A memorable open house experience can have a significant impact on your enrollment and retention rates. If done well, this single event allows you to ignite meaningful conversations, answer families’ questions, showcase your campus, highlight your school’s best assets, and help families feel accepted into your community. However, a highly effective open house also requires a great deal of planning and consideration, which often begins months in advance.
But what if your open house is just weeks (or days) away? Is it too late to ensure you’re providing the most value and gleaning the greatest return?
Fortunately, even if you’re closing in on the home stretch of your planning efforts, there’s still plenty you can do to boost your success.
Here are our top ten last-minute tips:
1. Look for Opportunities to Drive Attendance
Even if your school’s open house is days away, it’s not too late to get more families registered for your event. There are several ways you can quickly and efficiently increase your attendance rate through one-to-one communications.
Rather than blasting your entire database, use data to get smart about who you’re targeting with your last minute invites. First and foremost, be certain to remove any families that have already registered for your event from your invite list. It’s a poor user experience to receive an invitation when you’ve already registered for the open house—and it could create confusion, leaving your recipients wondering if their registration did not go through.
From there, target the prospective families that are most likely to convert. Some good signals that show interest are families that have downloaded a viewbook or submitted an inquiry in the past three months, have been referred by current families, or have recently subscribed to your newsletter.
Like you, the families you serve lead full and busy lives and, even when they’re engaged and interested in your school, your open house might slip their minds. That’s when a well-timed email series comes in handy.
We recommend sending an email at least two weeks in advance, another email one week in advance, a third reminder a few days before the event, and a final promotional email the day of the event. You’d be surprised how many registrations can come in at the last minute with one final push just before the event.
Text messages are a quick, effective, and low-effort tactic for reminding people about events. Even if parents aren’t great about checking, opening, or responding to the communications in their email inbox, most people check their phone multiple times per hour. That’s why SMS messages have an incredibly high open-rate. In fact, according to data shared by Campaign Monitor, research shows results as high as 98%.
Emails, text messages, and social media posts are useful in our fast-paced, always-online society — but a personal phone call can really clinch the deal. Do your best to dial every single family on your list in the days before your open house to confirm their attendance or give them one final nudge to register.
Additionally, keep in mind that some families may be apprehensive about attending a large, crowded event amid the pandemic. To assuage their concerns, be sure to let people know about any health and safety precautions you’re taking at your event. For example, you might choose to limit the number of people in a room at a time, space out seating, and/or require masks indoors. Knowing that you’re making efforts to limit contact may help win over families who are on the fence about attending. Another great option? Host a virtual open house in addition to your in-person event.
2. Streamline Wayfinding
Your attendees’ impression of your open house will begin the moment they arrive. To ensure a smooth experience from the beginning, take time to install appropriate signage throughout the campus. Make sure attendees know exactly where to park, and consider offering VIP front-row parking for prospective families. Mark your entrance and provide welcome messaging and arrows along the route, so people know they’re heading in the right direction.
It’s also a good idea to hand out campus maps to all families so they can easily find their way to various points of interest — like your athletic facilities or fine arts wing. Station staff members, parent volunteers, or even student ambassadors throughout the campus to direct people or answer questions as they make their way across your grounds.
3. Ensure Key Staff Members and Faculty Will Be Present
Although parents are undoubtedly interested in seeing the space where their child will spend much of their time, a school’s campus is only one factor in families’ decision about where their child will receive an education. More often than not, school faculty also weigh heavily into the equation.
To increase the likelihood of a family choosing to attend your school, and encourage current families to continue their enrollment, make sure you have plenty of staff members from various departments in attendance to answer questions and foster connections. Consider including staff members that can speak to financial aid and payment plans. Guidance counselors and coaches can also be great additions.
Help staff and faculty members prepare for your open house by providing a list of key talking points and FAQs, your school’s value proposition, and other points you want them to include in their conversations.
4. Invite Student Ambassadors and Parent Advocates
Of course, while faculty and staff are critical to parents’ impression of your school, they’re not the only people who can make or break enrollment decisions.
Hearing about the value of a school from a paid staff member is one thing, but hearing it from an enrolled student or their parents can be even more impactful. That’s because people are more likely to trust messages from their peers than any form of marketing. One study found 93% of people trusted friends and family while only 38% trusted advertising.
Consider inviting your student ambassadors and a few parent advocates to share their experiences, answer parent questions, and help bring prospective families into your community.
