Looking for ways to maximize enrollment opportunities at your school? In this Ultimate Guide to Increasing Enrollments in K-12 schools you'll learn everything from attracting prospective parents all the way through to closing the deal.
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How the enrollment process has changed
The past 20 years have been marked by incredible progress. We carry computers around in our pockets. Self-driving cars are now a reality. Social media has become an essential part of society. Even the average family looks completely different to what you would have expected even a decade. Amongst all this change, businesses (including schools!) are required to quickly adapt to keep in line with customer expectations.
Before the explosion of the internet, schools held all of the information that parents needed to make an informed choice when enrolling their child. Want information about the school’s values? We’ll mail you a prospectus. Need information about fees? Contact our admissions team. Keen to speak to another family about their experience with the school? Let our administration team put you in touch.
Today, parents can obtain all of this information and more by performing a few quick internet searches. In response, schools need to change the way they approach enrollments.
Competition and innovation
It’s no secret that with all this change, getting your message out has never been easier or cheaper. Schools are making the switch from cost-intensive advertising methods (like billboards and buses) to inexpensive methods of advertising like social media and PPC advertising.
However, the downside to increased visibility is increased competition. Schools are now fighting for every last enrollment — and not just with other independent schools, but also with government-funded schools in the area. To keep up in this rapidly changing climate, schools have been forced to innovate to ensure their message cuts through and resonates with prospective parents.
Focus shifted from school to family
A major innovation in the way schools are driving prospective parents to their school is by shifting the focus to the family rather than the school. As the population of prospective parents shifts from Gen X-ers to Millennials, schools are adjusting their marketing methods in turn.
This generation of parents is no longer content to simply enrol their child in their local school, or the school that they attended, or the school with the best academic record. Instead, they are looking for a school that will provide the best opportunities and fit for their child. In order to meet these needs, schools need to tailor their communication to make it unique and personalized to the family, rather than simply rely on standard school messaging.
The move to online enrollments
The third big change in school enrollments is in the way that the entire process can be conducted online. Time-poor parents no longer tolerate clunky, multi-step processes that require a desktop computer, a printer and several trips back and forth to their school of choice. They expect to be able to do everything required for an enrollment application online, from their mobile device.
On the school’s side, there are enormous benefits to switching to digital enrollments, along with simply meeting parents’ expectations. Your school is able to cut down on paper waste, easily transfer student data directly into your student information system, and you can quickly and easily take payments online. With all these benefits, online solutions are quickly becoming the norm when it comes to the school enrollment processes.
Understanding prospective parents
The key to driving enrollments in 2020 is for schools to provide the best possible enrollments experience for parents. Receiving personalized and engaged communication from one school, compared to generic and sparse communication from a competitor can greatly influence prospective parents’ choices.
In order to provide an amazing end-to-end enrollments process, schools must first have a deep understanding of their database. Knowing the needs and wants of prospective parents and their children allows schools to better nurture the family through each stage of their journey through to enrollment.
What is a lead?
The term ‘lead’ is often more commonly associated with traditional sales processes. It refers to an individual who has expressed an interest in purchasing a product or service from your business. These steps include calling or emailing you, signing up for a free trial or visiting your business. Companies try their best to track all of the interactions that a lead will have with the business to find out which activities are the best at engaging leads, and which leads are more likely to purchase.
Schools are often hesitant to use this term in regards to prospective parents because it can depersonalize the relationship between enrollment teams and families. While it is true that the enrollment process is different from traditional sales, tracking prospective families’ interactions with your school is crucial to growing your enrollments. This means it can be useful to understand prospective families as ‘leads’ in order to map out the best methods to nurture them.
Understanding the needs and wants of every prospective parent is a daunting undertaking — in fact, you almost certainly don’t have the resources to write individual, personal emails to every single different family in your database. So how do you keep your communications with leads meaningful? Enter personas.
Personas are a fictional character profile that represents a specific type of person that interacts with your school — think, Grandpa George or Alumnus Amy. Personas help you to group your leads into segments and then communicate with them on an individual level. You can get started with personas by reviewing your school customer relationship manager (CRM) and looking for commonalities between the people who are applying for enrollment.
The customer journey
Once you know who is considering enrollment at your school, it’s time to map out the journey that they will take from awareness through to consideration and finally to decision. Having a thorough knowledge of their ‘customer journey’ and the roadblocks they may encounter along the way helps you to create strategic activities that will nurture them through each stage.
Having a rough idea of the customer journey also helps you to improve the process based on your prospective family’s experiences. Reducing the number of steps a prospective parent has to take will, in turn, make the process simpler and more time-efficient for them resulting in fewer abandonments.
Customer relationship management
All of these activities — tracking interactions with your school, creating personas, mapping out the customer journey and improving the customer experience — all fall under the broad umbrella of customer relationship management. The goal of customer relationship management is to develop meaningful and personal relationships with prospective families, resulting in increased enrollment applications at your school.
