The independent and private K-12 industry is constantly evolving, as are the trends for attracting and obtaining new students. However, one strategy remains consistent — hosting campus visits for prospective families. This is a game-changer in their decision-making process and a chance for them to envision themselves as a part of your school’s community.
In this blog post, learn how to identify goals, segment invitee lists, plan and promote your next event. With a successful strategy, you can find and attract the best, mission-fit students with a campus visit.
Identify Your Goals
Anytime you seek to execute a strategy, take time to plan out and determine what the goals of a campus visit should be. Any goals you create should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based (S.M.A.R.T) to make it easy to manage and accomplish those objectives. Let’s break it down, shall we?
Specific – To achieve your goal, be detailed in answering the following questions:
- Who will help you plan the campus visits?
- Who will help you achieve your goal?
- Who should you invite and why? (We will talk more about this here in a minute).
- What do you want to accomplish? Think about what the purpose of your visit is to get the best, mission-fit students and families to apply to your school.
- What type of campus visit are you planning? An open house, shadow day, or a small school tour?
- Where will you be hosting this event? Will you need specific rooms in your school reserved and cleaned before families come on-site?
- When is the best time to invite families to your school? Be sure to check other schools in your area and try to avoid dates that might make families choose between one or the other.
- What to avoid? Yes, another “what” to consider. Look at past on-site events to see what has not worked so great and avoid that on your next visit.
Measurable – How are you going to measure progress? How will you know if you reach your goal? Think about setting some milestones leading up to the event to make sure you stay on track.
- How many families are you expecting to attend?
- How are you tracking what families are signed up for the event?
- How will you track each marketing tactic you choose to reach out and invite families?
Attainable – Do you have the tools and personnel in place to make this event a success? If not, what do you need?
Relevant – Can families see themselves attending your school after their visit? Are the campus events relevant to your admission goals? Getting everyone’s buy-in and support sets the tone for the rest of the recruitment process.
Time-Based – Do you have enough time to plan and administer this strategy accurately? Where should your metrics be one month before the event? One week?
Segment Your Invitee List
In order to find the best, mission-fit families, each campus visit needs to be catered towards a specific target market. With marketing segmentation, you can start to narrow down list(s) and know who to invite to a campus visit and when.
What is marketing segmentation? It is the analysis that helps decide how your school will break down its list of students and families into smaller groups based on characteristics such as grade level, income, interests, needs, etc. These subset groups will help target families and provide a better understanding of how to cater to them specifically.
Here are a few examples of how to segment your lists:
- Let’s say there is a shortage of soccer players at your school and the coach needs help recruiting new students to play on the team. Now, maybe there’s a former soccer student who currently plays for a university or a professional team and you invite them to meet with your current players. This would be the perfect opportunity to invite all prospective families that indicated their child is interested in playing soccer at your school on their inquiry form or application.
- Perhaps the Theatre Arts Department is putting on a play in a few weeks. Simply create a subset of all prospective families who marked their interest in performing arts on their inquiry or application form. Invite all those families to tour the school, attend the play and have an opportunity to meet with the Theatre Director to ask questions and introduce themselves.
- Run a report to segment out current inquiries by zip code to target specific neighborhoods and families. Or separate lists by the previous or current school and ask those families to visit your school together.
When you invite families on campus, remember your S.M.A.R.T. goal and use the data captured on the dynamic inquiry forms or applications to segment out who to invite. Be specific and intentional. Use data on athletic preference, academic interest, who is a legacy, gender, or any other attribute. Segmented data should be used for attracting families based on their interests, so their visits are relevant and your attendance goals are attainable.
Promote the Campus Visit
Once you know exactly who to target for your campus visit, the next steps are to promote your event and invite families for whom it’s relevant. There are various ways to share your upcoming campus visits. Whether it is with text messages, emails, phone calls, mailers, social media, or all of the above, below are a few tips to consider to maximize the attendance of your segmented lists.
Text Messages. Studies have shown that text messages have a 98% open rate, while emails have closer to 20%. With text messaging, there’s little to no missed communications, and no junk mail to sort through. Most families keep their phones within arm’s reach, which means personalized invites can be viewed at a faster rate. Think about promoting the next campus visit through a text message, but keep in mind you’re limited to the number of characters to include in each message and can only send to families who opted-in to receive text messages.
Emails. When sending emails, it is all about what is sent, when you send it and the frequency that will drive responses and open rates. Personalizing each message is key to your recruitment process so that you can help families see their place in the story of your school. As a best practice, try to send out three to four emails leading up to the event. Send the first email over 15 days in advance, the second between 8-14 days, next 2-7 days and send the last promotional email the day before or the day of your event. According to Sleeknote’s analysis of when is the best time to send emails, it suggests that Tuesdays and Thursdays are the best days to send an email, and during the hours of 10 am – 11 am.
