Creating a competitive analysis for your school

School leaders generally do not typically think of other schools as “competitors”.  A competitive analysis is a very business-oriented concept and many in education shy away from conducting one.  Many in education do not possess the mindset that they need to outcompete or out-market their colleagues down the street.

However, as school choice has increased and more and more schools are fighting for the same students, it is important for every school to know its’ market and how it compares against the other schools around it.

Conducting a school competitive analysis can also help you to understand areas that your school could focus on, that do not necessarily exist in your marketplace.  This ability to offer something different can often help to attract a wider selection of students.  Perhaps there is a dearth of STEM schools in your area.  Or, every school is offering Spanish, but nobody offers French.

Understand your area

The first step in conducting a school competitive analysis is to understand what other schools are in your geographic area.  Though your school may be a huge draw with families coming from many miles away, generally most people select a school that is in proximity to their home.  When I conduct a school competitive analysis – I generally look at schools within a 5-mile radius.  You can increase this if you are a high school or in a more rural area where driving longer is the norm.  Pick the radius that best fits your circumstances.

Next, you want to begin to build your list of competitive schools.  The tool that I generally use for this is the website Greatschools.

Go to and enter your school’s address.  Once you do that, you will be shown a map of the schools in your area (5-miles is the default).  If you want to customize the schools that show up, you can easily modify the search criteria to show charter, public, and/or private schools in your listing.  You can also modify the search criteria to show different grade levels like PreK, Elementary, Middle School, or High School.

Just a little side note, this is also a great way to identify potential feeder schools.

Personally, I will cut and paste these from the table view and drop them into a spreadsheet because I want to use them as part of a Google Map – but you don’t need to do that step.

Doing this exercise will identify all the surrounding schools based upon your criteria.

A couple of watch-outs with Greatschool’s data.  I have found that there can be errors in their data.  They may not update it regularly, so you may want to double-check their schools.  They will also not pull in state letter grades, they rely on their own internal metrics instead.  They also will not provide any sort of rating for private schools.  If you feel that private schools are your chief competitor – then you will need to supplement your efforts from Greatschools with another data source.

Add Qualitative Data

Your next step is to add some qualitative data based upon how you are trying to differentiate yourself from the competition.  If you are trying to see how these schools compare to you academically, you may want to review data sets from the state department of education.  If you are trying to understand how the breadth of your athletic program matches up with your competitors – you may need to start digging through their websites to round out your spreadsheet.

Fleshing out your competitive list with qualitative date allows you to identify your top competitors and understand how your offerings compare to theirs.

Uncover insights and validate through surveys

A great way to increase your knowledge of the competition is by surveying your new parents.  It is quite easy to pull together a survey for new parents asking them to provide perspective on how “good” your enrollment process was.  To help you in your competitive analysis, add a couple of additional questions like:

  • “What other schools did you consider before selecting our school?”
  • “What did those schools have that you wish we offered”

This is a great way to validate your own assumptions about who and what your competition is.  It also allows you to constantly update your school's competitive analysis.

Conduct a secret shopper

Let’s be honest.  There is only so much insight that you can get from looking at a website.  To understand a competitive school – one of the best things to do is to pretend to be a parent and schedule a school tour.  Doing this allows you to hear directly from your competition what they consider to be their strongest attributes and how are they positioning themselves in the marketplace.

Many schools feel uncomfortable with this which is why I am often asked as part of my secret shopper engagement to also visit the nearby schools.  This helps the school understand what its chief competitors are doing to market themselves.  This allows the client school to modify their approach or to shift some programs to be more competitive.

Get help creating your schools competitive analysis and boost your schools marketing!

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Nick LeRoy

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 or call us at 317-361-5255.

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