the school, attend the play, and have an opportunity to meet with the theater director to ask questions and introduce themselves.
- Run a report to segment current inquiries by zip code to target specific neighborhoods and families. Or separate lists by the previous or current school and ask those families to visit your school together.
When you invite families on campus, remember your goals and use the data captured on the dynamic inquiry forms or applications to segment out who to invite. Be specific and intentional. Use data on athletic preferences, academic interests, who is a legacy, gender, or any other attribute. Segmented data should be used for attracting families based on their interests, so their visits are relevant and your attendance goals are attainable.
Promote the Campus Visit
Once you know exactly who to target for your campus visit, the next steps are to promote your event and invite families. Whether it's with text messages, emails, phone calls, digital ads, social media, or all of the above, below are a few tips to consider when promoting and maximizing the attendance of your segmented lists.
Text Messages. Text messages are much more likely to be read than emails. Most families keep their phones within arm’s reach, which means personalized invites can be viewed at a faster rate.
Emails. When sending emails, it is all about what is sent, when you send it, and the frequency that will drive responses and open rates. Personalizing each message is key to your recruitment process so that you can help families see their place in the story of your school.
Send the first email over 15 days in advance, the second between 8-14 days, the next 2-7 days, and send the last promotional email the day before or the day of your event.
Social Media. Many people turn to social media ads to target a "lookalike audience" and promote awareness. Consider using a social media managing tool to help plan ahead and automate promotional posts for your next campus visit. The Independence School placed ads on Facebook to help drive awareness, sending users to a streamlined landing page for its upcoming open house.
Whatever route your team decides to go, always include a simple call-to-action (CTA) for the families to register. Consider using automated communication plans to send out emails or to set reminders of when to call or text.
Keep reading: 10 Last-Minute Tips for Your School’s Best Open House Yet
During the Campus Visit
Students as tour guides
Recruit welcoming volunteers for your team to help with the next campus visit. Be diverse and ask teachers, parents, students, the Head of School, and Board members to participate. Each volunteer needs to feel comfortable in sharing their part in your school’s story.
Most importantly, find volunteers who are enthusiastic. Your volunteers should be prepared to help prospective families feel like your school is their next home.
Peddie School hosts virtual tours all year long for families to experience campus — during their peak tour season, student volunteers lead guided tours and escort families around campus to see different facilities, answer any questions, and provided an authentic experience.
Prepare Your School & Your Team
Each family that walks through the front doors of your school wants to feel welcomed and be a part of the community. First impressions are everything. Consider this:
- When a new family steps onto campus for the first time, what do they think about the school?
- Does your school environment reflect its core values?
- When you start the tour, does it flow intuitively?
- Is the space inviting and welcoming?
The entire team of volunteers and staff members need to be well-versed in your school’s mission and passionate about being a part of the school’s family. If you're having multiple families on-site at once, have each volunteer stand out with lanyards and name tags, or matching T-shirts.
Prepare your team with guidelines and distribute them before each school visit. These guidelines can be a quick note stating all the expectations and responsibilities of everyone on the team. It can also include what signs to display for each campus visit, what the classroom appearance needs to be on days there is a tour, etc.
Customize Your Tours
You have your goals, the segmented invitee lists, and your promotions, and now you have families registering and attending your campus visit. Now, you must customize all of your tours!
Take time before prospective families arrive to use your dynamic online inquiry forms to learn a little more about who is attending and what they are interested in.
For example, if a group of families expressed their interest in financial aid, then have your financial aid director available to make an introduction and answer questions.
After the Campus Visit
Follow Up with Your Families
Follow up with every single family and encourage them to move forward to complete the application or enrollment process.
Give families an additional reason to act. You don’t want them to have to sit and think for the next few months about whether they should apply or enroll. When there's an incentive in place, it gives you another reason to reach out to families who have a deadline approaching and haven't yet completed your school's enrollment.
With an automated Workflow or drip email campaign, your marketing and admissions office can save time and send check-ins, answer any lingering questions, or remind them of important admission or enrollment deadlines.
Review and Revise
Make time to connect with the volunteers while the event is still fresh in their minds. Take notes and kindly accept suggestions and feedback, especially from your volunteers that took the time to help make this event a success.
Central Catholic High School collects feedback from their open house participants — with a short form embedded on your site, it's a quick way to get information on how to improve for next time.
Keep Reading: Effective Strategies for Your Virtual Open House Follow-Up
With key data, your admissions team will be able to track the number of families who toured the campus and took the next step to inquire or enroll. Having that insight will guide your team on what to revise as you create a new S.M.A.R.T. goal for the next campus visit.
Hosting a successful campus visit for prospective families is an essential strategy for attracting and obtaining new students. By providing a personalized and engaging in-person campus experience that matches your online admissions experience, your school can look forward to welcoming students back to campus as enrolled students.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.