Skip To Main Content
Independent School Admissions: What It Is and How It’s Changing
Brandi Eppolito

There’s no denying it: the way students and their parents evaluate and select schools is changing — fast. Meanwhile, many independent schools are getting increasingly more aggressive enrollment goals. But, they’re still leveraging the same outdated methods and inefficient admission processes they’ve used for decades. 

As an admission professional, trying to keep up with candidates’ evolving expectations while relying on archaic systems and techniques is a surefire recipe for massive headaches and plenty of frustration. If the way parents select schools is changing, then your independent school admission process has to change with it. 

You know much of your institutions’ success rests on your shoulders. And you also recognize that failing to provide prospective students with the experiences they want often means losing top candidates to competing schools.

So what can you do?

To meet your goals, it’s essential to develop strategies that engage students and parents at every phase of the admission process.

In this post, we’ll cover what you need to know about the admission funnel, how candidate behaviors are changing, and what you can do to streamline your independent school’s admission process and overcome the obstacles you’re facing. 

What is the Admission Funnel?

The admission funnel is a model that illustrates the stages candidates take throughout their journey from an interested prospect to an enrolled student. It’s often used by admission departments to help codify their internal processes. And to ensure candidates and families are receiving all the support they need.

The funnel is composed of five layers:

  1. Inquiry: A student’s parent reaches out to the admission department to let them know they may be interested in applying to the school.
  2. Applicant: The student and their parent(s) complete the application process.
  3. Application Complete/Decision: Using information provided by the student and parent(s), the school determines whether or not the candidate is the right fit.
  4. Accepted: The school notifies the student and parent(s) that they’ve been accepted to the school.
  5. Enrolled: Together, the school, the student, and the parent(s) enroll the candidate as a new student.

To help break it down even further, we’ve created an infographic: The Five Stages of the Admissions Funnel , with all the information you need to know.

Admissions Funnel

In many ways, the K-12 admission funnel mirrors the sales funnel, just as the admission process mirrors the sales process. In both cases, prospects are seeking a trusted provider to meet their needs with a high-quality product or service. And admission professionals, just like salespeople, assist prospects through the journey to a point-of-conversion. 

>> Learn more about the similarities between sales and admissions and why that’s important.

But just as the internet has disrupted the way consumers choose products and make purchases, the admission process is changing, too.

Why the Admission Process is Changing

Traditionally, the admission process was much more straightforward. Candidates and their families started the journey by reaching out to schools for information. This meant admission teams were aware of prospective family’s interest from the very beginning. 

But today, prospects can easily find all the information they need online. Online searches allow them to compare several schools and narrow down options without ever speaking to an admission department. In fact, some candidates make it to the application phase without admission professionals even knowing they exist. That means, theoretically, a significant portion of prospective students could evaluate and rule out your school before you ever have an opportunity to engage in a conversation.

Want to engage prospects earlier? Discover how lead nurturing works.

Two women on a computer

Once prospects start a conversation with a school, families expect a streamlined and personalized experience. While schools still lean heavily on a process built on in-person touchpoints and face-to-face interactions, busy parents seek convenience. They want easily accessible information and messaging tailored to their child’s unique interests and needs.

In other words, technology has shaken up the admission process, but it can help you solve these challenges, too.

Learn how technology can help simplify the evaluation process.

How to Streamline the Admission Process

Earlier, we pointed out that the traditional admission process was much more straightforward. However, in some ways, it is far more complicated — especially for busy admissions departments.

For example, in a traditional approach, the entire application and decision process is completed on paper. Forms, records, student profiles, and other pieces of information are stored in physical folders, which stakeholders and departments pass around. Often, in the shuffle between offices or individuals, critical documents are misplaced, further delaying decisions, and risking candidate interest.

As technology evolved, admission pros began storing some data online, but still maintained a few pieces of critical information as hard copies. While being able to access and fill out certain materials online improved experiences for candidates and parents, internal processes were still convoluted. 

Today, admission departments can store all information online using a customer relationship management (CRM) solution specially designed for schools. 

CRM data

Powerful admission and enrollment software helps admission teams to:

-Track all communications with each candidate, so you always know who contacted a candidate last

-Create online checklists, dashboards, and customized forms to improve the application experience

-Develop unique workflows for internal processes to ensure candidates never fall through the cracks

-Create calendars where parents can easily book visits or phone calls at their convenience

-Set up personalized communications in the form of emails, text messages, and letters to humanize the experience

Check out these ten questions to ask when comparing admission and enrollment management software.

How to Grow Your K-12 Admission Funnel

When schools are challenged to meet enrollment goals, many leaders jump to the same conclusion: “we need to generate more leads.” Essentially, they want to cast a wider net.

But, often, that assumption is rooted in the faulty belief that more leads mean more conversions. On the contrary, the primary reason many institutions struggle to meet their goals has little to do with the number of top of the funnel (TOFU) leads. Instead, it has everything to do with their relationship-building strategies. And as the market grows more competitive, fostering genuine connections is essential to outpacing other schools (one way to help foster authentic relationships is to make sure your school has a strong student ambassador program).


Previously, we mentioned it’s possible for interested prospects to consider and rule out your school without you even knowing they exist. But, what if you could connect with them sooner and keep them engaged longer? What if you could tailor communication to the exact needs of each student and his or her family? Figuring out how to communicate with each family on a personal level is a key part of moving students through the funnel.

With admission and enrollment management software, you can develop highly personalized campaigns that captivate prospects and nurture them through the process.