Phone Calls. If you received an inquiry or noticed someone started an online application, but they have not yet been on campus…give them a call! Talking to a live person is a great personal touch, as it creates trust and authenticity. It is a great idea to incorporate phone calls in your promotional efforts to help build a relationship with each family.
Mailers/Flyers. Paper promotions are an awesome way to get in front of families who might not have inquired or applied. Target specific neighborhoods and drop off flyers to feeder schools that can give the flyers to their students to take home.
Social Media. As you know, technology is rapidly advancing, and many people turn to social media for promotions and news. Consider using a social media managing tool to help plan ahead and automate promotional posts for your next campus visit.
A few options to consider include, HootSuite (which is what we use here at SchoolAdmin), Sprout Social, SparkFly, and Buffer. There are even a few of these tools that will do geotargeting. Just be aware as you utilize social media for promotion, that it cannot be personalized to each family. Cater to your segmented lists to get the families you want to attend a campus visit.
Whatever route your team decides to go, always include a simple call-to-action (CTA) for the families to either call to sign up for a campus visit or provide a link for them to register online. Consider using automated communication plans to send out emails or to set reminders of when to call. Learn more about communication plans here.
Recruit warm, welcoming volunteers for your team to help with the next campus visit. Be diverse and ask teachers, parents, students, the Head of School and Board members to participate. Each volunteer needs to feel comfortable in sharing their part in your school’s story and with asking a prospective family for their contact information. Most importantly, find volunteers who are enthusiastic. Those that you recruit should be prepared to help prospective families feel like your school is their next home.
If there is anything you take away from this post it should be to involve current students in the next campus visit. Find students that are genuine, authentic, clear communicators and enthusiastic about your school who will be a valuable resource for a successful campus visit. Use students to help check-in families, direct parking, act as greeters and hallway chaperones to guide parents to meeting places and classrooms or to walk around the school with you during a tour. Student behavior and demeanor are strong indicators of your school’s climate and culture.
Prepare Your School & Your Team
As we already mentioned, each family that walks through the front doors of your school wants to feel welcomed and be a part of the community. First impressions are everything. Now, let me ask you a few questions:
- How easy is it to navigate the school and find its entrance?
- When a new family steps onto campus for the first time, what do they think about the school?
- Does your school environment reflect its core values?
- When you start the tour, does it flow intuitively?
- Is the space inviting and welcoming?
Prepare your school by taking volunteers on a mock tour starting from the parking lot and get a fresh perspective. As an administrative professional, you spend a significant amount of time at school and might be blind to potential pitfalls that are obvious to your visitors.
The entire team of volunteers and staff members need to be well-versed in your school’s mission and passionate about being a part of the school’s family. If you are having multiple families on-site at once, have each volunteer stand out with lanyards and name tags, or matching T-shirts that say “We LOVE our Head of School” [including a funny picture of him/her]. You can make any campus visit super fun for volunteers and prospective families.
Prepare your team with guidelines and distribute it before each school visit. These guidelines can be a quick note stating all the expectations and responsibilities of everyone on the team. It can also include what signs to display for each campus visit, what the classroom appearance needs to be on days there is a tour, etc.
Pro tip: Distribute a list of families who signed up to attend a campus visit to the team. See if anyone knows someone that will be attending. It would be great for your families to have a familiar face to greet them and help answer questions about your school.
Customize Your Tours
This is your chance to capture each prospective family’s focus and be the number one school in their mind. You have your goals, the segmented invitee lists, you promoted wonderfully and now you have families registering and attending your campus visit. Now, you must customize all of your tours!
Take time before prospective families arrive to use your dynamic online inquiry forms to learn a little more about who is attending and what they are interested in. For example, if a group of families expressed their interest in the art program, then when they come to campus show them your art rooms, talk more about the program and maybe even have the Art Director available during that time to come say hi and answer questions.
Follow Up with Your Families
Follow up with every single family and encourage them to move forward to complete the application process. Provide an incentive with a deadline, such as a $50 discount off the application fee if they apply within two weeks of their campus visit. Give these families an extra reason not to sit and think for the next few months on whether they should apply or not. When there is an incentive in place, it gives you another reason to reach out to families who have a deadline approaching and have yet to complete their application. Set a reminder to check-in, answer any lingering questions they may have about your school and to remind them of the incentive.
Another great way to follow up with each family is with a simple handwritten thank-you note. Be attentive during the campus visit and jot down little things you notice and mention it in the thank-you note. For example, if a child expresses an interest in soccer, then in the follow-up thank-you note, invite them to the next home game with tickets.
Review and Revise
Make time to connect with the volunteers while the event is still fresh in their minds and review what went right and what can you do better next time. Take notes and kindly accept suggestions and feedback, especially from your volunteers that took time to help make this event a success. After reviewing, revise what to change and put those actions in place as you create a new S.M.A.R.T. goal for the next campus visit.
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