Recruiting and retaining students is becoming increasingly difficult.
Today, students and families no longer choose only between private or public schools. There are public, magnet, charter, pilot, and private schools that cater to increasingly specific interests.
The National Association of Independent Schools found that admissions officers must, on average, interact with 910 prospective students to fill just 100 seats.
In this competitive environment, how should school admissions teams recruit and retain students and their families? In this article, I will show you six concrete strategies that will help you make your admissions process efficient and ultimately successful.
1. Bringing Your Mission Statement To Life!
Your mission can be your most powerful student recruitment tool if it is both well articulated and crafted as an actionable guide.
To attract students and their families to your institution, you must effectively live your well-defined core values. The entire campus, top to bottom, and everything in between, must reflect your mission.
All Together Now
First, you need to ensure buy-in. Involve your administration and faculty in the development of your core values. These core values can then become a mission statement that defines the direction of your school.
Set aside a specific time-slot at the beginning of the school year for a meeting with administration and faculty to bring the mission statement to life. Establish an agenda for the meeting that encourages participation and creativity.
Bring your mission statement to life!
Once written, an effective mission statement shouldn’t hide behind the pages of your school’s handbook. Instead, it should become the driving force behind the actions your admissions officers, administration and faculty take each day.
Prospective students and their families are reading amazing mission statements at every school they consider. Here’s what will set you apart – bringing your mission statement to life on your campus and making it VISIBLE!
When a family tours your hallways and classrooms, they should be able to see the values reflected throughout the school.
Let’s say your mission promises to “celebrate our diversity.” You should have a bulletin board highlighting the range of nationalities represented in your school. Perhaps include examples of student work displayed that focus on cultural contributions of various groups.
Or maybe your mission stresses “self-directed project-based learning.” When a family tours classrooms, they should see this kind of lesson in action. Families will quickly notice if you advertise project-based learning but each classroom has a lecture taking place.
Again, it is vital for your faculty to be invested in your mission because they are the ones who must bring it to life every day.
A very important factor
According to the Secondary School Admission Test Board, the three most important factors when families choose a school are tours, interviews, and speaking with current students.
This means that families want to see if your mission translates to action in a student’s everyday life at school. It’s a vital factor in ensuring the enrollment of prospective students.
Despite the increasing role of technology in recruitment, families still primarily rely on opportunities to be face to face with a school’s community members before making final decisions.
Make sure you are providing those opportunities.
And don’t forget, once a student is enrolled and in classes, your recruitment work is not done. We will come back to this point later, but it is key for your students to be continuously experiencing your mission in action throughout their time at your school.
2. Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals
You cannot effectively run an admissions department purely on instinct.
Goal setting will give you direction and increase efficiency.
Don’t forget to make your goals SMART. That means specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-sensitive. Your SMART goals should directly address your mission and vision.
Your SMART goals should directly address your mission and vision.
First, your goals should be specific:
- Who do you want to recruit?
- What demographics are you targeting?
- What background or skills should recruits have?
- What is the purpose behind your admissions criteria?
Next, create a system for measuring your success. After all, what is not measured cannot be managed. Track which recruitment efforts lead to the enrollment of particular student groups.
Some questions you’ll need to ask are:
- How do families discover your institution? Is it referrals, your online presence, or recruitment events?
- What do families cite as the most significant factors that led them to enroll?
- Which open days or events were the most popular, and why?
It’s also important to be specific in your plan. What you are going to do, and who will be responsible needs to be well defined.
- When, where and how will you interact with prospective students and families?
- When, where and how will you show them your mission?
- Who will be responsible for capturing leads?
- Who will be responsible for converting those leads into enrollments?
From here, you need to develop an action plan based on all your findings.
This plan must be realistic and attainable in a planned time frame. What can you reasonably ask your admissions staff, faculty and administration to follow through on consistently?
3. The 5W2H method: A Plan of Action
Speaking of being specific in your plan, the 5W2H method is a highly effective and proven strategy which helps define and refine your plan of action.
Gather involved parties and review the following questions (in order):
- What is our action plan?
- Why are we taking these actions? What is the justification for each component of the plan?
- Where will the plan take place?
- When will it take place? (dates, deadlines)
- Who is responsible for different components of the plan?
- How will the plan be implemented? What is the process or what are the steps?
- How much will the plan cost?
These 5 W’s and 2 H’s cover all the elements required to bring your action plan to life.
Be realistic, and make sure you have the resources required to make it happen.
4. WIIFT (What’s in it for them?)
Your prospective parents and students are your clients, so your recruitment efforts must focus on their wants and needs.
Don’t focus your recruitment materials purely on your institution or where your institution excels. Instead, focus on the desires of prospective families and how your school can make those desires a reality.
The Secondary School Admission Test Board found that the three top reasons families consider a private school are:
A challenging and comprehensive education
Developing a love of learning
Small class sizes that provide individual attention
Integrate these elements into your mission. Make sure these themes come through at all levels of your recruitment efforts.
5. Re-recruit Your Current Students
Retention is a key aspect of recruitment. Once you’ve brought a student and their family into your institution, you must constantly re-recruit them.
At the heart of retention is your relationship with your students. You must provide students with active support beyond orientation and throughout their entire experience at your institution.
Here are some important factors to consider.
The importance of a Student Liaison Officer
Every student at your institution should have a trusted faculty member who makes regular contact and monitors their progress. They make an effort to establish a personal relationship with open dialogue. They make sure students feel comfortable reaching out when they need support.
Understanding your students
Some of the questions your student liaison should address are: What are their academic interests? What academic areas challenge them? What is their learning style? Where do they see themselves after graduation? What activities, interests or commitments do they have outside of school?
Establishing and maintaining profiles of students will help you to provide them with what they need, as well as help you to understand what is required to optimize retention. A student’s data profile should evolve over the course of their time at the school to provide an up to date snapshot of them as a student and community member.
Understanding the needs of each student will help you to direct them towards course placements and extracurriculars that align with their interests, strengths, and goals. You’ll also be able to guide troubled students towards support services such as your financial aid office, counseling center or tutoring center.
Provide a community environment for students
Students will be more likely to work through challenges and persevere at your institution if they have a network of peer support. You can help students make these connections with each other by offering a range of extracurricular options that cater to various interests. Match individual students with the right activity or club, and create opportunities for students to bond through events that build school spirit and a sense of unity.
Guidance and support
Finally, provide students with guidance specific to their future goals. Using their profile information, work with them to make a plan based on their individual strengths and weaknesses. Their future success is your priority, and they need to know that.
6. Bringing It All Together
Make sure your administration and faculty are invested in your recruitment and retention plan. Your plan will only be as successful as the sum of its parts, and your administration and faculty are the ones on the ground level.
Earlier, we talked about clearly defining core values and crafting a driving mission statement that SMART goals can be built around. It is vital to bring everyone in your institution on board with that mission.
They must incorporate your core values into their daily lives, whether that be in the curriculum they develop or the way they interact with potential and current students.
The moments in and out of the classroom are a part of your marketing strategy, and everyone involved must send a cohesive message about the values of your institution.
Word-of-mouth is an incredibly powerful tool for recruitment, and you can capitalize on this by making sure your values and mission are reflected throughout your institution.
Ultimately, these six fundamental aspects will help your school thrive in an increasingly competitive marketplace.