Open Houses Are Not Just for Fall

Most—if not all—parents visit every school they consider for their children, based on The Enrollment Management Association (EMA) survey of more than 2,700 parents. Obviously, your school’s open house plays a starring role in these visits. 

So, how can you leave a lasting impression that keeps your school at the top of the list? Engage students and parents in a truly authentic day at your school.

Today more than ever, we compete with a dizzying array of activities and commitments to capture the time and attention of students and parents. As we all know, actions speak louder than words. 

Which approach do you think resonates more with students and families: sitting and listening to other people talk about your school—or actually experiencing a day in the life of your school for themselves?

Schools like Berwick Academy (BA) in South Berwick, Maine, are betting on the authentic experience. Situated on an 80-acre campus about an hour north of Boston, the co-ed school founded in 1791 serves 600 students in PK through grade 12. In the 2016-17 school year, it disrupted the traditional open house to start Berwick in Action days. One weekday each month, while classes are in session, Berwick invites prospective parents and students to engage with its students and teachers personally, learn about its innovative programming, and experience firsthand what it feels like to be part of its community during a typical school day.

“Berwick in Action programs are dynamic, family-centric, and highlight our teachers, students, and programs in a fun, innovative, and thorough way,” says Berwick Director of Enrollment Management Jennifer Wing. “We no longer do traditional weekend open house events.”

The results from the shift have been impressive. Last year visits increased 9% over the prior year.

From October to May (not just in the fall!), Berwick schedules one Berwick in Action day each month, varying the day of the week to make it more convenient for families to find a date that fits in their busy calendars. Based on the interests of each prospective student, Berwick matches them with a current student to host them as they participate in a “day in the life” at the Academy. They see it as the best way to get to know its community and understand its unique culture—to spark excitement and belonging.

Throughout the year, the school complements the effort with other activities on campus that attract and engage families: STEAM challenges, nature scavenger hunts, obstacle courses, and Woofstock—an outdoor music festival on the last Friday of school featuring student and faculty performers and delicious barbecue prepared by campus dining. It’s an admission spring “sneak peak” for families.

“Berwick Academy is attracting students and their families onto campus, during campus events,” explains current parent Kristen Carey Power (also EMA senior director of membership and business development). “Families can really get a feel for the environment and parent ambassadors can tour prospective families around.”

Indeed, moving beyond the traditional “sage on the stage” presentation style to actively experiencing events on campus connects prospective families with more leaders in your school community beyond admissions and financial aid. 

National Business Officers Association (NBOA) President and CEO Jeff Shields encourages business officers to participate. “You represent fiscal responsibility, integrity, and efficiency at the school,” Shields tells business officers. “The more visibility you have, the more prospective families can see that your school is not only in the business of offering a world-class education but running a world-class business operation that will steward their financial commitment to your school prudently.”

Actively connecting with more school leaders across campus creates a high energy that helps yield the results your school seeks, according to Shields. Plus, he highlights the value of teaming with colleagues across your school so the open house builds bonds internally, too. Win, win!

You decide the overarching message you want to communicate to families by designing your day so they can experience what makes your school special. The team at Berwick created an experience to let prospective parents and students explore, create, innovate, play, engage, get inspired, and see how Berwick Academy can launch them on a journey to thrive.

What has your school done to reinvigorate its open house? Please share your ideas below in the comments. 

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