In this previous post I introduced the idea of the independent school admission office needing to serve as the shepherd of its prospective families. In this post, I lay out a few tips for becoming a more effective shepherd to your ever growing flock of applicants.
After teaching a diverse body of learners for the past nine years at Proctor Academy, I have come to greatly appreciate the practice of ‘chunking’ large assignments to make them more manageable for students. When you assign a fifteen page research paper to sophomore US History students, you do not simply give the student a final due date and expect a good product. You break the process into small segments. You have a thesis due one week, initial research due two weeks after that and then a formal outline before a rough draft and eventually a final draft. Without those segments, the student would be entirely overwhelmed by the process, and would potentially give up all together.
I believe the same technique should be used for all sorts of processes in our lives: doing your taxes, weeding the garden, cleaning the house. Don’t try to do everything at once, chunk it out and you’ll eventually reach your end goal. There are few processes as long and cumbersome as applying to and enrolling in an independent school, why wouldn’t we want to provide the same structure to our prospective families as we promise to our students upon their arrival?
Last summer, our Admissions and Communications teams decided to overhaul our admissions process in order to rethink how we might better segment the process for our families. Here are the milestones we decided were most critical for our prospective families to reach along the way.
Milestone 1: Inquire
This is an obvious first step for families, but in order to ‘be in our system’, we need a family to inquire. All future communications are predicated on that initial inquiry. In this day and age, the initial inquiry is done almost entirely online and therefore involves little human interaction, so we quickly want to get a human involved to begin creating a personal connection with the family.
Milestone 2: Call Admissions
To create that initial human connection with the school, the second step in the admissions process should be to drive families to call our Admissions team. This creates a human connection and provides an opportunity to drive families to the actionable goal - visiting campus.
Milestone 3: Visit Campus
If your school is anything like ours, we love it when families come to visit (except on rainy days). When a family steps foot on campus, they have a chance to feel the intangibles of a community that simply cannot be articulated in any marketing material. Getting people to visit campus is a critical step in the admission process and should be treated as an end-goal in and of itself!
Milestone 4: Complete Application
Much like the aforementioned research paper, completing an application is no easy task! This step may need to be segmented further into references, personal information, and essays, but we’ll keep it as one step for this blog post. Families will need plenty of hand holding as they complete the application for your school, so ask yourself: What type of support are we providing to make this process as easy as possible for our families?
Milestone 5: Attend Revisit Day
After your acceptances have been sent to prospective families, your marketing process is just beginning! Now you need to close the deal. Hopefully you are driving your families to your Revisit Days (again, personal connections and on-campus vibe prove invaluable to the decision making process) with relevant content that further nurtures each family toward a decision in favor of your school.
Milestone 6: Enrolled Students
Once your families have made the decision to drop some serious money on the education your school provides, you must continue to treat them as the valued customers they are. Developing a clear plan for communicating to enrolled families that continues to deliver useful, timely content addressing their pain points prior to arriving on campus is critical. Marketing can’t be all about the pursuit of a customer, you need to treat the new customer the same as you would a prospective customer.
Milestone 7: Re-Enroll
This is perhaps the most overlooked part of the admissions process. Perhaps it is because we take re-enrollment for granted, or because we assume every student is having a positive experience, but re-enrollment must have a marketing process all its own. Seek feedback from parents, help families constantly understand the value you are providing in exchange for tuition checks through valuable content, and help walk parents through the re-enrollment process with the same care you did when they were first enrolling at your school. Never, ever, take reenrollment for granted!
Milestone 8: Develop Brand Ambassadors
The final milestone in the admission process is to actively develop brand ambassadors within your current parents, alumni, and parents of alumni. Provide marketing materials and messaging to them, arm them with your main messages, and give them as much structure as you would give to your team of admissions counselors who are hitting the road for admission fairs. Word of mouth is still the most effective means of marketing your school, so why not leverage these brand ambassadors who are already talking about your school to their fullest potential by making sure they are sharing the right messages!
Now that you know how to segment your admission process for your prospective families, you need to develop strategies to drive families from one milestone to the next. That’s what my next post will discuss as I discuss calls to action and their role in the admission process!