Virtual Admissions is a Good Thing: How to Reach More Families with Events
Mia Major

For many schools and districts, re-opening plans and simply figuring out those initial logistics are still top-of-mind, with some plans changing by the day. But once school starts, the next big logistical hurdle involves new enrollment.

For private schools, this will be the first admissions season where thinking virtual first will be essential to meeting the needs of prospective families and enrollment goals.

And for public schools and districts who previously haven’t always had the time or need to focus on recruiting new families — now may be the time to kick those plans into gear. With many public school families actively seeking private education, and city-dwellers moving to the suburbs at a high rate, inviting families to explore what makes your district and town special will be key to maintaining enrollment numbers.

In Episode 5 of The School Marketing Show — Live, Finalsite’s Mia Major and Kristen Doverspike discuss why your admissions events strategy needs to look different, and how to adapt.

Why do we need to think about admissions events differently?

The answer to this question appears obvious: We need to think about admissions events differently because they’re virtual, when they were formerly in-person. But a good virtual events plan goes beyond taking your in-person events and making them virtual. A good virtual event plan doesn’t ask “what are the best practices for making my in-person event, virtual?” A good virtual event plan asks “how can we totally re-shape our strategy to meet everyone’s needs?”

This means asking important questions like:

  • What do we want the outcome to be?
  • How often should it be hosted?
  • Which parts of the event should be recorded or live streamed?
  • Which new opportunities can we provide because we are virtual?
  • What will be our event cadence?
  • How long will different events be?
  • And most important, which stage of the funnel does this event help fill? 

During Episode 5, Mia expanded upon that last bullet to pinpoint its importance:

“I think it’s important that we always try to bring every event, every content piece, every single thing we’re working on to a stage of the funnel. When we think about our events in a silo, it's really easy to forget about that top, middle, and bottom of the funnel — which we've talked about in previous School Marketing Show episodes. Typically where we used to see that in-person open house sit at the bottom of the funnel. To be at an open house, someone probably had already submitted an inquiry form, they're familiar with your school, and they're really engaged. They're taking three to four hours out of their work day is a huge commitment. And when we think about that in comparison to a virtual event, we think of virtual events as being much more accessible, shorter, and much less of a commitment than that in-person event — which means they no longer sit at that  bottom of your funnel — they actually sit much higher up in the funnel.”

This example from DeSmet Jesuit High School in St. Louis, Missouri highlights how focusing on smaller “micro” events can fill your calendar and your funnel.

screenshot from De Smet Jesuit's admissions page showing a calendar of upcoming virtual events

Further Reading: How To Host Virtual School Events: A 10-Step Planning Guide For Fall

What does this mean for your school’s admissions event strategy?

First, it means you need to ditch the mentality of hosting a couple of big open house events, virtually. These will still have a role, but can’t be your only event.

Second, it means you need to answer two main questions before planning your events:

  • What content are families interested in at each stage of the funnel?
  • How can we provide that information in a virtual event format?

When you focus on that first question, it will become apparent that you’re not just creating a single event — you’re creating at least three types of virtual experiences: one for each stage of the funnel.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. Every school is going to have to do what works for them. In Episode 5, Kristen shares some insight on how you may think about adapting your strategy.

Kristen: “We need to be thinking with an inbound approach. So for the top of the funnel, 

maybe a webinar on choosing a private school. If you get some contacts from that, that's a great audience to then hit with some promotion of your virtual open house events or Q & A sessions.”

Here’s an example of what an inbound approach to your events might look like:

a chart showing virtual admissions inbound strategy for each stage of the funnel

This example from Peddie School in Hightstown, NJ, shows how their new, regularly scheduled virtual events and opportunities can appeal to all applicants at any stage in their journey.

screenshot from Peddie School showing virtual events at each stage of the funnel

Pro Tip: For top-of-the-funnel content in particular, provide it on-demand via a form submission. Hosting lots of live events can burn out your team (who is likely already “zoomed out”) quickly. Pre-recorded content still gets you the contact information you need for further outreach, and still ensures your prospective family gets the information they are looking for.

Further Reading: Virtual Admissions: Rethinking The Inbound Marketing Funnel

What are some other key considerations for admissions events?

Outside of planning your event calendar, there are plenty of other strategies to keep in mind, including:

Website promotion

 Be sure to create a jam-packed admissions events calendar that makes registration easy. Event registration pages should always include the length of the event, the date of the event, key event takeaways, event hosts, and what they can expect. Most importantly, always (always!!!) send event registrants to a “thank you” page. A “thank you” page offers you additional opportunities to share next steps and additional information about your school to keep them engaged. 

Further Reading: How To Increase School Website Conversions Using Thank You Pages

screenshot from De Smet Jesuit's admissions page promoting upcoming events

Event outreach 

Pay-Per-Click ads, social media ads, organic social media, retargeting ads, and email marketing are all great mediums for promoting your events. Just remember to keep that funnel in mind!

Further Reading: What Makes a Good Social Media Ad?

Event follow up

 Virtual event follow-up needs to feel personal. So, ensure you have a different follow-up strategy crafted for each type of event, depending on its stage of the funnel. For example, someone who attends a longer virtual open house event should maybe receive a piece of direct mail. Someone who attends a virtual revisit day in the spring (yes, we could still be virtual in the spring!) could maybe get a piece of school swag. And for someone who attended a top-of-the-funnel webinar, a personal email outreach is great. In addition to these personal outreaches, social media retargeting campaigns and email workflows provide an opportunity to nurture prospective families along to their next conversion opportunity — be that another virtual event or application.

Further Reading: Email Drip Campaign Ideas for Admissions

Event forms

This nitty-gritty detail is often overlooked. But it is oh-so important. If you want to earn conversions on your events, you can’t make the form too long! Consider varying form length based on the “level of commitment.” For example, someone downloading on-demand content is likely only willing to provide their name, email, and maybe one or two other pieces of information. Also consider any opportunities to make the form-filling experience more fun and personalized, as Canterbury School does for their virtual visit.

gif showing Canterbury School's virtual visit form

Further Reading: 3 Website Mistakes Plugging Your Admissions Funnel

Further Reading: 8 Tips To Improve Your School's Online Forms

Key Takeaway

Because virtual events are shorter and more accessible, they need to reach prospective families at numerous points in their journey — not just at the end. Create an admissions events calendar that helps families learn about your school early, often, and on their own time when possible.

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Mia Major

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, eBooks, and reports, including Finalsite's Inbound Marketing Benchmark Report.

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