For families considering private schools, the decision to enroll is often as much about a feeling as it is about facts. Long before parents and students set foot on campus, that feeling starts the moment a prospective family clicks on your school's website. The online admissions experience serves as the first introduction and the pivotal moment when reputations can be made — or called into question.
When a family begins their journey on your school's website, yes, they’re looking for information, but they're also seeking a connection, assurance, and a glimpse into their student’s future.
The stakes are high, and the details matter. A positive admissions experience has the power to spark interest and excitement, while a negative experience can raise doubts and send a family searching for better options.
Every click, every image, and every line of text contributes to the story your school is telling. It's not just about being “good enough” anymore — it's about being unforgettable for all the right reasons.
The goal is to leave families feeling valued and excited about joining your school. The first impression sets the tone for all that follows, making it one of the most strategic moments your school can make. Let's explore how to harness the full potential of this important moment.
1. Engage — Ask Questions & Tell Stories
The private school admissions process is a chance to develop relationships with families, and by asking questions, telling stories, and making introductions, you invite families into your school's narrative. This approach informs and connects prospective families to your community and makes the online experience feel more personal and less transactional.
Tell Your School's Story
Use your website to weave a compelling narrative about your school's community. Share stories of student achievements, alumni success, and your school's rich history. Families reading these stories start to picture their children as part of your school.
Meet the Team Virtually
A personal touch goes a long way. Introduce your school's leaders, teachers, and even students through welcome videos that share what they love about the school. Your families will be seeing and hearing a lot from your admission office, so introduce your team members so they can put a face to a name and make families feel like they're already part of the community.
Engaging Inquiry Forms
Think of your online forms as the beginning of a meaningful conversation. Instead of a list of bland, standard questions, ask about hobbies, interests, passions, and challenges. Adding these questions to your admissions software's inquiry form makes the experience more personal and engaging from the start. Then, you can use that data to form more personalized messaging later in your admissions communications.
With Finalsite's enrollment management software, Red Bank Catholic can learn more about their student's interests and tailor their admissions experience accordingly — smart!
Storytelling in Your School's Value Proposition
People love stories because they can see themselves in them. Throughout your website, and especially on your admissions pages, share anecdotes of classroom experiences, recount the journey of alums making a difference, and celebrate the small daily victories on campus.
2. Be Open and Honest
You set clear expectations by being transparent about the admissions process and giving an accurate view of what life is like at your school. This authenticity helps families feel that sense of trust and make informed decisions based on genuine insights into your school’s environment.
Show what it's like to be a part of your school. Use genuine photos and videos of daily school life, special events, and classroom activities. Authenticity builds trust, and more trust means an increase in inquiries.
Transparent Processes and Timelines
Ensure your admissions process is outlined clearly on your website, including how and when to apply and what families can expect after submitting an application. Lay out the admissions process step by step on your website and use infographics or timelines for clarity on a smart device. This level of transparency builds trust and sets realistic expectations for the application process, which is crucial in forming a solid relationship from the start.
Showcase Real School Life
Authentic imagery and stories give families a true taste of school life. Avoid stock photos and, instead, show your students and teachers in action, and let the authenticity of your school's daily life speak for itself.
An accessible FAQ section can be a lifesaver for busy families. It can alleviate stress for families and build confidence in your school's commitment to their needs.
3. Make an Impact
Making an impact is about understanding what moves people — what's bold, different, and remarkable. When your school's online presence stands out with unique programs and strong design and content, it sticks in their memory, separating your school from others.
Showcase What Makes You Special
Highlight programs or aspects of your school that are unique. Is it a pioneering outdoor program, a cutting-edge robotics team, or a community service requirement? It could be an innovative STEM program, a championship-winning sports team, or an arts partnership with local galleries, but these are the things people remember.
Bold Imagery and Statements
Use your website's real estate wisely. Beautiful designs with compelling statements can grab attention and leave a lasting impression. Remember, it's not just about looking good; it's about resonating with the values and expectations of prospective families. Use strong visuals and language that catch the eye and stick in the memory because when your website makes a visual impact, people are more likely to remember it.
Testimonials and Reviews
Feature quotes and stories from your community that focus on extraordinary experiences. Positive words from other families and students can make a lasting impression, and reviews can be powerful endorsements that show prospective families the impact your school can have.
4. Be a Little Unusual
To clarify — being slightly unusual is significant because it celebrates your school's unique identity. Distinctive features and quirky traditions can capture the attention of prospective students and parents, setting your school apart from others and making the admissions experience distinctly more memorable.
Creative In-person and Virtual Tours
Offer tours that go beyond just showing the campus but reveal the people and places of your school. Use student-guided or parent tours, creative open house events, and 360-degree virtual tours that allow families to discover your school in a fun and different way.
Since you’ve collected information about a student’s interest with your admissions and enrollment management software, swing by the theater department to meet the theater director or stop by the athletic director’s office. Introduce the financial aid officer, or make it memorable by showcasing hidden gems of the campus.
Embrace Your Quirks or Traditions
Every school has something that's a little out of the ordinary. Share those quirky facts or traditions with pride — they often make your school unforgettable. Does your school have a historic bell tower or a beloved school pet? Share these fun facts and traditions of your school's character and culture.
5. Be Confident
When your school confidently presents its achievements, mission, and success stories, it promotes its strengths and reassures families of your capability to deliver on its promises. This confidence can be a deciding factor for families when choosing a private school.
Showcase Your Accolades and Achievements
Athletic awards, matriculation stats, academic accolades — if your school has earned awards or recognitions, proudly display your school's badges of honor. Don't be modest!
Express Your Philosophy
What's at the heart of your educational approach? Use clear, confident language to express your school's philosophy. This helps families align their goals with your school's vision and vice-versa.
Celebrate Your Community
Regularly update your website with student, faculty, and alumni achievements. This reinforces the strength and quality of your school community and the supportive environment.
6. Be Emotional
This aspect is critical because emotions are what often drive decisions. By crafting an experience that touches the heart, you can create a sense of belonging even before a family steps on campus.
Design with Heart
Colors, languages, and images can evoke feelings. Your website's color scheme, imagery, and user experience should feel warm, welcoming, and inspiring. Smiling faces and easy navigation can make a site feel inviting and accessible.
Personal Touches Count
Automated emails can save independent schools a ton of time, but they can also feel cold. Use personalization tools in your marketing and admissions communication as much as possible. Address families and students by name and respond to their interests and questions. Small touches can make a significant emotional impact.
Parent and Student Testimonials
A heartfelt story is powerful. Share testimonials that speak to the emotional journey of your students and their parents, especially quotes that share the pain points of incoming families.
Your school's online admissions experience should be an extension of your school's values and a reflection of your vibrant community, so make it count. Remember, the goal is to inform and make a connection that sticks. By engaging authentically, making an impact, and embracing your uniqueness, your school will inspire and make a lasting memory.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.