By Trevor Waddington, Founder & President Truth Tree , and Liz Yee, Truth Tree Director of Marketing
When your school hosts an open house for prospective families, you roll out the red carpet. You greet them with an instrumental ensemble, you provide upscale fare, and you finally get the custodial staff to fix that toilet that’s been running since Labor Day.
And why wouldn’t you?
Your goal is to put your best foot forward. You want families leaving your open house thinking that your school isn’t just going to make their child smarter, it’s going to make the whole family’s life better.
Unfortunately, despite how well your school may align with a families wants, needs, and values, there will be obstacles that are too difficult to traverse.
We have found, over time, that these three pain points are the biggest reasons family’s balk at moving forward with admissions. But, with some proactive planning, you might get families past the pain points and into your community.
Pain Point #1: Tuition
No matter how great your school is, parents will always compare you to the competition. The independent school across the river is “better” because it costs more. The school down the street is a highly regarded public school, and it’s very hard to compete with “free.”
To overcome this pain point, you need to show parents that your school is worth it. You don’t just offer good value for the money; you provide opportunities for the prospective parents’ kids that are worth more than gold. The gold standard intangibles for most are friendship, comradery, knowledge, and success.
These intangibles only mean something to parents if they understand how they are going to benefit their family and their child, like:
- Don’t just list the schools your students will attend after graduation. Tell parents how your school plans to work with their child to maximize their potential college admissions and how you will hold their hand and guide them through the process, supporting both the parent and student. If you have a team (or even one dedicated staff person) leading this work, tout it as a benefit that they will enjoy at the end of their journey at your school.
- Don’t just tell families about your active alumni network. Have one of your alumni tell them about the connections they made at your school that are still helping them years after graduation. And they are primed and ready to share how their child fared after graduation. Have them do the heavy lifting of selling the value and benefit of your school’s program.
- And, of course, showcase how your students shine academically and love coming to school every day, and no one is falling through the cracks. That teacher who aces differentiation and sees students shining and thriving is your best advocate and can paint the picture of joyful students thriving in your program.
Remember, you’re not trying to convince a family that your school is worth the money. Your job is to convince them that your school is worth their money.
At some point, however, the gap between what a family truly can pay and the tuition is a very legitimate gap. That’s when you leverage tuition assistance if your school uses financial aid as an enrollment management tool.
Pain Point #2: Transportation
The other advantage that “free” public school down the street has over you: It’s down the street!
For many families, the decision to attend private school doesn’t just mean shelling out cash, it means extra time in the car, driving to and from a school that might not be conveniently located.
However, just because your school doesn’t provide transportation doesn’t mean you can ignore the issue. If families are worried about transportation, then you should be, too. And telling families that they should figure out a carpool isn’t enough.
To alleviate this pain point, take on the issue directly.
- Put prospective parents in touch with currently enrolled families in their area so they can get their transportation questions answered directly.
- Help organize carpools for families who are new to the school.
- Consider a transportation director who oversees and manages these issues and develops solutions. The director might also want to study if/where parents would want transportation. You might already know because your current parents have been asking for it. Otherwise, explore expanding your current offerings, or starting new ones. Determine where the transportation market is and go after it.
- Demonstrate to families that they’re not alone. Show them that the entire school, from the administration to their fellow parents, is there to help. And that the drive and logistics are worth it to join the community.
Remember, a family’s lack of transportation isn’t their problem. If you want that family to enroll, you have to make it your problem.
Pain Point #3: Inflexible Schedules (Yours, Not Theirs)
A school day is defined by a rigid schedule for students, with bells ringing at the start and end of every class.
Parents’ schedules, on the other hand, are rarely that predictable. Whether it’s a last-minute call from a boss or a family emergency across town, parents are constantly pulled in a thousand directions, and adhering to your school’s 15-minute pick-up and drop-off window doesn’t make their lives any easier.
While it would be impossible to run a school without a schedule, jobs are rarely 9:30 to 2:30 (assuming it takes 30-minutes to get from school to job and back again).
If your school does not offer extended care options, it should, nay, it must. And not just for those who are on the pre-registered schedule, but for those who need it last minute. We understand the need for efficient staffing, but this is one area where a parent should never hear, “we just don’t have room today.”
And pretty please, don’t punish students who are late because of their parents. This doesn’t teach anybody a lesson, but it can alienate an entire family.
Pro Tip: Don’t Hide #2 and #3
Most private schools have an easy-to-find tuition page. It’s one of the drop-downs under admissions (we all know this ?). But how easy is it to find your transportation or extended day pages?
Quick, you’ve got 10 seconds to find one of the pages on your site. Ready? Go!
Did you find it in time?
If not, chances are prospective parents stop searching and are on to the next school that can check their boxes without extensive detective work.
Know Pain, Know Gain
Every family considering your school has different needs, different desires, and yes, different pain points. You’re never going to solve every problem for every prospective family, but you should do your best to understand their most common concerns and make sure to address those concerns in your recruitment efforts. Otherwise, you may end up looking at your enrollment numbers a few years from now and find yourself in a world of pain.
Want to learn more about how Truth Tree can take the pain out of marketing, enrollment, and communications? Drop us a line at info@TruthTreeConsulting.com.