Even though it feels like school just started, it’s already time to start thinking about open house season. Principals and admissions directors are busy promoting their dates and marketing to get more people to come engage with the school. The school tour and the open house is where the rubber figuratively hits the road in your recruitment.
Remember, the ultimate purpose of all of these recruitment open house ideas is to get students to enroll. But you can break it down even further by looking at the total number of families that attend, divided by the number of families that enroll. Understanding what your “closure rate” is will help you to know if you need to do a better job of attracting more people to your school open house vs. improving your ability to get them to enroll.
So, without any further ado, here are five school open house ideas to help you enroll more students.
This sounds elementary, but it is critical to try to get as many people as possible to attend your open house. For most schools, an open house an incredibly time-consuming event with some disruption to the normal school day. You need to make it count.
Exterior signage is your first step. Make sure that you have banners or signs outside of school announcing the open house at least a few weeks before the event. Ask every current family to display a yard sign that has the name of your school, date and time of your open house featured prominently. Do you know why political campaigns use yard signs? Because they work!
If this is a Catholic School open house, make sure that there are multiple announcements at Mass in the weeks leading up to your event and that it is featured prominently in the bulletin. Make sure that your priest is mentioning the school and all of the good things happening there. Also, having an information table staffed by energetic parents and students after Mass always helps to begin conversations with parishioners who are interested but haven’t engaged. Also, nearby parishes without schools? Be there!
Next, use social media as much as possible and make sure that you are posting multiple times about your open house. With the challenges of Facebook’s algorithms, it is getting harder and harder to gain a wide audience. Make sure you are using the Event feature of Facebook to increase visibility. Encourage all of your families to like and share your posts that announce your open house. This also is the time to spend a bit of money boosting posts.
Finally, every prospect in your database should receive a personal invitation to your open house. Or better yet, have all of your existing parents personally invite their friends. You can even have a promotion where existing families can win a t-shirt or raffle entry for every prospective family they recruit.
Understand the challenges of a working or busy parent. Make sure that there are plenty of opportunities for parents to tour and engage with your school regardless of their work schedule. Many schools are starting to set aside weekly time for tours and prospective parents. You must meet the customer when it is convenient for them – not you. If that means that if you need to have multiple open houses or multiple events, then do so. You need to work around the schedule of your customers and make it easy to “buy” you.
You might want to think about having a student armed with a GoPro or a cellphone walk through your school during your open house to capture everything that is happening. Then, edit the material, add some graphics and narration and bam!, you have a virtual tour that you can place on your website for people who can’t attend.
Ensure that you are gathering contact and child data from every prospective parent that walks through your door to your open house. These “leads” are golden and you need to treat them that way. Don’t rely on a handwritten sheet where you can’t read their writing. Have a simple google form set up on an iPad so you can get their correct contact information. If you are anticipating crowds – don’t let the single iPad for registration be a choke point. Get 4 – 5 student volunteers with iPads to engage families and input their information.
Make sure that you ask families how they heard about your school. This is fundamental to understanding which marketing vehicle brought them in the door and is very useful in tweaking future campaigns and programs. Most parents will indicate that they knew of you through word of mouth.
If that is the case, then make sure you ask the simple follow up question, “Who should we thank for referring you?” Once you have that information, engage the referring parent to help you to encourage them to attend. A follow-up call from their friend is always more effective than one from a school administrator.
You should be giving the parents a set of good collateral materials post-open house for them to read when they get home. This is not a handbook or an application. This is also not something that you printed out on the printer 30 minutes ago.
This is a nice, professionally-designed, printed piece to sell your school. The more sophisticated private schools will call this a viewbook. Make sure that it talks about all the great things about your school.
Different parents will want different things, so you need to make sure that you include as much as you can about what makes your school great and sets you apart (information gathered from parent and teacher surveys can be excellent content for these pieces).
Ensure that the pictures in your printed pieces reflect your diversity as much as possible. Many parents cite lack of diversity as a reason why they don’t attend a private school. Try to help them see all your students and your inclusiveness.
Provide contact information to your parent ambassadors. Many times, parents want “the real story” about your school and they don’t feel like they can get it from the admissions team. Having a preset group of parents that you know will help sell the school can often make a huge difference.
Even the best school open house ideas won’t lead to new students in you don’t follow up. Ensure that each family that tours receives a series of three follow-ups.
The first should be a handwritten card from the admissions person thanking them for coming. The second should be a follow-up call from either a current parent, a coach or even the teacher for the grade that the student will be entering. The third and final call should come from an administrator offering to answer any additional questions and thanking them for attending. Make them feel welcomed and wanted at your school.
These small things make a huge difference. A little secret – your competition isn’t doing this. Or if they are and you aren’t? Then they are beating you and showing prospective families that they are willing to go the extra mile.
By making a few personal follow-ups, you can set yourself apart and make each prospective family feel wanted. This ultimately improves your school open house experience and increases your enrollment.
If you would like a full examination of your school's open house process, you might be interested in our secret shopping service. This engagement is designed to uncover opportunities during the enrollment process.
Nick LeRoy, MBA, is the president of Bright Minds Marketing and former Executive Director of the Indiana Charter School Board. Bright Minds Marketing provides enrollment and recruitment consulting to private, Catholic and charter schools. For information about how Bright Minds Marketing can help your school improve its’ student enrollment, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 317-361-5255.
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