I recently purchased a new car. My old 2003 Honda Pilot was on its last legs and the cost to repair the AC was more than the car was worth. So reluctantly, I started shopping for a new (used) car. In shopping for my car, I performed several of the same steps that parents who are thinking about your school do.
I went on cars.com, Edmunds.com, carvana.com, and others to research the different models. When I had narrowed down my choices, I read the online reviews about that car. And I asked my friends and family their opinion on the make and model that I had selected. When my mind was pretty much set, I went for a test drive.
Being able to feel how the car handled, how it drove, and (let’s be honest, did I look cool?) were the final steps in making my decision. When parents are shopping for your school, they generally take the same approach. Schools have a big opportunity in allowing parents (and students) the ability to try before they buy.
Creating a strong “experiential” approach to your school enrollment can often be the difference in a family selecting your school versus another one. But are you creating enough opportunities for parents and students to grow familiar with your school and to know what the experience will be like at your school?
Here are four ways that you can improve your school enrollment and allow parents to experience your school before they enroll :
1. Create a “day in the life” story for your website
This is a very simple and easy way for you to “peel the curtain” back and show parents what their child will experience at your school. The nice thing about this is you can very easily weave in your key messages when you tell the student’s story.
This is not about scope and sequence or the daily schedule, but it is talking about how education works in the classroom, or the different extracurricular activities or the personal relationships that the student has formed with the faculty or other students.
Written copy on the website is great, but this is something that lends itself so much to video. I would strongly encourage you to find a good student, help them put together a script and then shoot the video. I have seen these just be an interview of a student but also, some schools have given the student a GoPro to film all day long and then edit the video down to tell the story.
Telling stories is the best way to market your school and this is the easiest way for parents to be able to envision their child at your school.
2. Offer shadow day opportunities
This used to solely be the purview of the high schools, but more and more elementary schools are allowing a child to shadow at the school. These are wonderful opportunities if done right. Make sure that you are actually planning this out rather than just randomly assigning the shadowing student to another student.
Carefully pick the student’s “Buddy” and make sure that he/she is a great representative of your school. Ensure that the activities of the school day are enticing and something that helps to sell your school.
Don’t forget the logistical details for mom and dad. Are you providing lunch? How do they do pick up? Make sure that you have covered all of those bases, and send the shadowing student home with some school swag as well.
Finally, track the % of students who enroll who have shadowed vs. those who didn’t. You will probably see great success with students who have shadowed than those who didn’t. If you are not, it might be time to re-evaluate how you are doing your shadowing program.
3. Don’t have the school tour or the shadow day be the first time that family walks on your campus
Hopefully, you have already created your list of “partner or feeder schools”. These are the schools that you want to recruit from when they finish up at that partner school. I covered that topic in this post if you need more information.
Are there ways for you to have these students come to your school before enrollment, to gain a sense of familiarity and/or preference? Hosting these students is not only a great way to enhance your school’s enrollment efforts, but it also helps to deepen your relationship with these partner schools. Here are some ideas:
- The high school that provides a free pass to all of their athletic events to prospective students
- A kindergarten preview day for local daycares put on by your kindergarten teachers
- Hosting students at plays or concerts put on by your school.
- Joint service projects between your school and the partner school
- Hosting after-school activities for the partner school where some of your older students play with their kids
- Sponsoring lower grade academic contests or tournaments
- Hosting community events where you invite all the parents of the partner school to come. (I have seen this work very well when it is a financial advisor talking about saving for college and 529 plans or addressing issues of cyberbullying.)
4. Hosting summer camps or after school programs
Though this has primarily been the purview of high schools, more and more elementary schools are beginning to offer summer “enrichment” activities as both a revenue-generating opportunity as well as a way to build their enrollment pipeline.
This is also a great way to reinforce your brand. If you are a classical school, how about classes on the great novels in American Literature? A dual-language school? Offer foreign language classes during the summer. A STEM-focused school? Everyone wants to attend robotics or a coding class!
Several companies do this turn-key (you only provide the space and they run the program), or this can be a great opportunity for teachers who want to earn some extra money in the summertime.
The sports teams have done this for years with the high school coaches running summer camps. Not only does doing something like this create exposure to your school, but you also get a list of prospective families, that you can nurture over time to enroll in your school.
One piece of advice on running summer camps. One of the biggest pet peeves that parents have is the fact that most of these camps operate in the most inconvenient hours for working parents. If you can offer an 8 am to 5 pm class, I guarantee you that parents will fill these slots and they will love you for thinking about their needs first!
There is no hard and fast rule for how many times you want to “touch” the prospective student. However, it is interesting to note that my 11-year-old son who attends a parochial school has been to events at the nearby Catholic High School several times already.
And these are not things his parents have ever taken him to. These are all events that the High School hosts for his K-8 “feeder” school. Indianapolis is a competitive marketplace and I realized what a great job that school had done when he was the one directing me to the correct building for his summer camp.
He also has three of their cups, two t-shirts and a cinch sack for his gym clothes. This school has invested the time in helping him try their school and “brand him” before we are even thinking about high schools.
This is a long game to play, but more and more, when I talk to parents in focus groups, they tell me that they started thinking about high schools when their child was in the sixth grade. By having a strong engagement approach to these students early on, you will help to ensure that your school is at least part of the conversation, if not the top choice.