Taking Student Enrollment Planning to the Next Level
The first day of school is just around the corner! As you prepare for your first day and next round of recruitment, we at SchoolMint wanted to share some best practices for student recruitment and charter school marketing.
At SchoolMint, we work with thousands of charter schools across the country, including some of the leading charter school networks including Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, Aspire, KIPP, Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, Rocketship, Summit Public Schools, Noble Network of Schools, and Democracy Prep, to name a few. We exist to help schools take their enrollment processes — including student recruitment, applications, lotteries, waitlists, registration, payments, etc. — online and mobile.
In the process, we have been able to learn from our customers about how they approach student recruitment, community outreach, and marketing. These charter networks are able to track data on their recruitment efforts through SchoolMint in order to learn what works to recruit families. We’d love to share some of those findings and best practices with you today.
Start with a Student Recruitment and Marketing Strategy
Student recruitment and community outreach are the first part of the larger student enrollment process, starting in the early fall or winter, and continuing through late spring. This means that many charter schools are involved in student recruitment and outreach for about 7-8 months out of the year!
It may sound a little obvious, but we can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a student recruitment and marketing plan for the year, and a team who will own that plan every step of the way. Everyone involved in student recruitment should know what the plan is for the year, agree on when each action needs to be completed (and by whom), and have a solid understanding of what success will look like with corresponding metrics.
Develop Clear Branding for Your School
Below, you will find a list of questions that schools have found helpful to consider as they think about setting a solid branding strategy.
Does your school or organization have a branding strategy? Are you and all stakeholders clear on how you are different from schools in the surrounding area? Have you established who these stakeholders are? Is the value add for the community and parents around you crystal clear in your marketing materials (including your website, print materials, Facebook page, etc.)?
Are you and your team clear on your mission and vision? If we, or a funder, went to your website, would we be able to easily find your mission and vision statements? If we asked one of the other parents from your school about your school, do you know what they would likely say? Are you and your team working to make sure that you are intentional about your school’s messaging, and would you like that messaging to change depending on whether it’s staff, parents, students, the general community, or funders that you’re talking to?
These are just a few of many questions that we recommend schools ask themselves as they work on setting their branding strategy.
Explore Which Channels Work Best for Your Message
Phew! You’ve answered all of the questions above and now have some solid messaging. Now the question is where to take this messaging. This is where multi-channel marketing comes in; let’s dive in.
At SchoolMint, we ran some analyses of all of the student applications received by the schools we have worked with. Based on this analysis, we learned a few things:
1. Referral is King
Most parents heard about the school they applied to by a referral. By “most,” we mean 60%! That’s a really high number. Lesson learned here: be very deliberate about how you are enabling parents to share information about your school with other parents.
One way to do this is to have clear speaking points that you would want parents to own. Step two is to think of referral programs or other ways to facilitate sharing of this information. Schools we have worked with have given out free shirts to parents (t-shirt campaigns), set up referral rewards programs, and facilitated sharing on social media. Have another creative idea for facilitating referrals? Please share with us (firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook or Twitter)! We’d love to learn more about what other schools are doing as well!
2. In-Person Matters
This one is going to be a little redundant. Something else we learned is that in-person matters. Up to 70% of parents noted that they heard of a school they eventually applied to from an in-person interaction. In-person interactions include referrals (see above), in-person events (community fairs, school events, etc.), and canvassing, among other approaches.
3. Online Is on the Rise
Paper-based marketing is getting more and more competition from online marketing. More and more, schools are reaching out to potential families using online resources including Google Ads, Facebook ads, and engaging with parents via their Facebook pages.
Schools are also getting creative about their online presence: for example; they use Twitter to engage with the community or establish strategic partnerships and reach out to funders. Many schools now have their own pages on these online environments. We recommend that your school also think about how it’s currently represented on social media and on the web.
In general, it would be worthwhile to explore how you can improve efficiency for many systems (including marketing and student recruitment) by moving to online environments. Every day, charter schools reach out to us to learn about moving their enrollment systems online (and to mobile), and student recruitment and marketing is no exception (we can help with that, too).
In summary, our takeaways are to: 1) be intentional, and have a strategy and team in place for student recruitment and marketing, 2) put in the necessary work to have solid messaging for all of your stakeholders, and 3) decide where to take your message based on research and solid data about the parents you serve and how they engage with you and the community at large.
Finally, our biggest takeaway is to be intentional about all parts of student recruitment and marketing for your school. Setting a system in place might take some time, but we can assure you that it will be well worth it in the end!
WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CREATING AND MAINTAINING AN EFFECTIVE STUDENT RECRUITMENT STRATEGY? Join our upcoming webinar, featuring Lyman Millard, former VP of Communications at Breakthrough Charter Schools, and current partner at the Bloomwell Group. You will learn battle-tested techniques for standing out in a crowded market, engaging your families and community, and building an integrated recruitment strategy. Register now!