Admissions & Marketing Manager (Aga Khan Academy, Hyderabad)
In today’s world where there is healthy competition between schools, what really stands out among different admissions officers are the tools they use on a day to day basis to generate walk-ins for the school and then convert those into admissions. We need various tools to create a pool of enquirers who start at the stage of awareness, then move to the stage of interest, become parents of the school and finally turn into ambassadors, essential to spread positive word of mouth.
There are various tools you may use to convert an enquiry into an admission but the missing piece is the toolkit to generate a walk-in. I use the word ‘walk-in’ deliberately, because there is a huge difference between an enquiry and a walk-in. An enquirer is someone who calls on the phone or sends an email to know more about the school, while a walk-in is a visitor to the school, someone who has an experiential interaction. Before visiting a school, prospective parents find out from existing parents about the school so they already KNOW the difference but the admissions officer has to try his/her best to make the parents FEEL the difference. This is possible only when they visit the campus. In this article I discuss some of the various tools that the admissions team can utilize to give a feel of the campus to the parent and generate more admissions, in turn spreading positive word of mouth!
At the Aga Khan Academy, Hyderabad, we encourage all Junior School prospective parents to experience classes for half an hour every Wednesday. This allows the student and family to observe the class in action and even interact with teachers if interested. This way of creating transparency with the parents helps us maintain a trust factor and assures them that we are confident about our class teachers.
The Academy organizes an Open House for prospective parents on the last Thursday of every month. This message is consistently delivered to all prospective and existing parents in person and via brochures, website, social media, advertorials, and newsletters so that the word is out to receive footfalls effortlessly. An Open House is an event attended by groups of parents and can become an anxious occasion for both parents and admissions teams, hence advance preparation will enable the officers to be confident. Clear signage directing traffic to the school, making available ample parking space for parent vehicles, keeping the campus clean, and ensuring the lavatories are clean are some preparations needed to create the best first impression. You may also give the parents a running sheet detailing the agenda for the day. At the Academy, we make sure that the parent has lunch on campus because we are confident about student discipline in the cafeteria. This is followed by a classroom experience, a school tour and a personalised interaction with the Junior School Principal and senior management team. Satisfied current parents can be one of your greatest marketing tools, so involve them in the process.
The Indian market is saturated with international schools competing with each other, so you have to organize variousevents to generate footfall at a school. We organize various events for the general public including art competitions and kite festivals. Utilizing existing school events like MUN, inter-school sports tournaments and literature festivals to invite other school students has always worked well as external students get to experience your facilities first hand.
It is important to spread positive news about the interesting stories and individual achievements of your students to external stakeholders and in order to do so, the local media can be most effective. Newspapers are always looking for interesting news in local communities and establishing good relationships with senior journalists can get schools into the limelight. Hosting a high tea at the school for senior journalists; inviting key journalists as Chief Guests for events like MUN; and organising debates are some ways in which you can build these relationships required to get free publicity. Your students getting into top universities or students participating in a marathon are examples of newsworthy stories. Last year, one of our Academy students participated in a 5K run and finished the race in 19 minutes standing 3rd among all participants that included experienced runners. This became sensational news highlighting our holistic approach to education and athletics.
Imagine a prospective parent going on a school tour with a key member of the senior leadership. Once in a month, you may invite all your new parents to go on a tour with the Junior and Senior School Principal and once in a term, give them an opportunity to go on a tour with the Head of School. Parents will definitely be interested to meet the senior leadership team and spend time with them to understand the school better. It is also a privileged tour so you may keep the numbers restricted.
Key Messages and Stories
Once you have the guests on campus, what you convey to them in the form of key messages and stories becomes the most important admissions tool. The visit to the school is proof that the parent is genuinely interested in seeking admission to a good school. You may refer to my articles from the previous IAB issues to understand how the entire school is involved in admissions and how parent interviews are carried out once the parent walks in. The key is that you need to spend time in all parts of the school community to uncover fascinating stories, identify those that support your key messages and deliver them. In short, add storytelling to your toolkit and removes elling from it.
Technology is advancing at a rapid rate and not having that as part of your toolkit can be a dud. An interactive website, social mediaand admission platforms like OpenApply are all new technologies that can assist you in targeting just the right audience. Creating events like ‘open days’ on social media and inviting registrations through OpenApply will give an impression to parents that your school is focussed on technology rich learning.
When you generate walk-ins, it is important that you find creative ways of providing information to your parents. At the Academy, the admissions officer at the end of the tour ascertains if a visiting parent enquiry is Hot, Warm or Cold and accordingly, decides what kind of prospectus kit has to be given.
Hot enquiry – Admissions officer feels that this parent will surely apply for admission.
Warm enquiry – Has minor concerns, may or may not apply.
Cold enquiry – Will not apply for admissions as the school isn’t the right fit for the student.
A cold enquiry gets a summary brochure along with the school profile and career snapshot which talks about university placements and previous IB results. Subsequently, hot and warm enquiries get a full brochure kit along with a USB containing school videos and visual presentations. Make sure what you say and what you give are cohesive.
All schools are uniquely positioned to implement their school vision and achieve different goals, however the essence remains the same. Therefore, all the tools mentioned in this article may not be applicable to all schools due to different challenges but you may fine tune these tools to suit your own needs. Every school has its own set of confidants and it becomes the responsibility of the admissions officer to capture, coordinate and channelize the goodwill generated from the existing parents to successfully implement the above tools.
Finally, please write to me if my article interests you and share feedback, as well as mention any additional tools that I may have missed! You may search for my name on Facebook or write to me at Imran.firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you!