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9 School Enrollment Problems (and 9 Ways to Solve Them)
Connor Gleason

Admissions offices are responsible for a broad spectrum of duties that directly impact a school’s bottom line, but despite your team’s best efforts, there always seem to be obstacles in the way of doing what really matters — forming relationships with families.

From finding the time to review applications, to hosting campus tours and gathering data to report to your board, there’s a never-ending to-do list that seems to grow bigger with each day.

Unfortunately, school leaders don’t always fully recognize your team’s valuable contributions or the challenges you face. And, your department’s ability to efficiently streamline the admissions and enrollment process, and monitor and report enrollment progress is essential to your ongoing success.

There’s a catch, too — 55 percent of private schools saw an enrollment rise in 2022. The recent boost in private school applications and enrollment has only led to more work, less time, and resources straining to meet the demands of families with high expectations and low patience.

The problems may be familiar, but without new solutions to enrollment problems, admissions teams are doomed to repeat the struggles and challenges they’ve faced time and time again. Here are some of the most common enrollment problems, and new ways to fix them for good.

Challenge 1: How can schools increase enrollment?

Sound familiar? Every admission office knows this pain: enrolling fewer students than expected jeopardizes the financial stability of the school. It’s an oversimplification for sure, but solving student enrollment issues boils down to a few steps:


To solve this challenge, admission offices need to work hand-in-hand with marketing departments to proactively:

  • Attract and retain families. An integrated inbound marketing campaign to target your school’s ideal audience can help. Don’t shy away from investing in PPC and social media ads to widen your reach to attract and engage new families.
  • Communicate the value of an investment. Once you’ve caught the attention of families, showcase the academic experience, the programs, and the culture of your school community through your school’s website and marketing efforts. Email drip campaigns, targeted ads, and an amazing online and social presence can make all the difference in the world.
  • Make an inquiry, submit an application, and complete the enrollment process as painless as possible for families. It’s a critical and friction-filled journey that inhibits the success of a lot of admissions teams (more to come on this later…)
  • Make retention a priority. It's an often overlooked factor in low enrollment — it won’t matter if you’re setting new enrollment records every year if waves of families are headed for the exits. Formalize your retention committee, keep showcasing the value of your school, and focus on impactful success stories from students, parents, and alumni to subtly remind parents of the benefits of staying with your school.


Challenge 2: Overwhelming volume of applications

This might actually be a good problem to have, but a large number of applications can be a challenge for small admission teams, especially when there are deadlines to hit and there's no enrollment software to help process the applications.

It can be difficult and time-consuming to review and evaluate each application thoroughly and make fair and informed decisions. Additionally, a large number of applications can put a strain on the resources and staffing of the admission office.

It’s essentially drafting the future makeup of your school — a process that needs to be strategic, fair, and mission-focused.


To solve this challenge, admission offices can:

  • Implement an efficient application review process, using online enrollment management software to streamline the evaluation of applications and minimize the workload on staff.
  • Utilize a multi-step evaluation process, such as initial screening and preliminary interviews, to automate manual tasks, prioritize applications, and reduce the workload and the number of applications that require a full review.
  • Offer early decision or early action options for applicants, which can reduce the overall number of applications and make the review process more manageable.
  • Provide clear and detailed instructions for applicants to ensure that each application is complete and meets the necessary requirements. Again, this goes back to ensuring the application process for families is as painless as possible with clear requirements, checklists, and automated reminders for important deadlines.

By taking a strategic and proactive approach to managing a large number of applications, admission offices can ensure that each application receives a fair and thorough evaluation and that decisions are made in a timely and efficient manner.

Challenge 3: Lack of accurate enrollment data

Without real-time access to admissions and enrollment data, admission offices are forced to work off of intuitions and opinions, both of which can be costly and inefficient. Data about the number of applicants, grade levels, acceptance rates, and enrollment patterns are needed to plan and allocate resources effectively.

Where are you losing families in your enrollment process? How successful are your recruitment efforts?


School admission offices can make more informed decisions to support student success by implementing several solutions, such as:

  • Implementing a robust enrollment management (EMS) system to ensure the timely and accurate collection of student information.
  • Using an EMS to identify trends, patterns, and insights in enrollment data.
  • Collaborating with the marketing and communications office to gain access to additional data sources about marketing and inquiry efforts.
  • Conducting regular surveys and focus groups to gather feedback from prospective students and their families.
  • Invest in an EMS to automate manual tasks, improve data management and communication processes, and enhance the enrollment experience.
a graduate giving a hug

Wayland Academy’s admissions team now relies less on instincts and more on data and real-time enrollment stats. Inquiries are up 245% and applications have grown 200% since switching to Finalsite's enrollment management system.

Challenge 4: Low yield

When a higher number of applicants are admitted to a school compared to the number of students who actually enroll or attend the school, low yield can result in a lower rate of acceptance. That can affect the school's reputation, but by taking a proactive approach to addressing low yield, admission offices can improve their enrollment outcomes and ensure families choose their school over others.


To solve this challenge, admission offices can:

  • Ensure your school is reaching the right audience. Take a look at your messaging and marketing efforts to ensure your targeting mission-fit families and accurately communicating the benefits of attending your school.
  • Offer more personalized and informative resources to prospective students during the admission process, such as campus visits, financial aid information, and student support services.
  • Increase personalized communications to admitted students, so you can keep them engaged and informed about the next steps in the enrollment process. Make sure your messaging clarifies any sensitive aspects of the campus experience, like life as a boarding student, academic support services, or financial aid.
  • Foster a welcoming and inclusive campus culture to help students feel connected to the school community and motivated to enroll.

