Simply put, collaboration makes admissions work better. Not only that, but collaboration will also lead to a better experience for your families, which is what our work is really all about. For those of us in admissions, the saying “a rising tide lifts all boats” rings especially true. When you choose to work with other schools, you can establish a stronger foundation to market your own school while working together to inform families of the benefits of investing in a private school education. Not to mention you’ll likely gain deep friendships with colleagues at other schools along the way.
In this blog post, we’ll share a few key aspects to create a successful collaboration and some of the benefits of being part of a consortium.
The Keys to Successful School Collaboration
A lot of schools are hesitant to work collaboratively because they’re afraid to give away their own ideas. People can be hesitant to share their marketing and recruiting strategies. But in order for collaboration to work, you have to have confidence in your own school. You have to believe that your school has particular and unique strengths to offer.
You also have to believe that not every school is the right fit for every student. At the end of the day, you want students to choose your school because it feels like the best fit for them. And if your school isn’t the best fit for a particular student, you have to be okay with the student matriculating to another school- and know that’s where the student should ultimately land.
2. Pick the Right Group
You want to establish a collaboration or consortium with schools that have a common thread but are not exactly like your own school. The common thread can be geographic, size-based, or centered on a specific program you offer. On the flip side, though, you also want to align with schools that have enough unique characteristics to distinguish you from one another. You want a natural partnership. You don’t want to feel threatened.
An easy starting place is to explore where your natural tendencies are right now. Is there a colleague at another school that you always pick up the phone to talk to? Is there a school that is often mentioned when you’re talking to prospective families? Lean into existing connections to find the schools you might want to work with.
3. Keep Your Group Contained
It’s also wise to keep the size of your consortium group contained. A consortium of 10 schools may be too many. Every school in the consortium should be able to participate equally during events and you should aim to keep your events digestible for families. This means that you need to be comfortable saying no to other schools if it means your consortium will grow too large.
4. Establish How the Group Will Run
The more specific you can be about the purpose of your group, the more in-sync and successful you’ll be. You should be clear upfront if your consortium will be a travel consortium and what level of collaboration you want. Will you host events, work on professional development, and travel together? How often will you meet? Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to all agree philosophically on doing things one way or another at your individual schools because, at the end of the day, each of you works for your own institution and may feel differently. But you should absolutely agree on how you’ll do things in this specific group.
5. Form Real Relationships
You need to form deep and genuine relationships with your colleagues at the other schools in your consortium. The schools in your consortium will consist of colleagues you trust so you can let your guard down and talk shop with them in a trustful way. You can’t just get together half an hour before an event. You need to invest in the group. Organize frequent phone calls to talk regularly and consider engaging in professional development together. Bringing your teams together for professional development opportunities, like a joint office retreat, can be affordable and beneficial for all.
6. Know Your Strengths + Key Differentiators
If you’re doing admissions work, and you do your job well, you need to know your school’s strengths. You have to be able to distinguish your school from other private and independent schools with prospective families and have a firm grasp on what differentiates your school.
You should know the three to five things that distinguish your school from other schools. Your differentiators could be anything from your specific location to a signature program you offer. Lean into an achievement or an accomplishment of your school. There’s no need to speak ill of another school. Instead, focus on what makes your school great.
7. Be Transparent + Honest About Budget
You’ll likely be sharing some marketing dollars to reduce overall costs. With that, you need to be open to not everyone doing everything. You don’t all have to be involved in the exact same things or travel everywhere. You might do an event that only three schools can go to because of travel budgets and that’s ok.
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The Benefits of Collaboration
Better Serve Your Families
We should primarily be focused on the experience we give our families. At the end of the day, it’s not about us, it’s about helping applicants find the school that is a strong fit for them. You’re going to serve families best by doing consortium work. For example, when you work with a consortium, families can tune into one virtual event and learn about five schools rather than attending five different virtual events. That’s significant when time is precious. The family will ultimately decide the best fit for their child.
Enjoy Work + Bring the Fun to Admissions
Collaborations can also help you have more fun with admissions. When families see that admission officers are down to earth, friendly, and jovial with colleagues from other schools, we become more relatable, more approachable to families.
Often students visit our school and then go interview at another school in our consortium because the Mid-Atlantic Boarding School Group is based on geography. We encourage prospective applicants to pass along a hello to the next admissions director, and we mean it. I think, in that moment, we show students and families that we are relatable and we try not to take ourselves too seriously. In turn, we try to de-escalate any tension the student may feel. If you make this work competitive, it’s counter to what we’re supposed to be doing for students. We might as well have fun with our jobs and make the process easier, and more enjoyable, for the families.
Gain Helpful Data + Insights
It probably goes without saying, but you shouldn’t share confidential data or information about specific applicants with colleagues in your consortium. Your families and prospective families’ privacy is of utmost importance. But you can talk about trends, challenges, and opportunities. Talking to your consortium colleagues on a regular basis can help you understand market trends better and affirm some of your own thinking and decisions.
Further Your Reach
By hosting events with a small group of other schools, you are inviting families who are part of the inquiry pool at all schools which means the reach for your own school will go further. You may even expand your inquiry pool because families learn about your school even though they attended an event to learn about a different school.
The Purpose of Collaboration: Working Together to Find Best Fit Families
We all want to fill our schools, but more than that, we want to fill them with the right students, and we want to make the process of finding a school enjoyable and exciting for families. Our primary purpose as a group is to educate communities about what we love most about boarding schools and share why we think it’s a great option for families. We target a lot of the same families and work together to attract them. Then, from there, we work together to figure out which school will fit them best.
Big thank you to Peter Curran, Associate Head of School and Dean of Admission at Blair Academy and Molly Dunne, Director of Admission at The Peddie School for sharing their insight and tips in this post.
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