How Can Admissions Connect with Applicant Families Remotely?

August 19, 2020 Charlie Lytle

A father and son waiving to the camera on a virtual independent school admissions event.

Admissions officers know that personal connections established with applicant families are critical for growing their comfort with the school. Thrust into remote workspaces from COVID-19 and missing face-to-face interactions, we’re left asking—how can we connect? 

It’s an important question to solve because even when schools return to holding on-campus meetings and tours, the virtual genie is out of the bottle, and admissions teams will be wise to continually offer virtual events alongside in-person interviews and tours as a convenience for working parents and relocating families.

So, how do we connect?

In my recent UC20 presentation, we took a deep dive into the ways that admissions officers can connect with families through a remote enrollment process. Let's review the core concepts here.

1. Rethink direct mail.

If your school eliminated direct mail to cut costs and focus on email, it’s time to rethink this strategy. Did you know that the average household currently receives only two pieces of direct mail a day compared to 157 emails? What’s more, 77 percent of people sort direct mail immediately (unlike email), and as a result, direct mail has a 37 percent better response rate than digital. In order to connect with families, we must first capture their attention.

2. Require inquiry forms.

The key to direct mail success (and any prospect communication) is personalization. Research shows that 22 percent of consumers have higher satisfaction when receiving personalized direct mail. Personalization is as simple as having recipients’ names in the mailing, but at its best, you’re also customizing the information based on the school programs and activities that each applicant family is interested in learning about.

By requiring families to complete an inquiry form, you’ll learn that William Smith prefers to be called Billy and is interested in soccer and jazz band, and hopes to be a marine biologist one day. It’s remarkable how much something as simple as calling their son Billy can boost the family’s comfort and overall impression of the school.

The more questions that you ask about interests, goals, and legacy information on the inquiry form, the better for personalization. If you’re concerned about the inquiry form being too long, Blackbaud Enrollment Management SystemTM enables you to collapse interest categories so it isn’t overwhelming at first glance.

Once you’ve collected the data, reach out to your local printers to see what they can do for personalization. When I was the director of admissions at Archbishop Moeller High School, an all-boys school in Cincinnati, we created a follow-up postcard with the applicant’s photo included, and we even personalized our viewbook to feature the applicant’s name and programs of interest to him.

3. Have families RSVP for virtual events.

By requiring families to RSVP for virtual events, you control the audience size, allowing for more friendly conversations with smaller groups. Knowing who is attending also enables you to cross-reference the data collected from their inquiry form to personalize the experience by preparing information and inviting guest speakers pertaining to their areas of interest.

Blackbaud’s enrollment solution also enables you to incorporate event registrations into the online checklist, making it easy for parents to find and sign up.

For tips on hosting virtual events, check out the UC20 presentation, How to Get Families Talking with Virtual Recruitment Events.

4. Set a goal for phone calls.

Phone calls remain one of the best ways to add a personal touch to the admissions process. Consider setting a goal for how many phone calls each applicant family should receive from the school. Admissions officers calling to follow up on an event or to simply ask if the family has any questions is an age-old strategy, but also consider having parent ambassadors, teachers, coaches, and even existing students if age-appropriate make calls.

Creating candidate lists in Blackbaud Enrollment Management System makes it easy to filter and match callers to applicant families. For example, you can connect a current parent with applicants coming from the same sending school. You can also creatively use the Committee Review functionality to create call lists for faculty members.

5. Create a workflow for personal follow-up.

Whether you’re showing that your school cares about applicant families through follow-up phone calls or handwritten notes, you want to ensure that these personal touches actually take place when they should. We handle this in Blackbaud’s enrollment solution through simple checklist reminders.

Once you set your mind to creating a personalized admissions process, you may be surprised by the things you can do to connect with families, even when you can’t meet them in person. To see examples of the ideas I’ve shared here, watch the pre-recorded UC20 session.

About the Author

Charlie Lytle

Charlie is a technical solutions engineer for Blackbaud’s K–12 Team. He began his career at Blackbaud in October of 2018 after spending the previous eight years at Archbishop Moeller High School. While at Moeller, Charlie was the director of admissions for five years after working three years in the technology department. Prior to Moeller, Charlie was a sales, marketing, product, and brand professional in the retail, eyeglass, construction, and building products industries.

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