St. Joseph's Academy
No two admissions cycles are the same — just ask St. Joseph’s Academy’s Director of Enrollment, Dianne Dunning-Gil, who joined the school’s team just as the pandemic hit.
Flash forward, and the world of admissions and enrollment has changed. Post-Covid, families are paying close attention to the connections and relationships that were dearly missed during the last few years.
“What we’re seeing from our families is the expectation that we really understand their child,” Dianne said. “Even in that first engagement, there needs to be the expectation that communications are customized to what they're looking for. From what’s collected in an inquiry form to every phone call — all of those interactions need to be cultivating a very personalized experience.”
As an all-girls Catholic high school, the families of St. Joseph’s look for specific ways their daughters can grow academically, socially, and emotionally, and St. Joe's needed a system and data to drive those personalized online experiences.
When Dianne arrived at St. Joseph’s, the school had been using PowerSchool’s admissions module to handle inquiries. “I discovered the product was really just a form builder,” she said. “I couldn’t collect or keep student-specific records — it only allowed me to collect forms, and I couldn't communicate anything through the system.”
There were limitations with data not automatically integrating into their student information system, too, meaning the school still had to download records into an Excel spreadsheet, then reformat and upload it again.
“We really needed to be able to communicate to families and recognize what they’re looking for in education,” she added. “It’s providing a great academic program, but all the experiences that happen at school, too. And so that's why it's really important to collect the right information and be ready for families as they walk onto campus.”
At a Glance
Founded in 1840, St. Joseph's Academy is a Catholic, private college preparatory high school founded and inspired by the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Its mission is to provide quality Catholic education for young women in an environment that challenges them to grow in faith, knowledge, and respect for self and others.
That’s when the school looked to Finalsite’s admission and enrollment management system, not only to meet rising parent expectations, but to make informed decisions and enable collaboration between the admissions and marketing departments.
In just a matter of weeks, St. Joseph’s was up and running with Finalsite’s EMS to create a personalized admissions and enrollment experience for prospective families.
“What I love about Finalsite Enrollment is that I’m able to communicate to prospective students in three clicks, design engaging communications, and send automated messages, like when someone comes to visit,” Dianne said.
“Two days before their tour we can send directions and then follow up after they complete their visit. It's automatically happening in the background without us having to manually send emails.”
Now, if a prospective family indicates they have an interest in theater during their inquiry, the admissions team is able to introduce the theater director to the student on the campus tour and have a discussion about the productions. They’re also able to send the family invitations about upcoming shows and experiences as they continue their admissions process.
For admission events, instead of responding to individual questions about the application process, Dianne set up an automated response that fed directly into the system.
After recently launching a visit day, they received more than 200 RSVPs within 90 minutes. “In St. Louis, we've seen a growing interest in private education, and St. Joe has had two straight years of a waitlist for 9th grade,” Dianne said.
St. Joseph’s has seen a 10% increase in participation for its 6th and 7th grader’s visit days, while its 8th-grade visit day saw a 35% increase in participation. “Finalsite Enrollment is a massive time-saver,” Dianne said, adding that they communicate and collect registrations through the system, so it builds a record of when the team engages with a family.
“I wouldn’t be able to be as efficient at my job or effectively engage our prospective families without it. We’re able to be very customizable in the way that we engage with families from the very beginning,” Dianne said. “I'm able to look at my inquiries and the number of accepted applicants and know what that yield number is, as well as the five-year historical trends.”
Since implementing the system a few years ago, inquiries at St. Joseph’s are up 46 percent, applications are up 58 percent, and enrollment has seen a 24 percent increase.
“The most important thing,” she added, “is that every single person is a component of the admissions process. And when we do it well, we all benefit. We have to make sure that every person in the building understands the importance of engaging with the prospective student.”
St. Joseph's Academy
Admissions and marketing working together
The idea of collaboration extends beyond the walls of the admissions department. Working with the marketing department, the St. Joseph teams create a theme for the year — a focus that aligns the work of the departments with the mission of the school.
“We're intentional about every touchpoint of that theme supported by data,” Dianne said. “The relationship between the marketing and the admissions department is absolutely crucial so there's consistency — that we know what we want to say and to whom, and Finalsite helps us do that really well. It’s been a big part of being able to be successful in this up-and-down market.”
Data from the previous admissions cycles reveals where there were successes, and where there can be improvements — the school even surveys families who didn’t enroll to help patterns emerge.
“We're able to look at our dashboard and give up-to-date numbers: number of inquiries, number of visits, and number of applications,” Dianne said. “I share that information with the advancement and marketing team on a weekly basis, and we set our goals for how many inquiries we want, and how many visits to yield the number of applications that we're looking for.”
That data also allows the teams the flexibility to pivot strategies if event registrations are at goal, or if there needs to be one final marketing push, for instance. And while the admissions and enrollment data informs the strategy, the implementation requires the St. Joseph’s team to put the pieces together.
“I don't think that there's anything more important than being able to use data to inform your process,” Dianne said. “It takes the fog out of the work that we do and it makes the entire process feel collaborative. Our marketing director can see the direct impact of her work and know that the messaging is driving that interest. It makes everybody feel like they’re a part of the success.”
“From that information, we work together to build the admissions and marketing plan for the next cycle. We look to build our marketing communication and our admission plan as a team — it's really looking at the shared experience.”
“I don't think that there's anything more important than being able to use data to inform your process...It takes the fog out of the work that we do and it makes the entire process feel collaborative."
DIR. OF ENROLLMENT
The role of the school website
To round out the full user experience, St. Joseph’s also recently tapped into its user data to support the launch of a new website redesign and further attract, engage, and retain families.
The admissions team spent time at the top of the funnel, focusing their messaging on creating interest to turn prospects into inquiries and applicants.
“We looked at our data, we know who's visiting and what they're looking for. So it's intentional that we keep things very simple and walk them through the process. The redesign took an overly complicated design and confusing user experience and turned it into a site that was easy for families to explore, learn, and engage.”
With a modern design and authentic content, St. Joseph’s prioritized the user experience by trimming down text, adding engaging video, and providing streamlined navigation.
Now, Dianne meets with the marketing department to review different website analytics and see what pages users are landing on, how long they stayed on those pages, and any reaction they had — anything from page content to filling out an inquiry form.
“Between the admissions, marketing, and the business office, we have conversations about how this information can be displayed clearly, concisely, and easily accessed,” Dianne added. “Our marketing director is showing us what our audience is reacting to and giving us that full-circle communication strategy.”
In addition to academic growth, St. Joseph’s Academy has now evolved its enrollment management system and its website to create a customized experience for families and new users.
From a family's first click and visit to campus, to enrollment and beyond, the school is providing the tailored experience that families want, helping St. Joseph’s stay competitive in the ever-changing education market.
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