To carry out effective customer relationship management, schools need to have a wealth of information about prospective families in a database. The database needs to be easy to update and shareable so various members of your school team can access the information. For this reason, many schools are switching from using spreadsheets to track enrollments to using specific customer relationship management software, also known as a CRM.
Attracting prospective parents
It’s no secret that the first step in the enrollments process is to attract prospective parents to your school. In the previous decades, schools relied on word of mouth and reputation to collect high-quality leads and continue cycling families through their enrollments funnel. In 2020, due to increased competition, schools are having to actively push their message out into their community to continue to draw families in.
In a world of 24/7 advertising vying for parents’ attention, schools need to be able to summarize the biggest reason that parents should choose them over the competition — and do it succinctly. This is known as a unique selling proposition (or USP) and it’s at the heart of all successful school marketing efforts. Once you’ve defined your USP, it’s time to get to work getting it in front of prospective families in the best possible way.
In the digital era, the number one marketing tool is your school website. It’s the digital equivalent of a billboard — showcasing your brand, your USP and your facilities — but with a much bigger impact.
Having a well-designed website gives you the opportunity to make a quick emotional connection with prospective parents through the images and content that you use on your homepage or landing page, and then draw them in further by communicating your values and giving them the additional information they need to consider your school. For this reason, it’s important that any advertising or marketing activities you undertake all lead back to your school website.
The good old blog is one of the most tried and true methods of increasing awareness about your school’s USP, programs and facilities. As a pillar of the inbound marketing methodology (where you attract customers through company-created ‘free’ educational resources), many schools are implementing a blogging strategy to drive enrollments.
Publishing your content on your own blog is a great way to build up your search engine optimization (SEO) and domain authority — however, the downside is, this takes time. If you want to get your message out to a broader network, it’s a good idea to consider sharing your blog content on third-party sites, including social media, forums and other blogs. This helps schools to generate new leads from audiences that may not have heard of your school.
While inbound marketing is arguably the best long-term strategy that your school can employ, paid advertising can help you get your message in front of prospective parents much faster. Advertising can include traditional methods (such as putting a notice in the local newspaper or purchasing billboard space) or digital (such as paid social media or Google Ads).
Because it can be difficult to master all of the different marketing channels that are available, many schools look to enlist a marketing agency. Marketing agencies work with your school to identify the types of advertising that will work the best for your school and achieve the results you’re looking for within your budget.
Social media is quickly becoming a popular way to increase awareness and drive enrollments in schools. Alongside your website, social media can be a great tool to promote the goings-on around your school, including student and alumni achievements, events, updates and more. They are also an excellent avenue for fostering two-way communication between your school and your community.
Most schools in 2020 are choosing to combine a number of social media platforms according to their marketing goals. Regardless of which platforms you choose to invest in, it’s important to keep your information updated across all channels and focus on creating content that suits the platform that you are posting on. Read our guide to social networks to get an idea of which channels might be right for your school.
Regardless of which advertising channels you choose to invest in, having a solid reputation management strategy in place is crucial for all schools. Your school’s reputation in the community is what will draw prospective parents to consider you for enrollment. But if you are just starting out, or don’t make it into the news very often, how will parents know that your school can be trusted?
In this case, it’s important to seek out social proof — testimony or reviews from others to determine how we think about a particular business (including your school!). You can proactively gather social proof by reaching out to existing parents and asking them to write a review for your school that you can use on your website, social media, print marketing and more.
The final way to attract prospective parents is by throwing open your school doors and letting them wander around inside. That’s right, we’re talking about open days. The success of open days is debated, as parents tend to favour smaller, more personalized tours of your grounds, however, there’s no denying that open days can be a great way for schools to cast a wide net by allowing anyone to come and engage. They also allow prospective parents to wander through your school and engage with other parents and current students.
Lead nurturing activities
Once a parent has become a lead (by expressing interest in your school), it’s important that you remain top-of-mind while they consider all of their options for enrollment. Lead nurturing activities are designed to nudge parents through each stage of the enrollments customer journey, while also building a relationship with the family and the student to be enrolled.
There are a number of activities that schools can choose to implement to nurture parents along. Regardless of which activities you choose, it’s important that you ensure they are personalized to the student and constantly encourage two-way communication by inviting feedback from the parents.
Have you ever had a company provide you with a quote for a service (say, electrical work at your house) and then disappear? It’s likely that you forgot about them and either delayed the service or went with another company. How different would your experience be if they had checked in on you every couple of weeks to keep the conversation going?
To avoid annoying your prospective families, make it your aim to keep your interactions educational and helpful. Brainstorm a list of common questions that prospective parents might have about your school, and set up an automated email sequence to drip feed the answers to them. You can also schedule phone calls to check in with prospective parents to see if you can provide them with any further information.
Contact across multiple channels
An effective omni-channel marketing strategy does one thing: it communicates the same message in different ways to provide a seamless and consistent experience. Your parents use multiple channels as they’re progressing through the enrollments process, including search engines, forums, social media, and more. The important thing is that no matter where they are looking, they are hearing the same thing.