5. Make it an Interactive Experience
As an education professional, you know engagement and interactivity are crucial to learning and creating memorable experiences — and this is as true for parents as it is for their kids. So, instead of forcing people to sit for hours of presentations in your auditorium, ensure the event offers lots of movement and activities.
For example, you might provide each parent with a “class schedule” of a typical day and allow them to journey from one classroom to the next to meet with teachers, explore learning environments, and experience the school through a student’s point of view.
Additionally, remember that a child’s experience is a significant factor in a family’s decision about a school — so it’s crucial they enjoy their time as well. Consider offering hands-on, age-appropriate activities for kids and a chance to check out offerings that align with their interests. For example, you might provide a short drawing class for prospective students interested in visual arts or have a group of soccer enthusiasts practice with a coach.
Another fun way to make it interactive: food! Don’t forget to feed your event attendees (because inducing hanger is not a great first impression). Do you have awesome meals at your school? Consider having bite sized samples of the offerings throughout the event. You can also offer coffee, branded cookies, and more. People love free food, plus it boosts their energy and puts them in a better mood—all foundational ingredients for a great event!
6. Keep Presentations Exciting and Concise
One of the goals of any open house is to teach families as much about your school as possible. But, if you overload your audience with too much information, they may not retain key points (or even zone out altogether). Instead, strive to keep your presentations short and sweet by boiling them down to the essentials.
If open house presentations are already complete, take some time to edit them down for length and clarity. Additionally, be sure to spice them up to maximize audience engagement. If you’re still determining who will be presenting, consider adding a keynote from your head of school or a notable alum who can share their experiences. Vary presentation styles, add music to the beginning, and include lots of photos, videos, and other visual components to help your school’s personality shine through.
Finally, ask presenters to run through their presentations multiple times before the event, especially in front of peers, and offer constructive feedback whenever necessary.
7. Personalize, Personalize, Personalize
One of the great benefits of having access to abundant data about current and prospective families is that it provides you with practically endless opportunities to tailor open house experiences to your attendees.
While it’s not always easy to personalize large presentations, you can customize one-on-one experiences to show families how much you value them. For example, if you know a prospective student is interested in your school’s softball program, you might set up a private meeting between that family and the coach so they can have their questions answered directly. Or, if you know a family has specific dietary preferences, you can offer them a sampling of cafeteria foods that meet those requirements.
These small actions can have a significant impact on families and their impression of your school.
8. End It on a Sweet Note
Leave your attendees with a parting gift like a piece of swag or a picture with your school’s mascot to make the live event feel special. It’s also a smart idea to have viewbooks or brochures available to take home so they can continue learning about your school ever the open house has ended.
Additionally, ensure parents know who to go to with their questions or requests. Consider adding faculty contact information to open house hand-outs, email all attendees a link to your directory, or set up a general email address so you can route questions and concerns to the appropriate department. The easier you make it for parents to communicate with school staff, the more likely they will reach out.
You may not be able to address every question and concern at an open house — and that’s OK. But, you should make an effort to foster conversations that you can continue in the days and weeks following the event. Take notes on specific interests or concerns mentioned in discussions with families so you can address them in a personalized follow-up, and encourage other staff members to do the same.
9. Follow-Up with Families Afterward
After the event, crowdsource information about each prospective family who attended your open house, including their questions, interests, and topics they were most interested in covering. Add those notes to your enrollment management platform to help inform future communication efforts — and then get started on your follow-up campaigns.
Start with a handwritten thank you note for each family and personalize it using the information faculty members shared. This simple gesture will demonstrate how much your school prioritizes families and their needs. You can also enroll them in an email drip campaign to nurture them from “open house attendee” to “applicant.”
10. Review Your Performance
Before the event, take time to prepare a post-event survey that you can send out the morning after your open house. Then, after responses roll in, schedule a meeting with everyone involved in putting on the event — including all admissions and enrollment pros, speakers and presenters, and department heads. Review survey responses together and discuss what you can do to up-level experiences in your next open house event. After all, no matter how successful your open house is, there’s always room for improvement.
An open house can be one of the most powerful methods for driving prospective families further down the admissions funnel and can also be a great retention strategy to engage enrolled families. useful for reminding existing families about the many benefits of sending their children to your school. By leveraging these tips, you can help increase the impact of your event and make it your school’s best open house yet.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James is a baseball fan, music lover and Director of Sales, in that order. However, he does bring over a decade of experience in the edtech industry building relationships with marcom directors, enrollment managers, business officers and IT directors nationwide. In the last nine years, he's worked with a variety of admissions offices, ranging from 10+ admissions teams to the one-person show, discussing best practices around the private school enrollment experience.