How does your admissions event stand out in the sea of competition trying to win over prospective families? What if your admissions event wasn’t just about new enrollments, rather, had a clear vision for retention?
Shu Ren International School is an International Baccalaureate PYP Mandarin immersion school located in the incredibly competitive independent school landscape of the greater Bay Area. Our school is located in the heart of Berkeley, California – a hub for creativity, social activism and entrepreneurs. The area and the education ecosystem has long been influenced by this energy and most recently the tech boom of Silicon Valley. Independent schools are seeking to meet the demand for unique education opportunities beyond public and charter options. Schools specializing in languages (such as Shu Ren), art, chamber music, Socratic methods, etc. are abundant throughout the Bay Area. In addition, the Bay Area is the most expensive location in the United States. Despite the high salaries, the choice to pay for private schools (especially with multiple children in a family) can be a financial strain as housing, taxes and the general cost of living can be stressful.
Being a small school (enrollment is 100 from Pre- Kindergarten 2 to Grade 5), admissions is a whole-school initiative and imperative to meeting enrollment targets. The culture of admissions in an ultra competitive market is equally gaining new enrollments, while energizing your school community to work towards a common goal.
There are three main elements that I focus on for each admissions or community event.
Be Retention Focused
As ironic as this may appear, it’s actually what I believe is at the heart of enrollment, especially in a saturated market. Retaining families is less costly than enrolling new ones. Thus, I want to utilize any admissions event as an opportunity to build community culture. One such event at Shu Ren which brings together our entire school is called Sparking Curiosity. This event is a targeted new enrollment and re- enrollment event highlighting our inquiry-based learning framework. Our audience is parents whether prospective or already enrolled. Each class teacher gives a demonstration of an inquiry-based lesson to the parents with the goal to give them insight into how student learning is articulated in the classrooms of Shu Ren.
Sparking Curiosity is a wonderful way to build this culture as parents inform parents. Parents are allowed to attend any grade level they are interested to know more about. Some choose their child’s current grade while some are curious about the level one or two grades above. The ideal result is each classroom will have a nice mix of parents with children in different grade levels. This event allows parents (current and prospective) to break that silo of being conditioned to only your child’s grade level. It gives the opportunity to build connections across the school with other parents and different grade level teachers. As much as Sparking Curiosity is an admissions event, it is equally meant to deepen the roots of the school community.
Be Reaching Out
Not every parent or teacher is the cheerleader type ambassador at Shu Ren. I have a handful of enthusiastic parents who will come alongside the school and support admissions. It’s the same with the staff — whereas some events, like Sparking Curiosity involve them quite a bit, for some other smaller events, I may need the assistance of just one or two staff volunteers. However comfortable I am to rely on the same group of people, it’s important to consistently reach out to others in the community to support the work of admissions. Each and every event, there is an invitation for anyone in the school community to support. This requires a lot of direct asking and encouragement for some parents to finally decide to volunteer. Kirk, a Shu Ren parent, recently started to get involved with our admissions presentations at our events. As a parent for the last 6 years, Kirk was hesitant to get involved. He’s a busy college professor and administrator, and he lives far away. This year, Kirk has integrated into our admission events. As a college professor and administrator responsible for student assessment, Kirk draws the parallel between how Shu Ren’s vision and learner outcomes parallel what employers are wanting out of college graduates. Keeping the door open for parents and teachers to access these opportunities to partner with admissions can be a long road, but don’t stop asking. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
As an IB World School, we make the effort to also express the IB Learner Profile as professionals. Being Reflective is a fantastic practice to build into any admissions event regardless of how many times you have run it. After any event, take the time to debrief, reflect on the event-the planning, execution and final result. Debrief with the people around you to gain perspective and feedback. Record the suggestions and observations for future reference. Reflection only helps to understand our strengths and weaknesses to inform better decision making the next time around.
Whether you are in a saturated or emerging market, enthusiasm and a culture of admissions is at the heart of your enrollment processes. Establishing your admission events around retention will show the strength of your community. Actively reaching out to your parents and staff and giving them agency in organizing and executing your events will also drive roots deeper into the school. Finally, building reflection with your stakeholders into your admission events will make the next iteration even stronger.
Written by Maria English
Click here to read this article on the International Admissions Bulletin website.