Emails play a crucial role in nurturing parents through the enrollment funnel, by reminding them about upcoming deadlines and providing them with additional opportunities to engage with your school. You can also segment your email list based on their enrollment pipeline stage to move them along to the next stage. For example, if the parents have registered for a tour or open day, you can set up reminder emails to ensure they attend, and follow up emails with a school prospectus.
Inviting prospective parents to events is a great way to get them to engage with your school community and nudge them further along the road to enrollment. Your events might be specifically designed for prospective families, such as tours or open days, or they might be general school events that are open to the wider community. Both can be incredibly effective.
The final nudge activity is remarketing. Remarketing is an automated, digital method for showing advertisements to people who have interacted with a specific page on your website (for example, your enrollments page). You can retarget people who are browsing on third-party websites through the Google Display Network or on social media by installing a tracking pixel on your website.
Closing the deal
After you’ve nurtured parents all the way through to the point where they have applied for enrollment, it might be tempting to sit back and relax. Unfortunately, an enrollment team’s work isn’t done until you’ve sealed the deal and they’ve accepted your offer of enrollment.
On average, most parents will apply for 2.5 schools, meaning they will receive at least 2 letters of offer. Because of this, it’s important that your school is regularly reviewing your letter of offer to ensure it reads as well as possible to sway parents to your school.
Understanding those that don’t enrol
Hopefully, the majority of students who receive your letter of offer happily accept and are quickly integrated into your school community. But what about the ones who don’t accept? Some schools will move on quickly to extend another offer to replace the student, but smart schools follow up to see if there was a roadblock that stopped the parents from completing the process. By understanding the reasons they didn’t enrol, schools have the opportunity to potentially ‘save’ the enrollment by providing alternative solutions, or collect the data to potentially improve their process or communication.
Sometimes your school might receive more enrollment applications for places in a particular grade level than you actually have available. When this happens, it’s essential to have a clear waitlist management process in place so that your team can easily filter through applications and assign them a position within the queue.
Leveraging a customer relationship manager (CRM) such as Digistorm Funnel can help to streamline waitlist management through lead scoring and data segmentation. It’s likely that your school has an ‘ideal applicant’ in mind when looking through your enrollment applications. Factors that make a student a great fit for your school might include considerations such as; whether the student already has a sibling enrolled at your school, the proximity of their home, or whether they’re the child of an alumnus.
No matter what factors go into deciding that a student is a great fit for your school, you’ll want to be able to identify their application quickly – this is where lead scoring comes in! Lead scoring is a tool within our CRM that enables you to assign ‘points’ to a lead based on various attributes that determine their value. In doing so, your admissions team will be able to view priority waitlisted applications at a glance.
Streamlining internal processes
One of the driving forces behind implementing a school CRM, is the number of new enrollments that slip through the cracks due to clunky internal processes. We know just how competitive the education landscape currently is, not only between private and independent schools, but due to the rising number of public school enrollments too. So it’s essential that your admissions process runs like a well-oiled machine in order to maximize your school’s enrollment opportunities.
Every school is different and so are the steps that prospective families take to reach enrollment. This is why it’s important to have a system that’s set up to account for custom enrollment stages that are specific to your school’s process. Getting this set up correctly means that you’ll gain a clear view of where every single lead is within your enrollment pipeline. From here, your admissions team will be able to nurture each lead to the next enrollment stage more successfully and be able to more accurately predict expected enrollment numbers.
Using a school CRM
There are many great uses for spreadsheets – take budgeting, time tables, and trip itineraries, just to name a few. But, when it comes to managing your schools' enrollment process, spreadsheets simply just don’t cut it. If your admissions team relies on spreadsheets to manage enrollments, you’ll probably find that they’re spending the majority of their time drowning in administration and data entry, instead of connecting with prospective families.
Sound familiar? Then it’s time to consider making the switch to a school CRM. CRMs include functionality that allows you to quickly sort your database however you choose by using filters and segments. This functionality provides you with a quick and simple method of organizing and understanding prospective enrollment information.
Imagine if all of your prospective student data could be collected in one place and then seamlessly transferred into a central database with no effort required from your admissions team. Sounds like a dream right? Well, a CRM can turn this dream into a reality. Schools can add integrated forms to their website that collect data and then automatically input parent and student information directly into the CRM database.
Upon completing a form — for example, a contact form, or an expression of interest, or a tour registration — that student is entered as a Lead, indicating to the school that they are a potential enrollment. This process effectively removes manual data entry for your school and speeds up the initiation process of a new potential enrollment.
We know that chasing up enrollment application fees can be a bit of a pain point for many schools. A school CRM can also help to alleviate this by integrating your online enrollment form with your school’s bank account or payment gateway. For example, Digistorm Funnel enables you to set up your form to collect payment when parents lodge their application or set up an automatic email in your enrollment workflow to send a friendly reminder to parents who are yet to make payment.
Congratulations! You’re now caught up on everything you need to know about K-12 enrollments. Thinking about taking the next step? Get in touch with us to learn more about what a dedicated CRM can do for your school.