Keep Reading: How to Use Your Website to Drive Accepted Student Engagement

Challenge 5: Poor processes

Consider all the steps needed to snag a new family: marketing, nurturing, inquiry, more nurturing, tour, outreach, application, review, acceptance, conversion, enrollment, onboarding, and retention, retention, retention.…if any of that seems like a last-minute scramble, you’re not alone…


Many of these processes can be automated. It’s time to work smarter, not harder with these solutions:

  • Offer a short, branded inquiry form embedded on your school website that provides points for personalization, and automated messaging.
  • Implement admission training programs, establish clear procedures for handling inquiries, and regularly gather feedback from applicants.
  • Develop a standardized evaluation matrix, provide training to evaluators, and establish clear procedures for application review and decision-making.
Elgin Academy inquiry form mockup

Since partnering with SchoolAdmin, Elgin Academy can offer campus tours through automated calendar scheduling. Now the teams can check their calendars and see if a family is coming to campus for a tour, rather than manually setting up each family tour. 

“That was huge because we would get the bulk of our new students in September and August when we're swamped trying to do everything else,” Bonita Goist said. “That's been fabulous. I don't even think about it. Once I enroll them, I move on to the next person. SchoolAdmin gives me more time to personally follow up with families.”  

Challenge 6: No formal retention strategy

In a recent marcom report from InspirED School Marketers, 55 percent of schools answered “yes” when asked if schools have a formal retention strategy or program in place. In 2020, it was even lower at 36 percent. It’s a promising sign, but it means nearly half of the schools still need to take a proactive approach to retain the families they've worked so hard to enroll.


With retention being such an integral part of your school's enrollment strategy, re-marketing and targeting existing families with constant reminders of why they chose your school and why they should keep choosing your school seems to be gaining the attention it deserves.

Building a Family Retention Strategy | Finalsite

Challenge 7: Lack of diversity in the applicant pool

Every school benefits from diversity in thought, culture, economic background, and experience, but a lack of diversity can be a challenge for school admission offices. It can result in a student body that may not accurately reflect the broader society and limit students' exposure to different perspectives and experiences, which ultimately impacts the overall educational experience.


To solve this challenge, admission offices can:

  • Evaluate their recruitment and outreach efforts to ensure they are reaching a diverse pool of applicants, including underrepresented communities.
  • Offer resources and support to help students navigate the admission process, such as workshops, counseling, and mentorship programs.
  • Consider a holistic approach to admission, which takes into account a student's unique experiences and circumstances in addition to traditional measures of academic achievement.
  • Increase awareness about your financial aid packages and scholarship programs. Informing your community about affordability may eliminate the perceived stigma of tuition, and help showcase the true cost of your education.
  • Foster a supportive and inclusive campus culture that celebrates diversity and encourages students from different backgrounds to thrive.
  • Partner with organizations and community groups that serve communities to increase awareness and encourage participation in the admission process.

By taking a proactive approach to increasing diversity in their student body, admission offices can create a more inclusive and enriching educational environment for all students.

Keep Reading: The 1, 2, 3’s of Net Tuition Revenue For Independent and Private Schools

Challenge 8: Slow response time

It’s key to strike while the iron is hot. The 5-Minute Rule (not to be confused with the 5-second rule...) suggests that when a lead indicates an interest and a sales member (AKA your admissions office) responds in under five minutes, engagement and conversion go through the roof. If someone reaches out within five minutes, leads are 100x more likely to connect and 21x more likely to convert, as opposed to waiting an hour.

That can be tricky if a family inquires at midnight, calls during a lunch break, or sends an email when you’re busy giving a tour.


With admissions software, automated email workflows not only remove the manual processes from the to-do list but also reduce the response time. Once an inquiry, event registration, or contact form is submitted, admission offices can send an automated message and enter families into a drip campaign to strategically send more information based on a family’s engagement, or over a set length of time.

Train admissions staff on efficient communication techniques, create a centralized database for application materials and establish clear processes for following up with applicants.

Challenge 9: Not enough resources

Until we’ve mastered the ability to be in two (or three) places at once, or growing another set of arms and eyes, there never seems to be enough time, people, tech, or budget available.

Setting appointments with prospective families, scheduling campus tours, fielding phone calls, and all the hand-holding during the enrollment process — takes a toll.


Time is money, so prioritize your needs and allocate resources accordingly. For example:

  • No more email tag! Allow families to self-schedule campus tours and open houses directly through the enrollment management system. Campus visits are scheduled with a few clicks, and every member of your admissions team can manage their own availability.
  • A quick peek at a prospective student's file in Finalsite’s enrollment management system, and any member of an admissions team can see logged calls, emails, and correspondence, allowing them to pick up the conversation right where they left off.
  • Use your website to deliver a virtual campus experience. A virtual admissions tour showing all the stops of an on-site campus visit can spark interest and free your team up. The pandemic changed the way families engage with your digital campus, and the virtual experience offers the convenience families now expect.

Key takeaway

Busy schedules, logistical hurdles, and inefficient processes are often obstacles to meeting your admissions and enrollment goals. But a proactive approach that leverages the benefits of an enrollment management system, strong partnerships, and data-informed decision-making can be the difference been continuing to struggle and finally getting creating a sustainable, and healthy enrollment for your school.

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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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