A Shift in the Admissions Funnel: Inquiries Down, Applications Up

parent filling in application form with computer, pen and paper | school admissions is changing as parents do ample research ahead of time | Truth Tree is a leading digital marketing agency working exclusively with school and education companies

Missy SpeyrerAssociate Director of MarketingTruth Tree 

The admissions funnel for private and independent schools seems to be changing. Gone are the days when families relied solely on brochures and open houses to learn about a school. Today’s tech-savvy parents are diving headfirst into online research more than ever. Some will even apply to a school before ever seeing the school in person. This means the traditional admissions funnel, where inquiries lead to tours and then applications, is compressing in on itself. And schools are worried as they watch their inquiry numbers dwindle. 

In recent conversations, admissions and marketing directors have pointed out that parents are bypassing the inquiry form and filling out an application as their first point of contact. Who told them they could do that? Is that even allowed? 

Inquiry forms have traditionally been the first step parents take to get to know a school, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for every enrollee. Parents are applying to schools without any back and forth with the admissions team. Schools are giving ‘deer in headlights’ as they see names on the application list whom they’ve never met or seen before.

Mike Agosto
Director of Admissions & Enrollment Management

Plymouth Meeting Friends School

Parents are doing their research online first and bypassing the inquiry stage altogether. While it can feel surprising at first, this shift presents a golden opportunity.

There are a few reasons for this change:

  • Information at their fingertips: Parents can access a wealth of information online, from school websites and social media to parent reviews and online forums.
  • Convenience is key: Busy parents can research schools on their own time, at their own pace. Besides, that inquiry form asks for the date and time their child lost his first tooth. It’s too much. Skip the lengthy forms with unnecessary details. Keep it simple and focus on collecting essential information to start a conversation.
  • Building trust online: Before reaching out, parents want to get a feel for the school’s culture, values, and what makes it unique. It seems that many form an opinion before ever contacting the school directly.

This shift might seem daunting, but fear not! It presents a fantastic opportunity for schools to connect with parents in a meaningful way.

Mike Agosto
Director of Admissions & Enrollment Management

Plymouth Meeting Friends School

They want to see the heart and soul of our school, the ‘why’ behind what we do. Let’s show them exactly that, and welcome them into our school community, even if they arrive at the application stage a little differently than before.

Tell Your School’s (Behind-the-Scenes) Story Online

Schools that “win” families over with tours need to bring the magic of the tour online.

  • Storytelling Through Content: Create engaging website content, virtual tours, and social media posts that showcase the heart and soul of your school.
    • That amazing video on your homepage? Splice it into multiple 9:16 (portrait on a smartphone) short-form videos to use on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. If you don’t have enough footage, add b-roll footage of kids changing classes, running in PE, or reading in the library.
    • Tuition & Financial Aid pages should tell the impact and ROI for investing in your educational model before it showcases the investment cost. Paint a picture for parents with testimonials and alumni success stories that tell how your school prepares students for the next step and beyond. This page should answer “why” the yearly investment is worth it.
    • Authenticity is Key: Don’t be afraid to show the real behind-the-scenes of your school community. Parents appreciate genuine stories and a glimpse into everyday life at your school. 
  • Showcase Different Points of View:
    • Utilize student takeovers on social channels like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.
      • This content can be less polished and more “a day in the life”. Being less polished might make you nervous, but it will create a real-life feel and opportunity to connect with both prospective students and parents.
      • Think of ways the ‘viewer’ can be taken on the journey of switching classes, unpacking her violin for rehearsal, or running through the tunnel before a game.
    • Teacher spotlights on your website and social channels celebrating awards and initiatives that showcase the faculty that make your school unique while garnering engagement from alumni and parents.
    • Interviews on your website and YouTube channel answering your most frequently asked questions:
      • Utilize video interviews of faculty to answer common curriculum questions.
      • Pull together student leadership to answer questions about clubs and extracurriculars that make their school experience unique.
      • Have board members answer questions about the history and vision of the school.
      • Invite a few alumni back to campus to talk about where they are now, their experience as a students, and how prepared they felt entering the next stage.
      • Get parents on camera talking about why they chose your school, how their kids are thriving, and what they look forward to each year.

smartphone showing an instagram reel of a high school senior boy leaning against lockers with the text "a day in the life with senior class president jerome daniels" in white letters backed by a black background
a laptop open to a YouTube video thumbnail that reads "Why the Smithly Family Chose Truth Tree Academy" next to a family photo of a mom, dad, and twin girls climbing on their backs while all smiling at the camera

An article from Trust Pilot on consumer dependence on reviews states that “89% of global consumers check online reviews as part of their online buying journey”. If shoppers will cull through reviews for Target and Amazon purchases, how much more in-depth will they look through reviews for their child’s education?

Does this mean schools should put energy into curating perfect 5-star reviews? Yes! And no. Recent findings show that 53% of global consumers want a “realistic mix of positive and negative reviews”.

While it’s disheartening for a school to have negative reviews, it’s an opportunity to learn, grow, and respond to achieve future success as a school community. When it comes to prompting parents for reviews, choose your moment wisely and make it as easy as possible for them.

Heather Burchfield at The Peck School shared on a recent Q&A that they’ve systematized the process by asking each year’s graduating 8th-grade families after a specific closing ceremony. Not only that, but she includes step-by-step instructions to guide them through each review site.

Heather Burchfield
Director of Strategic Communications & Marketing

The Peck School

It’s a great time to hit them up every year with an email saying, ‘Hey, we’re so sad your family’s leaving our school. We’d really love for you to share your experience. Here [are] three websites where we welcome or really would appreciate you to leave a review. 

While you’re thinking up ways to expand your content so the elusive, online researching parents can get a sense of your school, consider diversifying your events to create a lower barrier of entry for them to see it in person.

  • Add in “Small Group Tours” that can sound less intimidating than both a big programmed event like Open House or a personal tour where they’ll be in the spotlight and asked a million questions.
  • Do you offer daytime and evening options for tours? While nothing compares to experiencing your school in action with students present, some parents can’t fit it into their day. Consider adding an evening tour that starts before a big performance or athletic event on campus. Incorporate the event as part of the tour and/or invite student leaders or parent ambassadors to participate in the tour in some way. Pro Tip: If your school has campus lights or sprinklers set on a timer, be sure to adjust those accordingly. 
  • Consider adding a “Preview Day” or “Sip & See” for prospective families to witness your school in action. These low-pressure formats can create a sense of spectatorship versus the sales-oriented feeling Open Houses can have.

In summary, parents are creating a need for an admissions strategy pivot. Schools should focus on quality, storytelling content, authentic social proof, and low-pressure events on campus. If prospective families are deeply researching your school before making themselves known, you want to ensure they have plenty to analyze. By providing informative, engaging content, reviews, and various events, you’ll be well on your way to attracting and connecting with these well-researched parents, even if they skip a step or two in the traditional admissions funnel.

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