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How to Write Your School's First Whitepaper
Connor Gleason
As one of the cornerstones of content marketing, a content offer for schools can be something of value that you create in exchange for someone’s contact information — It’s not the same as an inquiry or application form, because in those cases you’re simply acquiring information without the promise of providing something in return.
It's also one of the most effective ways to get more families in your funnel — before they’re ready to make the commitment of an inquiry or application. This is especially true if your inquiry form looks a little something like this:
long scrolling form

That’s a lot of information you’re asking for at the very beginning of the admissions funnel. And very few prospective families are willing to make that commitment. A content offer allows you to ask for less information (think 3-5 form fields!), so you can get prospective families into your funnel sooner and have more control in their journey.

Content offers can come in the form of:

  • Viewbooks or brochures
  • eBooks
  • Guides or whitepapers
  • Webinar recordings

If you want to create a new content offer, a guide or whitepaper is the easiest place to start. And if you’re in that group of individuals who can’t find the time or don’t know how to get started — you’re in the right place! Let’s start with some basics…

What is a whitepaper?

A whitepaper is an authoritative report on a specific topic that presents a problem and provides a solution. You’d want to create a whitepaper to educate your audience about a particular issue, or explain and promote a particular methodology.

A Montessori school may want to create a whitepaper that explains and promotes the benefits of Montessori education, while a public school district may want to create a whitepaper that supports the benefits of public school education.

In all cases, the piece of content is a problem-solving guide that can help families in their journey to selecting the correct type of education or school for their child. A whitepaper allows you to go deeper into this philosophy and answer other questions like how to choose a boarding school once you've made a choice to attend one, tips for dealing with distance, and more.

canterbury school viewbook

For example, Canterbury School presents an admissions brochure detailing how their students benefit from personalized instruction, meaningful connections, and support.

Keep in mind that you don't have to call your whitepaper a "whitepaper." You can call it a guide, help book, e-guide...whatever you wish. The idea is that it's a short, helpful piece of content!

Why are whitepapers important?

Prospective families spend a lot of time in the research stage of the admissions funnel — meaning they do a lot of the legwork on their own by reading reviews and content, making comparisons, and drawing conclusions.

By the time they’re submitting inquiry forms on your school website, they’ve likely narrowed down their options — and if your school isn’t on the list, you never get a say.

A whitepaper gives you the opportunity to get into the journey earlier, join the conversation, and become a trusted thought-leader in the space by offering guidance, answering questions, and solving problems.

Saint Mary’s Hall’s Viewbook did a fantastic job with their presentation of their viewbook, "Known and Be Known."

screenshot of Saint. Mary's Hall Viewbook

Read the description on the landing page of this content offer — it gives a clear and alluring depiction of what readers would learn from downloading it. The viewbook’s form ensures that Saint Mary’s can send targeted and applicable future communications, which in turn will easily glide prospects through their inbound marketing funnel. 

How long does a whitepaper have to be?

Whitepapers are one of the easiest pieces of content to create due to their short, but informative nature. While most eBooks lend themselves to be 20+ pages, a whitepaper can be as short as five or six, cover to cover. That’s shorter than some assignments your teachers give to their students!

Steps to writing a whitepaper for schools

Writing your school’s first whitepaper is easy. In most cases, you’ve said or written the content of your whitepaper on your website, at open houses, and in one-on-one conversations — you may just not know it!

1. Determine your audience

Your first whitepaper should serve as a resource and guide for a specific audience. By first turning your focus to who you need to focus on, you’ll be able to come up with a topic that addresses their needs, questions, concerns, and desires.

Keep in mind that your whitepaper may end up being helpful to numerous of your target audiences, but it is best to write it with one in mind to stay concise. Most schools will write their first whitepaper (or content offer) as a “lead magnet” — AKA, a way to establish more admission inquiries to support admission and enrollment goals.

2. Select a topic

Once you’ve determined your audience, start creating content. This is the most important step, and arguably the most difficult. The topic needs to be compelling, informative, and answer your audience’s questions.

It also needs to sell the value of your school and/or type of education. For example, private schools located in towns with fantastic public school systems may need to spend more time convincing prospects of the benefits of private school education.

