While some schools experienced a slight uptick in enrollment around the pandemic, most Pre-K to 8 schools — and even some high schools — are still finding it a challenge to recruit new families and meet their school's enrollment goals.
During a time of rising inflation, when more parents need some sort of financial assistance, and shifting demographics, with fewer students available to attend schools, the challenge will continue. As such, schools are looking for practical and efficient strategies to increase enrollment.
Schools need to reframe the narrative about who they are and reimagine the ways they communicate the value they provide to the broader community of prospective parents.
Everything you do — events, social media, your school website, newsletters, fundraisers — are all opportunities to shape how people perceive your value. All communication tools need to be filtered through the lens of recruitment.
You don’t need to spend new money to make something new. You can “reframe” what you already do (without the need for additional time commitment or investment) and positively impact your recruiting efforts and ultimately lead to an increase in enrollment.
Your website has to pull double duty: it’s your digital front door for potential families, AND it has to house the information needed for your current families to stay informed and involved.
Let’s dig into what you can be doing on your website as it relates to enrollment.
Reframing your website for enrollment
Let’s start with a simple fact: No one's coming down your chimney. Even if families do magically show up on campus one day, they will have already looked at your school’s website. So for most families, you need to give them a window to look into and a door to knock on when they're ready.
Your website can do that. It needs to showcase all the amazing things that current students are learning and how their families are involved. Visitors to your website need to get a strong sense of student success and what it’s like to be part of your community.
We randomly sampled around 50 K-8 school websites, looking at three key things all schools should have on their website.
- A link to an inquiry form on the homepage, not just a contact us button
- A link to an application or how to apply information
- A clear point of contact that is easy to find if a parent has a question
Here’s what we found:
- 69% of the sites we reviewed are missing an inquiry link on the homepage
- 61% of the sites we reviewed are missing an "Apply" link on the homepage
- 67% of the sites we reviewed are missing a clear point of contact that is easy to find
We did observe a few websites that had links to the enrollment process on the homepage. However, in more than a few cases, when we got to the information on how to apply, we were given a list of links to PDFs that would need to be downloaded, printed, filled out by hand, and then scanned and emailed to the school or dropped off in person. This is not an optimal parent experience.
In the age of digital everything, at a minimum parents expect an online admissions process to inquire and apply. There are many ways to accomplish this, and if your school is in this boat, this process needs to be evaluated and refreshed with an enrollment management system.
Your home page needs to tell someone who you serve in less than one click.
You need to say it loud and clear. This example from The Gow School is PERFECT. “A coed college-prep boarding and day school for students, grades 6-12, with dyslexia and similar language-based learning disabilities in New York.”
If you have a potential family looking at your school who is new to the area or doesn’t know where to start and they have to click through your about page or guess from photos, they’ll most likely leave your website and not feel compelled to return.
A great statement folds in your mission and vision to a viewer. As much as those values are your core philosophy, they’re also a fantastic marketing tool to speak to potential families. They are entrusting you with the care and education of their child. DON’T shy away from sharing those values on your home page.
Remember, your website serves two purposes, in this order:
- Your #1 most important recruitment tool, and
- A place for current families to get information about the goings on at the school
Reframing your calls to action
If you are not telling them what to do next, they will wander like lost lambs. You must show them the way and encourage them to move forward.
- How are you promoting engagement?
- How are families contacting you?
- Where do your calls to action lead?
With calls to action, you need to make it easy to do anything, but make sure to have a CTA on every page with different wording! Research found that unique CTAs converted 202% better than generic options. If you want your community to engage with your school, be sure to define a clear CTA for the receivers of your message.
Some schools have great short forms that allow a parent to ask a question, leave a phone number or email, and you ask what mode of communication they prefer. We also see schools that just list the school address and phone number on the contact us page.
Parents may not have time to talk at that moment, or may not want to talk on the phone yet — or at all! Having other options for parents to get in touch with you, essentially meeting them where they are and on their terms (like at 2 am after the night shift when you’re not available) is essential.
The admissions landing page of your website should be an inviting place that warmly welcomes the people visiting and gives them options for starting a conversation with you.
Most importantly, you need to give them a reason to start that conversation. You can do this very affordably with a very simple and authentic video showcasing your value proposition (why are you different?) and a representation of what your community looks like.
Make it functional and make it personal. You need to start to introduce some of the faces of the school, so it’s best to have a person on the page. One of my favorites is from Stevens Cooperative School:
Put yourself in the shoes of someone visiting your website for the first time. Would you send your information into the abyss? Likely not.
So put a name, picture, and maybe a nice (and SHORT!) welcome note from the people who manage admissions in that section. You don’t want to appear to be unreachable, guarded, or anonymous.
Offer your contact information so people can reach you or someone else in your office who can help them learn more or answer questions. Provide a personal email address, not admissions@ - some Directors don’t want to do that, but honestly, what are you afraid of? A high volume of people emailing you? That sounds like a good problem to have! And you can solve that problem with the right tools to help you manage that volume efficiently.
Reframing your tuition and affordability pages
Your tuition page should have a tone that speaks to the value of the investment and affordability. Think value before price. What’s a parent’s first thought when they click on your tuition page – how can I afford this?
Your page should tell them: “Think you can’t afford our school? Think again!” Talk about what makes your school worth the investment before you start listing tuition prices, then structure your tuition page to sell value. Consider including:
- An overview statement about your school that includes your value proposition
- A video about what makes your school special
- Testimonials from current families, students, faculty, alumni
- Clear instructions for applying for financial aid
When talking about financial aid: Who specifically can they talk with to discuss their specific needs? Lay out tuition costs, and financial aid information, and showcase your openness to working with them to make attendance at your school possible. You’ll see great examples of these elements on sites like McCallie School, Baylor School, and Father Ryan High School.
Your goal is to take a look at the things you are already doing and reframe them with an eye toward recruitment. This can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it all or all at once. Simply pick one or two things that you can reframe now and start there.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
With 11 years of experience as a director of enrollment management and advancement in private schools, Cristy brings extensive admissions and enrollment expertise to her role at Finalsite. Her master's thesis focused on stemming enrollment loss in Catholic schools, and her doctoral dissertation focused on internal communication practices at private schools and the capacity afforded to the enrollment manager to positively impact enrollment growth. She lives in Newbury Park, CA and loves spending time with her husband, daughter, and son.