Making the right strategic decisions is important.
If you get the big picture wrong you are bound to fail.
Targeting the wrong family demographic, having mediocre teachers, mispricing your programs will all instantly get you into trouble.
Even so, with such intense competition, getting these right does not guarantee success. You still have to sweat the small stuff.
In the grand scheme of things, ignoring the hassles of a poor enrollment experience may seem like small potatoes to you. But small things matter more than you think.
Ultimately choosing a school for your child requires that your gut agrees with you. You have to feel good about it.
So, avoiding even the faintest feeling of frustration for visiting prospective families is essential.
1. Mystery Shopper Experience
Ask an outsider to call up and plan a school visit. Choose a friend or cousin who has nothing to do with your school and certainly has no children already enrolled. Let that person experience your school tour exactly as you present it to prospective students and parents. As an objective third party, their feedback will be both fresh and honest.
2. Welcome Board
Parents don't like uncertainty. Develop a 'Welcome Board' in the school lobby that welcomes prospective families and indicates the tour guide and the tour plan for the day. Before starting the tour run a short Q&A session asking prospective students and parents what they are interested in seeing. If they can’t articulate exactly what they expect, ask about the student's hobbies; and try to display some examples of their interests within the school. An exampled could be introducing the soccer coach to a student interested in soccer. This process will make them all feel so much more comfortable.
3. Choose your tour guide wisely
Choosing a tour guide requires thoughtful decision making.
Just think of how much of your school's future revenue depends on this person making a good impression. This person must have the energy to treat each prospective student in a truly personal way -asking them questions about their concerns and their dreams?
Make sure you choose someone who is both naturally extrovert and very passionate about your school's achievements.
4. Prepare the setting
i. How does your front office feel? It’s the first stop when parents enter the building. Is the person behind the front desk smiling? Does (s)he greet the visiting parents and students?
ii. what brand of coffee do you offer parents upon their arrival?
iii. do you make sure to have available parking spots for prospective parent visits?
iv. do you make sure to have extra umbrellas for rainy days?
Offering childcare during a tour can be a huge benefit for parents wanting to attend.
The reason some prospective parents do not participate in your events is that they do not have child care for their kids' siblings.
6. Invite Parents of Enrolled Students
Try to have a few parents of enrolled students join the tour to help address and empathize with prospective parents. Prospective parents love to hear from your enrolled parents who are in the 'parenting' trenches and with whom they can relate.
7. Health & Nutrition
Your tour should include the school cafeteria and samples of food available for student lunches.
8. High-value Topics
Make sure you also cover the following topics which rank at the top of parents' list when choosing a school:
- Academic excellence
- Extracurricular program
- Character building
- Religious values (if applicable)
- Quality of teachers
- Community Engagement
- Career Prep (if applicable)
- Use of Technology
- College Prep (if applicable)
- Health & Nutrition
9. Is your principal visible at open house events?
Parents like to see the leader of the school and how (s)he interacts with their team.
End your tour by giving the prospective parents and students an information packet about your school, your business card and the names/numbers of one or two parents with whom the prospective parents could speak (outside of the school setting).
Everyone who receives an information packet, especially during a school tour, should receive a follow-up phone call within three days of the visit.
12. Feedback from Participants and improvement actions
Document parents' and students’ additional questions, information needs, etc., evaluate the effectiveness of your tour and assign improvement actions to your team for the next open house.
13. Thank You Notes
Make sure your principal and at least one teacher send out a hand-written note of thanks to all families after a tour. Hand-written notes add a personal touch to the whole experience.
Your letter could include:
- Thanks for taking the tour and expressing enjoyment about meeting their family;
- At least one reference to an interest of the prospective student;
- An invitation to call the school with additional questions,
- Refer them to your website,
- Offer the availability of enrolled school parents and students to answer questions/share insights; and
- A postscript indicating the deadline for enrollment and tuition assistance applications (if applicable).