Your recruitment events are among the most important events of the year, and a crucial part of your admissions strategy. It’s here where you’ll attract your ideal students, and really sell them on why they should join your school. In Episode Ten of The Admissions Club, our experts run through everything you need to know to level up your recruitment events.
If you’re hosting an event that was successful the previous year, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have the same result this year. Expectations can change swiftly, and families are hungry for personalized experiences from your school. Events are the perfect opportunity to show them why your school should be their preferred choice and to really meet their expectations so they’ll leave with a positive impression of you.
Admissions events are great for improving your conversions. When parents and students engage with your school at one of these events, they tend to feel a lot more comfortable moving to the next step, especially if they felt like their specific needs were taken into consideration.
“I remember researching a school for my son. I had a list of about four schools that seemed like a good fit, based on their website, online searches, social proof, and pure recommendations. But as I toured and attended open house events. Only one of those schools actually felt like a good fit. These in-person engagements help me figure out if the culture, program, and leadership will be a good fit for me and my family.” - Aubrey Bursch
Admissions events are able to be so successful because they allow schools to share their values, culture, and unique selling points, making it easy for parents and students to determine if they align and resonate with what the school has to offer.
Events give schools opportunities to showcase those elements of the school that are really difficult to share on a website or via a prospectus. For many families, it will be the first time they have set foot on your school grounds, so it’s really important to make the best impression.
“Events also present a unique opportunity to showcase the efficiency of your administrative process. This may sound odd, but hear me out. If your event communication is on point, and you’re able to include a few special touches, it’ll develop trust with prospective families. If they trust you and feel safe in your hands, then they may just sign on with you.” - Bianca Coleborn
When schools talk about admissions funnel events, they usually think of open houses. However, long funnel events that feed enrollments can be much more strategic, because they warm up families (sometimes years) before they decide to enroll and keep your school top of mind.
Effective funnel events are admissions-aligned and attract your ideal student and age group. The key is for the event to align with your mission and attract right-fit families.
For any community event to succeed, it needs to be authentic and has to mean something to families. Look for opportunities in your community that are important to your families, and then build your events around them. This creates buy-in from your audience, and will ultimately make your events far more successful.
The opportunity to connect directly and one on one with families is best achieved through smaller group tours. It’s a good idea to focus on these tours and hit the points that you know families are interested in learning more about your school. This gives your school the opportunity to showcase your understanding of your audience, and your perception of their needs and expectations.
Engaging prospective families is an art for school marketing and admissions pros, and there are different strategies available. Some schools choose to host awareness welcome events for only new families, but you need to ask yourself what your specific families want.
Let’s take Sarah as an example. Her first-grade son is set to start next year, and although she appreciates the new family events from the school she’s looking at, she really wants to meet other parents in her son's class or grade. She also wants to better understand the community. How would Sarah feel if she was invited to a school’s end-of-year musical and graduation event, and also a play date in the summer with her class and all school service day…all before her son starts school in the fall?
She’d probably feel much more connected to the community and a lot less anxious about her decision.
“As a mom, I want to know my son's friends, his teachers, and other parents within his class and grade. Why? Because these are the people I will probably be connected with during my entire time at the school. That’s why hosting events where classes and levels interact and get to know each other is so important. It helps with retention because the more positive connections you have with a school community, the more likely you are to stay.” - Aubrey Bursch
“We love showing off the cumulative project that students work on throughout the year. We like to invite current families and the community to several signature events throughout the year, like our science fair stem festival, a celebration of nations, earth day, and the end-of-the-year exhibition.” - Kim Donoghue
Lots of schools choose to adopt a hybrid approach. Some of their events are in-person; others are online. Since many schools haven’t done a virtual event before, they basically follow the same format they use for an in-person event and turn it into a virtual event.
The result is often a long and rather boring affair. If we think about how people engage with things online, we know shorter is often better. And the more targeted the topic, the better the engagement. So as you’re planning for an online event, consider posting level or grade-specific events, featuring engaging speakers including students and faculty, and current families.
Like all event types, the best online events have a specific purpose. They stick to their time frame and remain on topic with key takeaways. Some of the most successful events are follow-ups to large-scale events and form an integral part of your overall event-type strategy.
If you time the follow-up events well, you’ll have an engaged target audience and content that is front of mind. Remember that with virtual events you want to set your audience up for success just as much as you want to set the event itself up for success. Make it clear to your audience the targeted topic you’ll be covering, and let them know they’ll have a way of communicating with you directly during the event.
A good online event will have families leaving knowing much about the grade that they’re interested in and understanding the unique value that your school offers. An online admissions event on its own is often not enough to convert well. But when tied to an effective pre and post-event email sequence that includes personal touches (like videos from the head of school or a specific teacher or student), you’ll be doing the best you can to improve conversions.
Schools often focus on attendees of an event, but just like with business marketing, the no-shows are equally important. Engaging your event’s no-shows through a follow-up email sequence that educates and has a clear call to action often results in a prospective family taking the next step.
Targeted events are a great way to create an emotional connection with prospective families, by letting them really experience what it would be like to join your community. If you’re trying to attract athletes to your school for example, what better way than inviting them to a game of their preferred sport a few weeks after they attended your open house?
You could do the same if a student is interested in music, the arts, or anything else. Showing off your school’s unique selling points will be a natural way to attract students who could be a good fit for your school, and there’s no better way to engage with your prospective students at an open day than by using some of your very own student ambassadors who share their interests.
Personalized follow-up with families after an event is very important and a great opportunity to move them to the next stage in your pipeline. But to really do that at scale, you need a CRM, or customer relationship manager.
Pre-event communication like invitations and reminders can be very time-consuming, as can following up with families after an event. But by using a school CRM, you can streamline this communication and save hours without losing the personal touch.
“If I had to craft personalized messages for every person to attend an event, I’d probably go crazy! The same goes for reaching out after an event.” - Bianca
The first question every school event planner should ask is ‘what do I want to achieve with my event?’ There are a few standard metrics you can use to measure success.
“Some of the things that we look at are our attendance rate, the number of new vs current leads, and then following up a few weeks after the event. What actions did those attendees take? It’s important to look at your conversion rate and how many people that attended have applied. One question that we always ask ourselves is ‘can we do any specific follow-up to ensure that they take the next step?” - Lindsay McCarthy
Admissions events can be exhausting, disruptive to teacher/student schedules, and sometimes expensive. Data will help you know if you’re getting the most out of your time and financial investment. Tracking the number of registrants, no-shows, and attendees by grade level and comparing them from year to year will help you determine if your numbers are off and if another tactic is needed.
Measuring your conversions after an event is important too. Ask yourself how many of your new students ended up coming from these event funnels. The more data you can track, the better you’ll be able to predict outcomes and return on investment for your events.
If you’re serious about improving the quality of your events, you can use a net promoter score, which is a simple survey question that asks attendees if they’d recommend your event to others. It’s a great metric to improve on at your next event, and you can send this survey directly after the event to your attendees and find out whether the event was enjoyable overall. You can also ask which aspects were the most enjoyable, and which parts didn’t work.
Hosting a successful school recruitment event is a skill that can be mastered, and one which brings some amazing results if you do! By using technology to personalize and streamline your event communication, you’ll add more attendees, boosting your admissions numbers in no time! Remember: align your event with the goals you set, and make sure you track and measure your success. You can always use a CRM to track leads and plan, which will take out the legwork and save you a lot of time.