When your school's website (the homepage, in particular) has high bounce rates, you may be left thinking: Was it something I said?
And quite possibly, it could be.
When families are searching for an independent school, they're looking for the best place to invest in their child's future, education — and of course, their money. Think about your school's value proposition. If every other school can easily use the exact same words or terms you're using — like "close-knit community" — how is that going to set you apart?
It goes without saying that the following ten words and phrases aren't necessarily bad, or should be dropped altogether. Rather, we're urging you to get those creative gears turning to think of your school-specific synonyms to these broad and general terms.
Think of each word this way: show; don't tell.
1. Tight-Knit Community
What it means: As a small independent school, students and teachers work closely with one another, support one another and learn from one another.
Why you shouldn't use it: Even the biggest independent schools boast a close-knit community between faculty and students, athletes and academic all-stars, seniors and freshmen.
What you could say instead: Consider the most unique aspect of your close-knit community. Is it your faculty-to-student ratio? Is it the fact that all students must participate in arts and athletics beyond academics? Is it an annual event that brings students together as one?
In this example from St. Mark's School in Southborough, MA, rather than saying "tight-knit community," the school shares the valuable outcomes of their deliberate, small, community.
Another good example comes from Hotchkiss School, whose "A Commitment to Each Other" statement makes a powerful impact when accompanied by this candid photo.
2. Hands-On Learning
What it means: Your school offers plenty of opportunities beyond lectures and textbooks to get the experience they need to succeed.
Why you shouldn't use it: Hands-on learning is no longer a differentiator, but a standard. Today, parents are comparing the hands-on experiences offered by different schools.
What you could say instead: What kind of experiences do you offer that are hands-on? This example from Seattle Country Day is simple, but effective. Curiosity is sparked by wonder, which is sparked by hands-on learning. The school's use of photos and videos to represent the hands-on experiences that spark curiosity and wonder are perfect!
3. Academic Excellence
What it means: Your school offers a wide-range of academic programs that strive to challenge and prepare students for success in school and beyond.
Why you shouldn't use it: Academic excellence and rigor are buzzwords in the realm of independent school marketing. Let's be real: families won't invest in an education that's anything short of excellent or rigorous.
What you could say instead: Prospective families care most about how your academics help students evolve.
If your school is known for its academic excellence, like The Hun School of Princeton, be as creative in your word choice as they are.
One of the best ways to do this is with indisputable, hard facts and success rates. Infographics, like this one from the Academy of Notre Dame's homepage, address important stats prospective families care about.
Aside from an infographic, a college matriculation slider or graphic is an easy way to prove the outcome of your school's academics.
4. Outstanding Student / Faculty Relationships
What it means: The relationships formed between students and faculty will inspire students to learn.
Why you shouldn't use it: What is education without student and faculty relationships? Thie vague statement can be said by any private, public, or charter school. You need to point out what makes your faculty relationships special.
What you could say instead: Focus on getting quotes that talk about the way student and faculty examples change and shape the experience at your school. Because relationships are about people, words crafted by your marketing team just won't have the same impact as something real and authentic — like this series of quotes on Landon School's homepage.
5. Athletic Excellence
What it means: Your athletics are top-notch.
Why you shouldn't use it: Prospects who are looking to join a stellar athletics program may have already been recruited to your school, or are looking for proof that they're joining a winning team. "Athletic Excellence" is a pretty vanilla way of describing one of the most vibrant components of your school's culture and community.
What you could say instead: It's okay to boast. We give big kudos to Baylor School here, who tells it like it is.
What it means: The term "unique" literally means to be the only one of its kind or unlike anything else.
Why you shouldn't use it: Using the word "unique" is a great way to say that you're not unique. Every school is unique in its own way. Using a word like this on your site is a great way to bore a website visitor really fast.
What you could say instead: Think about what is one special tradition your school has that no other one does? What is something that can be said about your school that no one else can claim? Focus on your history, location, faculty, and offerings.
We love this bold statement made by Asheville School on their homepage:
While Asheville School doesn't use the term unique, their claim to fame as one of the "few remaining true small boarding schools in America" speaks for itself.
Another example comes from TASIS Switzerland, who focuses on how their school "pioneered" academic travel. If their target market is students who want to travel and learn, they've hit the nail on the head.
Hawai'i Preparatory Academy does an excellent job avoiding cliches and focusing on what makes their campus and academics special to them. Scope out their entire site, and you'll never find a word like "unique," but rather hundreds of photos and video that let the user see the one-of-a-king experience for themselves.
7. Beautiful Campus
What it means: Your campus is a desirable place to visit, attend or live.
Why you shouldn't use it: Isn't every other school boasting about their beautiful campus? Whether it's by the beach, nestled in the hills of California or tucked in between city skyscrapers, every school's campus is special and beautiful in its own way.
What you could say instead: Anytime you have the opportunity to turn a noun like "beautiful campus" into a sentence that includes a verb like "exploring," you've immediately improved your marketing. Add in some photos of students being a part of that campus? You win. This example from Winchester Thurston School is a home run.
For schools in an idyllic location like St. George's School in Newport, RI, avoid using generic, blanket statements to describe your campus. We love how St. George's positions themselves as "overlooking the ocean."
Hebron Academy, located in Hebron, Maine also avoids the typical campus cliches by claiming the entire New England region as its broad campus for students to learn, grow, and explore. So, even tho Hebron, Maine may not have been at the top of your bucket list for idyllic locations — but it should be now.
What it means: Your campus offers a wide variety of programs and opportunities and/or brings together many faculty and students from different cultural backgrounds.
Why you shouldn't use it: It's boring and meaningless unless supported by statistics or graphics. Plus, so much can be diverse — your students, your faculty, your programs. What is diverse? Why? And what is the value it offers?
What you could say instead: Rather than saying your school community is diverse, prove it. The Episcopal School of Dallas addresses diversity head-on with the slogan "Unity, not Uniformity," making it easy to infer that even if you're different, you are part of the community. Now that's quite the impact.
Infographics, videos, and photo slideshows are also excellent ways to showcase the diversity of your campus community, opportunities and traditions. For international schools, in particular, diversity is an expectation. So, using data can help set you apart from the rest, like UNIS does on their homepage.
What it means: Your community features new and original methods of thinking and learning.
Why you shouldn't use it: Sure you think your academics are innovative, but compared to whom? A term like "innovative" is completely subjective, and should be saved for truly forward-thinking acts. (Hint: a 1:1 program isn't innovative anymore.)
What you could say instead: What sets you apart? Every school is innovative in its own way. Which programs does your school offer that are the most innovative and unique? For the Dunn School, that is experiential education.
What it means: Your school fosters growth in all areas, both personally and intellectually.
Why you shouldn't use it: The point of an education is to nurture. Think about how you nurture students to thrive; rather than the act itself.
What you could say instead: Consider your advisor/advisee relationships; a series of classes that are available at your school; your faculty to student ratio; and all other pieces of the equation of student development. Most importantly it should answer the question: what is the outcome of the nurturing programs at your school?
The International School of Beijing's website focuses on developing the whole child, which is their nurturing approach to development and education.
Nardin Academy's "Ignite Curiosity" slogan hints that their learning environment inspires new ideas, thoughts, and desires.
Your school is one-of-a-kind, and the language you use to describe your campus, academics, athletics, and community should be, too. Take an analysis of your school's website content, and if you're using one of these ten vague terms (or ones like it!) consider what words, phrases, photos and videos you can use instead to make an impact.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's Director of Demand Generation, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.