Online Checklists: Keeping Families and Schools Organized and Happy

Make application and enrollment season easier for yourself and your team by streamlining your checklists and forms for your school’s online application. Spending some time planning and organizing your application and enrollment process at the beginning of the school year will pay off when you are in the thick of the admissions season

One thing I love about electronic forms and online checklists is setting expectations for parents about what is required at each stage of application and enrollment. When parents log in to their parent portal account, they can see exactly what they need to complete. If parents understand what they need to do, they become more self-sufficient; reducing the number of phone calls and emails to the school. 

Schools can take advantage of parent portal customization to show school pride. This is a great place to tell parents how excited you are to welcome their child to your school. Adding custom welcome messages, videos, and images show parents they are special and valued. A little enthusiasm from the school feeds parent and student engagement. 

 

Checklist Expectations

There is an expectation from parents that their checklists are accurate. If an item is marked as required – they believe it is required. If an item is marked as optional, they may or may not complete it. Administrators must ensure that the checklists are 100% accurate before publishing them. This includes reviewing all dynamic fields that may show or hide checklist items based on a response from the application. For instance, if the application shows that a student is international, the application checklist should display all required items for international students. In contrast, a domestic student should not see any “international only” checklist items.

Schools have an opportunity to build trust with parents through the application and enrollment process. If the information the school is requesting seems reasonable, the parent views the school as competent (eg. emergency contact information, school history, relevant medical information…). In contrast, if a domestic student has international requirements on their checklist, parents might question the validity of the school. This might plant a seed of doubt. 

 

Is this everything?

Parents take for granted that everything the school needs from them is on the checklist and online forms. Parents view this as the one-and-only place to complete forms. It is unexpected for schools to send an email outside of the checklist requesting an additional form. Parents especially do not expect to complete a paper form that they must return to the school. 

This is where school planning and inter-department communication is necessary to enhance the parent experience. The finance team needs to make sure their forms are included on the checklist – in addition to the medical forms for the nurse. There are many instances where different departments may be requesting duplicate information on different forms. For instance, does the field trip permission slip ask about food allergies? Is this information already provided by the parents on the medical history form?  Perhaps forms could be combined, making the application or enrollment process more efficient for parents. 

It does take time for schools to be proactive in organizing information across departments. But, one thing parents hate is getting paper forms at back-to-school events and then filling out a paper form with duplicate information (which the parent has already provided on a separate online form).  We want every step of the application and enrollment process to leave families feeling confident that the school leadership is organized and competent. 

 

Online Checklist and Forms Best Practices

Follow these best practices to keep your school organized and your parents happy.

Do’s Don’ts
Ensure only relevant checklist items appear for each student Have one checklist for all students
Use welcoming language in the parent portal to develop a sense of community Use vague or unenthusiastic language in the parent portal
Check spelling and grammar Misspell words or have confusing information
Include all required forms and documents for the parents to provide Request some documents and forms via the parent portal and later provide a paper-packet for parents to complete
Auto-populate as much information on electronic forms as possible Request parents to manually provide the same information repeatedly
Use positive phrasing for your call to action (eg. Complete your applications by March 1st!) Use negative phrasing (eg. Your application is late if you submit it after March 1st!)

 

In following the Do’s above and avoiding the Don’ts, you will meet parent expectations, improve your school’s efficiency, and you will be more likely to convert applicants to enrollment. Schools can capitalize on opportunities to build trust and community through all steps of the application and enrollment process while becoming more efficient in the process. 

 

The Alternative

Parents are smart. They have seen electronic forms and checklist before.  Parents know that schools need information for every child. Parents will be frustrated if you give them a paper-packet to complete.  Nobody wants to write their child’s name, grade, date of birth, and gender on the top of 15 pages. There are families who might decline to apply or enroll if you are using paper forms in the 21st century. Parents may doubt a school’s credentials if the application and enrollment process is paper-based and repetitive. 

 

Help Me Help You

While some schools are very comfortable switching to online records and data collection, others may struggle to make the change. Maybe your school is ready to abandon a very manual, repetitive process to dive into technology.  Whether you are a technical pro or a novice, efficient checklists and online forms help both parents and schools. Parents value the common sense and ease of online forms. Schools benefit from having all records in one (online) location that is easily viewable for school staff. With online forms and checklists, we meet parent needs for clear expectations (while building community) and we keep schools organized.


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