The Ride to Independent Schools is a parent survey conducted each year by The Enrollment Management Association (EMA). EMA recently released the 2017 version of the survey having surveyed over 2,700 parents whose child took the SSAT between “August 1, 2016, and May 30, 2017, with the assumption being that this group accurately reflects those families actively seeking admission into independent schools for the 2017-2018 academic year (p.6).”
If you haven’t reviewed the report yet, I encourage you to download a copy here: 2017 The Ride to Independent Schools.
While there is a wealth of information in the report that will appeal to day schools, boarding schools, and international schools, I was struck by three themes that I’d like to bring to your attention.
1. How Do You Know Your Academic Program Is Strong?
From the report, the two most important factors for families in deciding to apply to independent school are related to a strong academic program, specifically, “Provide an education that will challenge your child” and “Develop and/or maintain a love of learning in your child (p.15).” While this idea is something that we’ve all understood the importance of for years, I began to think about how schools measure and/or document that they have strong academics.
Are schools making that case in their marketing? Are they sharing internal and external measures through which prospective parents can evaluate their academic program? How does your school demonstrate your strong academic program to prospective families? Through SAT scores? Through your college placement record?
I don’t have a universal answer for these questions, and in all honesty, the answers will be individual for each school, but I challenge you to answer these questions for your school and then incorporate those answers into your school marketing.
2. Are You Paying Attention To These Marketing Channels?
As a school marketer, I quickly gravitated to the section about prospective families primary research methods. Unsurprisingly for me, the primary research method is still “parents you know who have children attending/have attended the school (p.19),” otherwise known as word of mouth marketing.
While this result didn’t surprise me, I simply wondered how many schools recognize word of mouth marketing as their school’s primary marketing channel and as a result, do they spend any resources (time and/or money) to foster this marketing channel and increase and improve the word of mouth marketing at their school.
The second highest primary method is an “individual school website(s) (p.19)” which again wasn’t very surprising but when you couple this fact with prospective families first point of contact with schools being an inquiry form (p.20) and the rise in “stealth applications.” Stealth applicants are “those who are researching and applying to schools online without having set foot on campus and are therefore being identified as prospects much later than in the traditional admission flow (p.20).” When you combine the above factors together, it begins to paint a very compelling picture of how important your school website is for prospective families to research your school and then to convert them into inquiries.
What are you doing to ensure that your school website accurately reflects your school and it’s unique place in your market? Additionally, what are you doing to make sure it’s easy for a family to convert from your website (or blog)? For example, does your website have multiple inquiry forms?
Finally, social media only accounts as the primary method used to research school for 1% of surveyed families (p.19) which is not surprising to me. I’ve written in the past that social media, by itself, will not solve your school’s enrollment problems and that social media should be used as part of an inbound marketing methodology to help your school with increasing enrollment.
Are you using an inbound marketing methodology? To learn more about inbound marketing, I recommend that you read this book: Inbound Marketing, Revised and Updated: Attract, Engage, and Delight Customers Online
3. The Customer Experience is Key
The final theme that ran all throughout the report is that while prospective families admission experience is improving there is still a lot of work that needs to be done on the part of schools.
A book that I’ve recently shared with my staff helps to underscore the importance of the customer experience. The book is called Service Fanatics: How to Build Superior Patient Experience the Cleveland Clinic Way and is written about the change implemented at the Cleveland Clinic to help improve their patient experience. I feel that the comparison between healthcare and education is apropos because unlike the old business axiom that the customer is always right, in healthcare and education the customer is not always right. If you do choose to read this book: Service Fanatics: How to Build Superior Patient Experience the Cleveland Clinic Way, I encourage you to substitute the word teacher/administrator for doctor and prospective and current family for patient.In the end, the more that we can do make the prospective parent admission experience better the more it will help our school and independent schools in general.Click To Tweet
While these are the major themes that resonated with me, I would love for you to share the thoughts, comments, or themes that resonated with you by posting them in the comments section below.