Nobody wants to be a number. Whether they’re buying a new car, shopping for household products online, or choosing an independent school for their child, every parent desires (and deserves) to be treated as an individual. After all, while their pain points, challenges, and needs may closely resemble those of other families, they’re unique. And that’s precisely why personalization in the admissions process is essential to your school’s success.
Like it or not, the families you engage with consciously and unconsciously compare their encounters with your school to experiences in other areas of life, including e-commerce purchases. So while choosing a school for a child is much more important than making a purchase on Amazon, they still expect a convenient and streamlined experience customized to their needs.
Today, we’re delving into what personalization means, why you need it, and how to personalize your admissions and enrollment experience to better engage families in 2021 and beyond.
What is Personalization?
Personalization in the admissions process means tailoring your experiences and communications to each family based on the data at hand — similar to how retailers send product recommendations based on previous purchases. By collecting information and using what you’ve learned to modify your messaging, you can send more relevant and meaningful communications.
For example, if you’ve discovered a prospective student is passionate about science, you could share a blog post about your school’s most recent science fair. If a child is interested in joining the soccer team, you could connect the parent with the head soccer coach or invite the family to the next game. This way, families feel recognized as individuals, appreciated, and wanted.
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Why Do You Need Personalization in Your Admissions Process?
I know what you’re thinking: personalization sounds great but impossible to scale for every family you interact with. Is the ROI worth the effort?
Here are a few reasons to consider personalizing your admissions and enrollment efforts:
1. Parents expect it
For the last decade or so, personalization in the admissions process was a “nice to have” — something schools did to set themselves apart from the competition but, ultimately, not a requirement. Today, though, it’s something families expect.
Millennials are the first generation of parents who spent most of their lives with the internet — and the entirety of their adult lives engaging with highly targeted and personalized brand messages. Personalization is so omnipresent in their lives that non-personalized marketing appears outdated and unsophisticated.
2. It fosters genuine connections
Although families may subconsciously compare their experience with you to brands like Amazon, they don’t consider choosing a school a simple transaction. Parents know the institution they select will significantly impact their child’s future, including their education, socialization, and ability to thrive later in life.
Personalizing your communications and experiences makes families feel more welcomed and assuages concerns that their child won’t be treated and appreciated as an individual. It allows you to demonstrate your commitment to identifying and nurturing students’ unique interests and proficiencies.
3. It helps boost enrollment and retention
Personalizing your experiences also allows you to showcase the things families care about most. If finding a school with an excellent fine arts program is important to a family, you’ll have an opportunity to highlight why yours is the best.
In other words, it helps kick start conversations that lead families further down the funnel — and keeps families engaged year after year.
How to Personalize Your Admissions and Enrollment Experience
It’s critical you focus on personalization at every step of the admissions process — from the moment you first engage with a potential family until matriculation all the way through to graduation (and even after).
Here’s how to personalize your admissions and enrollment experiences:
Plan out lead nurturing touchpoints and customize them based on what’s most important to each family. This way, you can continuously interact with families at key points in their journey. You can achieve this by segmenting families by persona, student interests, boarding vs. day families, international vs. domestic students, or any other criteria relevant to your school.
Your touchpoints should include:
- Phone calls
- Handwritten notes
- Direct mail
- One-on-one meetings
- Event invites based on interest (i.e., inviting a family interested in tennis to your next home tennis match.)
It’s critical you also include student ambassadors, faculty, and staff in your outreach campaigns. This way, families have an opportunity to engage with various members of your school community throughout their journey.
To make things easier for you and your team, use an enrollment management system to track students’ details and record each interaction. This way, you can keep tailoring messaging to their needs and interests. Additionally, an enrollment management solution will help prevent critical information from slipping through the cracks as families move from one admissions stage to the next.
When planning events, design experiences that cater to each segment. For example, plan financial aid nights or open houses with multiple track options for different needs and interests — like fine arts tracks, sports tracks, language tracks, and more. Additionally, offer shadow days where students can attend the exact classes they’re interested in taking.
3. Parent portal
Keep in mind, most of a family’s interactions with your school will be online, and it’s crucial virtual and in-person interactions are seamless and cohesive. If you’re not personalizing online experiences, it will feel cold, disconnected, and out of touch.
Ensure you choose a system with plenty of personalization functionality, including a customizable parent portal where you can display videos, images, and include plenty of information about activities they’re interested in. This will demonstrate how much your school cares about students as individuals rather than numbers on a roster.
It’s essential you continue to personalize even after families have completed the enrollment process. Doing so will not only boost retention by keeping families engaged but will also help you secure referrals and donations.
2 Ways to Make Personalization Easier
If you’re just delving into personalization in the admissions process for the first time, it can be a little daunting — especially when it comes to scaling those strategies across all current and prospective students.
Here are two things you can do to make personalization more manageable and effective:
1. Develop automated communication plans
The better you communicate with prospective students’ families, the higher your application and enrollment rates. And the better you communicate with existing students’ families, the higher your retention rates. But how can you possibly find the time to consistently and authentically communicate with every single family when you and your team are already overloaded with to-dos?
The solution is to put your personalization on autopilot. By building a communication plan around specific triggers and actions, you can ensure parents receive meaningful, tailored interactions at critical points in the process without you doing anything manually. Best of all, you can build out plans for every stage of the funnel, so everyone receives the right message at the right time.
2. Adopt an enrollment management system
If you haven’t already, prioritize adopting a strategic enrollment management system like SchoolAdmin. A great CRM will allow you to record contact information, details about past conversations, and useful notes to ensure every interaction feels as genuine as possible.
Additionally, the right software will allow you to set up automated communication plans with specific touchpoints in a way that’s seamless and user-friendly.
As an admissions and enrollment leader, you know families desire and deserve personal attention — but you also recognize that, with so much on your team’s plate, manually customizing every communication isn’t possible. However, by developing a communication plan, personalizing the journey, and leveraging a high-quality enrollment management system, you can tailor every message, event, and engagement to each family’s unique wants and needs without breaking a sweat.
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