by Alyson Waldman, Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, Montclair Kimberley Academy (NJ)
In the competitive world of admission, every institution focuses their attention and resources on recruitment strategies, ultimately yielding students who will find success in their programs. How can schools use the “personal touch” to yield right-fit families?
As director of admissions at Montclair Kimberley Academy (MKA), personalizing the process for every family is one of my priorities and passions. From the moment the family walks into the lobby, I want them to feel something. As Heather Hoerle, executive director at SSATB, said, “it is critical for admission officers to connect personally to each applicant and to know the family authentically” (The Ride to Independent Schools).
Prospective families are looking for a school with values and philosophies similar to their own. Education Conservancy, a nonprofit organization committed to reforming college admission, explained in its paper Information Matters that “personal and trustworthy guidance during the consideration/application process is highly valued by students across the demographic spectrum.” The more we can be up front and transparent with families during the process, the more likely they are to make an educated and informed decision of where to enroll.
Through my coursework with University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice (CERPP), I have exchanged invaluable information with my cohorts, who hold admission positions all over the country. While we all have different recruitment efforts and strategies, we agree that the personalized approach is the way to go. Successful recruitment relies on our ability to allow prospective students to picture themselves in our schools.
Here are some examples of “the personal touch:”
- Welcome sign when the family arrives
- Pre-printed nametags
- Thoughtful comments to show you already know a bit about them
- Introducing them to current students with similar interests
- Parent referrals by town/sending school
- Personalized follow-up thank you notes with a brief mention of something from your meeting
At MKA, the personal touch is very impactful when trying to convert inquiries to applicants. It is becoming more difficult to track inquiries than in the past. The ways in which prospective families are researching our schools have moved away from the traditional inquiry form. Families are much more tech savvy and are relying heavily on social media platforms to get as much information as possible before actually contacting the school. When identifying a gap in recruitment, it is important to break down the problem along the pipeline and ask why these inquiries did not convert.
Applying the personal touch to all parts of the pipeline is a wonderful way to hook students early. Try to track interests and activities as much as possible and create highly personalized invitations to community events. Additionally, this initiative’s success should be fairly easy to track from year to year. There is nothing more frustrating than having 100 inquiries in a database who never apply. Sending a survey to this constituent group is a way to better understand the “why,” thus better equipping you for the next admission season.
Recruitment for every school means something different. Identifying trends is key and can assist in determining where your time is best spent. I am a supporter of anecdotal evidence, so when surveying your newly-enrolled families, ask them why they chose your school. What do they remember about their first visit? Those answers will help you tailor your process to the individual, resulting in higher yield.