Here are 10 idea-generating topic starters:

1. A complete how-to guide for…

Ex. A Complete How-To Guide for Selecting the Right Private School

2. X ways to…

Ex. 3 Ways to Make Private School Affordable

3. X helpful tips for selecting…

Ex. 5 Helpful Tips for Selecting Your Child’s PreSchool

4. A “101” guide

Ex. Catholic Schools 101: Everything You Need to Know

5. The secrets/myths to…

Ex. 5 Secrets About Charter School Education

Ex. 5 Charter School Education Myths — Busted

6. X rules for…

Ex. 10 Simple Rules for Picking the Right Type of Education for Your Child

7. A complete comparison and contrast guide for…

Ex. Public vs. Private Education in the D.C. Metro Area: What Every Parent
Needs to Know

8. X Important questions…

Ex. 10 Important Questions to Ask Before You Enroll 

9. X Tips for...

Ex. 6 Tips for Picking the Right School in NYC

10. FAQs about…

Ex. FAQs About Montessori Education

You’ll notice that many idea-generators in that list suggest including a number in your title. Not only does sticking to a number make your whitepaper easy to write (and scan!), but it's also helpful in generating more clicks.

Depending on your team’s size, you will likely want to hold a brainstorming meeting to discuss your target audiences and topics. I also recommend involving individuals from other departments, as this specific project requires a synergy between admissions and marketing teams in particular.


3. Do some research

In many cases, a Catholic school will have to write about their approach, a boarding school will have to write about their approach, and an all-girls school will write about their approach. (The list goes on and on.) Do your research on what kind of content already exists and how to best market your school.

While in many cases there isn't always a need to re-invent the wheel content-wise, you don't want to be competing in search — locally and nationally. So, be sure you pick an original title at the very least.

4. Enlist your writer(s) & designers

Once you’ve researched your topic, it’s time to enlist a group of writers. Because it’s important for the tone and voice of your whitepaper to be succinct, relying on one writer to pull everything together will likely yield the best results.

Your whitepaper should include:

  • An introduction: Give a high-level overview of what readers can expect to learn by reading the whitepaper or guide.
  • A number of subsections based on the title: If you're writing a whitepaper with 5 ways to choose the perfect preschool, your whitepaper should have five sections. In each subsection, be sure to answer important questions like “what”, “how”, and “why?”
  • A conclusion: Finish with key takeaways and a suggested call-to-action of what happens next.

In addition to writers, you’ll also want to find someone to help design your whitepaper. Don’t worry if you don’t have any designers on staff — a quick Google search will yield dozens of simple templates you can use for inspiration. Keep in mind that while aesthetics do matter, the content itself matters more. Don’t get too hung up on the details of the design — as long as it follows your school’s brand.

Next Steps

Once you’ve written, edited, and perfected your school’s first whitepaper, it is now time to get it on your website to be downloaded. It’s important to note that your whitepaper should be easy to find! Depending on the topic, add it to your admissions pages, blog posts, or even in your navigation.

Some tips for adding your whitepaper to your website include:

  • Setting a timed website notification to promote the whitepaper on key pages.
  • Adding a call-to-action on key pages (especially in your admission section) to drive traffic.
  • Using a short form to maximize conversions — only require the fields that are necessary to reach your goals.
  • Sending them to a thank you page to spark further interest and engagement.
  • Setting up a marketing automation campaign to nurture individuals once they have downloaded the content piece.

And don’t forget some of these best practices:

  • Consider what your goal is and how you'll reuse the data in your inbound marketing plan.
  • Consider who your target audience is and focus on your school’s personas.
  • Consider common “pain points” or questions from prospective families, and be sure your content offer answers to them.
  • Make your content offer exclusive and worthwhile and be certain it answers the interested party’s question “What’s in it for me?”
  • Be creative and have fun!

Key Takeaway

A content offer is an integral part of an inbound marketing strategy and can help get families in your funnel earlier to give you more say during their decision-making process. While about half of schools struggle to find the time, a whitepaper (or e-guide, or e-book) makes a great summer project, and a reason to rally your teams together!

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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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