I was in the final stretch of giving a tour, and it was going great!
I was already thinking about how high to rank them on my enrollment projection chart when we entered the middle school building of the Episcopal school where I served as the admission director. I heard a gasp as we were about to enter the classroom on the left. ‘You have a Halloween parade? You celebrate Halloween!? I thought this was a Christian school.’
Needless to say, they went in the highly unlikely column.
All independent schools have universal and specific challenges and selling points. However, faith-based schools typically have added layers of complexity that require a keen strategy to attract and enroll mission-appropriate students.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the challenges of marketing a faith-based school and how to address them head-on.
If you work at a nonsecular school, misconception likely tops the list of challenges.
When searching for schools online, the sight of a “Saint” or “Hebrew” may cause parents to continue scrolling down, thinking:
- All Hebrew schools are Orthodox.
- All schools named for a Saint are Catholic.
- You have to be Muslim to attend an Islamic school.
The fact is, many schools do accept students from all sorts of faiths and backgrounds.
“St. Catherine’s School welcomes voices from all religions and respects the dignity and humanity of all people,” said Mary Worthington, Assistant Director of Communications of the Episcopal girls’ school in Richmond, Virginia. “For example, we welcomed a Cantor from a local Synagogue to mark the Jewish High Holidays. This was a learning opportunity for many students, as well as affirming to the Jewish members of our community.”
Marketing Advice: Consider two campaigns: one for religious education seekers and one that emphasizes your other programmatic strengths if you are accepting of non-practicing families.
“Focus on getting them in the door and letting your team sell them because of/despite the faith piece as needed,” says Kevin M. Kunst, Head of School at Evansville Day School and former HoS at two Christian schools.
Not Enough Academic Time
For certain families, even those who are deeply religious, the mere thought of less time pounding your head on a table (the ultimate visual of rigor) and more time bowing your head in prayer may equate to a diminished capacity for success.
However, for those who define a rigorous education as one where students retain a high quantity of information with a deep understanding of it, many religious schools would beg to differ.
The Cambridge School in San Diego, California, incorporates formational values of Christianity into the core of student learning. The added element of spirituality fosters a deeper connection to the material being learned.
“People think more deeply about the things they care about. An emotional connection to a subject can help learners think critically and be more engaged with the material,” says Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Professor of Education at the USC Rossier School of Education.
Marketing Advice: Address the elephant head-on. We know parents are thinking about it.
- Address academic concerns as it relates to religious education in the FAQ.
- Create video content showing students connecting their personal values with a geometry lesson.
- Write a blog, e.g., ‘You Want Rigor? Here’s How a Faith-Based School Brings It!’
How Religious Is Your School?
That’s a question we ask new faith-based school clients.
Do parents have to sign a covenant agreement, or is the chapel used for storage? In either case, families may not find your version of a faith-based school appealing, at least on the surface.
“Some people thought that the school [Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (CESJDS)] was too religious or not religious enough. It was tough to communicate the Goldilocks spot that the school did fill,” said Miriam Stein, Founder and Chief Strategist at Saddlerock Strategies and former director of admission at CESJDS in Rockville, Maryland.
Marketing Advice: In tough times, it’s easy to broaden your sales pitch to those sitting on the periphery of your sweet spot. That’s a recipe for dissatisfaction.
Lake Country Christian School in Fort Worth, Texas, focuses on student outcomes and achievements and “is unapologetic about our faith and our foundational beliefs,” says Communication Coordinator Lanita Nickerson.
And with a robust enrollment of value-aligned students, who can argue with that formula?
Figure out what makes you unique, what is your story? Figure out what families in your area value and what problems they face, and create a solution for their problem and be a place where their values are met. – Amy Clausen, Chief Venture Strategist, Maranatha Christian Academy in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.
We reached out to four Islamic schools who did not return our emails. If you represent an Islamic school or a religious school that is not represented in the blog, please reach out to me directly: email@example.com.