Maximizing Admissions Checklists for Successful Enrollment

As a former admissions director, I know firsthand the hard work and expense associated with getting candidates to consider your school. At the outset, it is essential to craft the right message to convey your mission and values. Then you need to identify the right students and deliver that message to those families at the right time using the right marketing channels. Once you have their attention, you must maintain that connection while shepherding them through application, enrollment, and financial aid processes, which becomes increasingly complex in today’s competitive environment.

For their 2023–2024 The Ride to Independent Schools Report, the Enrollment Management Association (EMA) surveyed over 3,000 families about their experiences applying to independent schools. According to their responses, many families found the application and admission processes to be overly complicated and highly stressful, both for the adults involved and their students.

That’s why I believe it is critical to have an admissions checklist and workflows that drive prospective students through the enrollment funnel and into your school’s decision set. Let’s explore the ways you can maximize online checklists in a student enrollment system to benefit both your admissions office and candidate families.

The parent experience

Admissions checklists require a delicate balance. How much of the heavy lifting do we place on parents? How much do we put on our admissions office? For example, in the past I have published a 10- to 12-page admissions application that encompassed everything our school needed from the family. It wasn’t until I went through the process with my own children that I realized how daunting the application was.

As a result, I started rethinking the parent experience. Why not break down the application and create additional checklist steps filled with quick requests/forms that are easy for the family to complete? Instead of a stressful, pressure-filled and lengthy application, families could benefit from a sense of progress as they checked off each item. Our school used Blackbaud Enrollment Management System™ to build those checklists, which empowered families to review their progress at any time on their phone, tablet, or computer, keeping the finish line in sight.

That approach also benefited our admissions staff by significantly reducing the hours spent combing through hundreds of lengthy applications. They quickly reviewed the shortened applications and the completed checklist items as they came in, which gave our team more time to spend with candidate families to discover the decision factors most important to them.

Best of all, we learned earlier in the admissions process whether our school would be a good fit for the family, saving everyone time if the match wasn’t right.

The psychology of recruiting

While our admissions process only required three items—the application, current school records, and entrance test scores—we increased in-person attendance at open house events, parent coffees with the head of school, and campus tours by adding these as checklist items. Because the events appeared on the list with a checkbox next to it, most families believed they should complete them.

Having events on our online enrollment system checklist also enabled us to become more powerful marketers by setting up triggers to send email invites and reminders. In doing so, we were able to leverage the phenomenon of the fear of missing out (FOMO) to further drive attendance. After each event, we emailed a thank you before they even left the parking lot to keep our school top of mind.

For families who were slow to engage, the expanded checklist gave us more opportunities to connect with those who had not attended by sharing information that was presented at the event. That follow-up became crucial to our recruitment efforts.

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The power of data

By operating an expanded online checklist, we captured admissions data from each season that factored into our decision-making for the following year. The data showed us the attendance at each event as well as their enrollment decision. This enabled us to review the information being presented at events with a low enrollment yield and ask ourselves what we needed to change to make it a high-yield event.

We also began creating “success profiles” based upon multiple checklist items and analyzing these against the demographic data—test scores, gender, entering grade, sending school, zip codes, etc. We used these success profiles to create forecast models for future years.

The smaller, the better

I’ve heard the argument, “My school is too small to worry about all these factors.” On the contrary! Small schools with limited resources need the efficiencies of an online checklist as much—if not more than—larger schools. By expanding the checklist, you’ll increase the documents and events that get processed with a candidate’s name, which will enable you to learn more about the candidate and improve your interactions. As a result, families will be impressed by your small-school difference.

At my former school, we were in a market with dwindling parochial school enrollments, state-ranked public school systems, and 15 other private schools competing for the same pool of candidates. By taking our admissions system online with Blackbaud and expanding our checklist, we increased candidate engagement. You can, too.