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5 STEPS TO BETTER ENROLLMENT AND RETENTION

POSTED: March 29, 2023Category: GeneralBY: AISA P9

Preparing for admissions season often makes schools reconsider their methods for increasing enrollment and retention. Below are five ways to get a head start on next year’s strategies.

1. Online Application and Enrollment Experience for Incoming and Returning Families
The competitive education landscape means that schools must pay close attention to the ease of their admissions and re-enrollment experience. Parents are eager for a simpler, more straightforward path to apply and enrol at their school of choice.
There are many reasons why a parent may decide not to apply to your school or re-register by the deadline. But there are things you can do to ensure you’re giving your school the best chance of success.

Reduce paper
Paperwork is a hindrance to today’s busy parents. Many paper application packets have a dozen or so forms with redundant information on each. Paper packets also mean a parent must deliver completed forms to your office. The same goes for re-registration: are you making it as simple as possible for parents to re-enroll online?

Never miss a single enquiry
Having one obvious place for a family to enquire on your website lets schools keep track of every potential applicant and shows parents that your school is modern and organized.

Data integrity
Relying on data entry to transfer sensitive family information from paper forms into a database allows for human error. Allowing parents to be accountable for their own demographic data — and keeping that data secure from start to finish — is better for families and schools.

2. Nurturing Prospective Families
Lead nurturing is the process of moving a prospective family through the “admissions funnel” to the point that they become a registered family.
There are many ways schools can use this to their advantage. On a basic level, nearly every school already does some form of lead nurturing, whether calling a family to find out if they’re coming for a school tour or sending an email asking if they intend to complete their application.

However, many schools could benefit from more intentional lead nurturing. If you want to get started, we recommend keeping it simple. You can track it using Excel or Google Sheets or an automated tool like FACTS Application & Enrollment.

Lead Nurturing in Action:
Start with a small toolkit of nurturing streams around existing activities. Our recommendation is to create a spreadsheet with the following in columns across the top:
Online Inquiry | Open House | School Tour
Then, add any associated follow-up activity that should happen around those activities. Examples may include:
 Email after one week from the admissions director
 Invitation sent for a school tour
 Invitation sent for an open house
 Thank you email for attending sent the next day
 Reminder email to apply after one week
 Phone call from admissions director after three weeks

3. The Importance of a Cohesive Website and Admissions Experience
The admissions page is the most critical part of a school website, but they’re often clunky and difficult for prospective families to navigate.
The temptation for many schools is to translate their internal admissions process — with all its detail and complexity — onto the admissions page, leaving families overwhelmed about their next steps. Very often, the next step is not taking a step at all.
Some experts estimate that businesses should consider updating their entire website every 24 months, given the rapid pace of change in website design trends.
Whether your website has been redesigned recently or hasn’t been touched in years, here are tips to improve your admissions page.

Get rid of confusing navigation
The most common mistake schools make is having too many navigation options. Many schools have multiple nav bars with 8+ different pages of content that parents must sort through regarding admissions. That’s too many! Keep it simple with less than four pages total.

Have one admissions checklist
Try to combine financial aid and tuition information into a single page, and if you have separate checklists for admissions and financials, combine those as well. For the parent, applying and being accepted to your school should be a single, linear experience on your website.

Make it easy for parents to contact the school
Contact information can still be difficult to find on many school websites. Offer detailed contact information for admissions staff and consider expanding options to contact the school – such as website chat or text message.

Keep your admissions and event pages updated
There are few things more off-putting to a prospective family than an admissions page littered with past deadlines or events. As soon as your admissions or re-enrollment deadlines pass, update your website with the new dates — even if they’re months away. Remove old event listings or mentions of past open houses the day after they’ve taken place, and be sure you schedule new dates at least a few months in advance to allow parents time to clear their schedules.

4. School Visits and Campus Tours
Creating the perfect school visit for prospective families means considering ways to differentiate yourself from other schools and showing parents the unique qualities that make your school a welcoming community. How do you do that with only a few hours of their attention?

Prep the people involved
Create an agenda for how each school visit should be conducted and make sure it’s followed. Each person responsible for a part of the agenda should be aware of their role and expectations. Try to institute time limits for activities so that families can see everything they need to and talk to each person that plays a role in their decision, whether that’s the admissions office, business office, homeroom teacher, band director, soccer coach, and so on. Assign the family a school ambassador to walk them around the school — not just conduct the tour — so they always have a guide with them.

Provide some extras
If you have a student attending a shadow day, provide lunch for them. Give ample time for the student to ask questions in a low-pressure environment: perhaps this means 1:1 time with the school guidance counsellor or a student leader. Have some swag on hand to gift the student before they leave. A school shirt can be a great reminder of their experience during their tour.

Offer answers to questions before they’re asked
Consider carefully what information you’ll give the parents when they walk through the doors and the information they can take home when they leave. While a viewbook can be a good overview of the school, an FAQ sheet or a “day in the life” document for the student’s particular grade level can offer additional insight that isn’t easily gleaned from a viewbook or classroom observation. Parents may not specifically request a financial aid consultation during their visit/tour. Hence, a good practice is to offer a sit-down with the business office regardless of whether it is requested. That way, you can field questions the family may have but are too afraid to ask.

5. Writing the Perfect Post-Admissions or Exit Interview Survey
It’s easy to speculate about what is or is not working in a school admissions process. It’s also easy to speculate why a family may choose not to return for another school year. Getting actionable data about these things is as easy as implementing post-admissions and exit interview survey processes.

Post-admissions survey
After a family is accepted, consider sending them a post-admissions survey that allows them to answer questions anonymously about their experience. Here are some suggestions of questions to ask:
• How did you first hear about our school?
• What were other schools you were considering, if any?
• What initial concerns did you have about our school?
• What was the most important factor in making your choice to attend our school?
• What were the best parts of the admissions process?
• What parts of the admissions process did you find frustrating or difficult?
• Were our admissions policies clear?
• How would you like to receive information from our school going forward?
• On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely would you be to recommend our school to a friend or colleague?

Exit interview
Suppose you’ve received notice that a family will not be returning. In that case, an exit interview is a valuable way to learn about the reasons for their departure and make adjustments in the future, if necessary. Here are some suggestions of questions to ask departing families:
• Why have you decided to leave us?
• What caused you to start looking for a new school?
• What would need to change here for you to stay?
• Why would you recommend our school to a friend? Or why not?
• What two or three things did you appreciate about your child’s experience?
• Were you treated as a valued member of this community?
Contact FACTS to learn more about admissions strategies or to see FACTS Application & Enrollment in action.

Written by: Caitlin Miller

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