>>Discover the best ways to nurture leads at every stage of the admissions funnel.

This way, you can develop stronger relationships earlier in the process, and accelerate the remainder of the candidate’s journey.

12 Terms Every Modern Admission Professional Should Know

As you modernize your admission process, it’s imperative to stay current on key terms and new industry jargon, including tech and business concepts. This way, you’ll feel better prepared to sit down with senior stakeholders and share your ideas. Knowing these terms will also help you evaluate software types and choose the right option for your school. Grab a notebook, or open a new google doc, pour a fresh cup of coffee, and jot down a few notes. That way, you can look back at the terms that are most important when you need them.  

Learn the difference between best-in-breed and all-in-one admission and enrollment software.

Calendar and computer

Here are twelve key terms every admission professional should know:

  1. Yield: The number of students that you’ve accepted from an applicant pool who end up attending your school. For example, if you accept 150 students and 125 attend, that’s a yield of 83%.
  2. Client Relationship Management (CRM): A type of software that acts as a central repository for student and prospect information. It allows schools to manage all their contacts, relationships, and interactions.
  3. Retention: The rate at which students return to your school the following academic year, or remain enrolled in your school. Increasing retention can have a huge impact on your school’s enrollment goals and ROI.
  4. Legacy: A legacy applicant or legacy student is an individual that is related to someone who previously attended your school. This could be the son or daughter of a past student, or the grandchild.
  5. Conversion Rate: The number of potential families, or inquires who fully enroll at your school. The rate is found by dividing the number of enrolled students (50) by the number of total interested or prospective families (1,000). For example, if 50 of the 1,000 students interested in your school enrolled, your conversion rate would be 5%.
  6. Selectivity: The percentage of students who are admitted to your school out of those who applied. The lower the percentage, the more selective your school is. A school that accepts all or close to all of the students who apply may need to focus on finding students that are the best fit for the school in order to increase retention rates.
  7. Return on Investment (ROI): The ratio between the amount you spend on an effort and the amount of revenue it generates. This metric measures a campaign’s success. For example, if you spend $500 and earn $10,000 in revenue, that’s a 2,000% ROI.
  8. Lead nurturing/Communication plans: A strategic plan, or roadmap, for communicating with your families in a targeted and personalized way. Communication plans are automated actions that are triggered in response to an action a parent or admin takes. They can save admissions offices time and energy, as well as provide families with a better communication experience.
  9. Personas: A representation of a particular kind of family or an ideal family that you want to target and enroll at your school. Personas are built based on real data about your currently enrolled families and market research.
  10. Attrition: The number of students who leave an institution or educational program before they’ve completed (i.e., before graduation).
  11. Ghost Applicants (Shadow or Stealth Applicants): Applicants who haven’t submitted an inquiry or attended an admissions event or an open house. You only discover that these applicants exist when they fill out an application form.
  12. Net Tuition Revenue: The total revenue your school earns from tuition and fees, after deducting institutional aid. This number helps you determine whether you need to enroll more or fewer students on a partial pay program. Learn more about net tuition revenue here.

>> Check out our full admission professionals’ glossary for more.

Overcoming Common Admissions Obstacles

We’ve covered how the admissions funnel works, how the process is changing, why investing in admission and enrollment software can help you streamline the process, and useful terms to help you and your team modernize your approach.

Now there’s just one thing left to cover before you can revamp your processes to match how prospective students move through the admissions funnel: claiming your rightful spot at the decision-making table.

Empty seat at the table

As an admission professional, you’re responsible for a broad spectrum of duties that directly impact your school’s bottom line. From building relationships with candidates and their families to hosting campus tours, gathering information for the decision-making process, to monitoring and reporting success, your department is essential to your institution’s ongoing success.

>> Learn more about how admission officers should prioritize their efforts.

Unfortunately, senior leaders don’t always fully recognize your team’s valuable contributions or the challenges you face. To ensure they provide the support you need to improve your processes, you have to establish yourself as an essential member of your school.

Here are a few ways to earn your colleagues respect:

-Break down the silos

The best way to gain buy-in from peers and senior decision-makers is to understand how your efforts impact other departments’ goals and identify opportunities for cross-departmental collaboration.

-Think like a CEO

You’re inundated with dozens of micro-decisions all day long, but senior leadership usually focuses on the bigger picture (i.e., finances). Prepare yourself to share the ways that your efforts help the school achieve larger organizational objectives.

-Talk the talk

Frame your effort in terms senior leaders will understand. For example, discuss the ROI potential for various initiatives and how investing in better technology will directly impact enrollment goals.

-Know your worth

Never underestimate your power and the value you and your team provide each day. Consider gathering evidence to prove the results of your tireless work.

Discover more tips on how to claim your seat at the decision-making table.

Wrapping It Up

The way prospective students and their families engage with schools is evolving and, as tech-savvy millennials make up an increasingly larger portion of the parent audience, modernizing your processes will become even more critical. 

By understanding the admission funnel, current candidate behaviors, and how technology can help you overcome the challenges you face, you’ll be well-prepared to stay ahead in this competitive educational marketplace. Revisiting and modernizing the admission process at your independent school can make all the difference. 

New call-to-action

Explore More Recent Blogs

Subscribe to the Finalsite Blog

Love what you're reading? Join the 10k school marketers who get the newest best practices delivered to their inbox each week.

Request a FREE
website report card

Want feedback on your school or district's site? Get a free website report card, generated by an in-house website expert, sent right to your inbox.