Summer Camp as an Enrollment Driver

Does your school offer summer camps or programs? Chances are, the answer is yes. According to NAIS’s recent Survey on Non-Tuition Sources of Income, 84% do. 

Beyond auxiliary revenue, how can summer camps help drive school enrollment?  As you turn the corner to spring and ramp up to summer, it’s a good time to take stock of the connection between summer programming and your school’s admission efforts. Here are key questions to consider: 

1. Are you clear on the goals of your summer programs?
At Blake School (Minnesota), there is a clear and shared goal of connecting summer programming to enrollment. All inquiries and applicants receive summer program messaging and all summer participants receive invitations to school events. Databases are shared and schedules are coordinated among summer and admission staff. Deana Jaeschke Clapp, a teacher and former summer director at Blake, describes a symbiotic relationship that spans the admission cycle. The January/February launch of summer campaigns is an opportunity to engage families in a fresh way toward the end of the admissions cycle. For late or summer applicants, Blake uses its camps as a visiting opportunity. For families already in the pipeline or those with children who weren't accepted or were waitlisted, camps offer another chance to engage. Camps also orient newly enrolled families to campus.

Driving school enrollment is a major goal of auxiliary programs at Cranbrook Schools (Michigan) as well. Weston Outlaw, director of special and summer programs, is part of the school’s administrative team and ensures that camps are continually a part of the overall conversation. Cranbrook’s admission director and other administrators present during orientation for the summer program staff and provide talking points to use with interested parents. Summer families are invited to school open houses. 

Westover School (Connecticut), an all-girls high school, sees its camps – which are open to middle school girls – as a direct funnel for academic year admissions. Danny Alvord, who oversees the summer programs, is a member of the school’s admission team.

For some schools, driving new student enrollment is not the foremost goal of summer programming. At Hackley School (New York), where 75% of summer registrations are from currently enrolled families, it’s more about service. “Summer programs are very much a service, and being flexible, compassionate, and easy for families is key,” says Peter Sawkins, director of auxiliary programs. This kind of service and year-long engagement can deepen connections and, in turn, boost retention. That said, surveys suggest 50% of non-Hackley summer students have an interest in attending Hackley in the school year.

For boarding schools, camps can give prospective students and families the critical opportunity to see what the boarding experience is really like. As boarding schools experience declines in applications from US students, this is key. Cranbrook’s Weston Outlaw reports efforts to launch a residential camp for this purpose.

2. Does your summer program reflect your school brand?
At Hackley School, as at many schools, summer programs are led primarily by the school’s teachers. In that way, a key brand component carries through. Beyond that, Sawkins uses a common sense approach to ensuring the brand experience. He says, “Making every interaction you have with a member or prospective member of your community as positive as possible will lead to stronger and more passionate word of mouth in support of your school as a whole.”

Cranbrook’s Outlaw echoes that sentiment in another way, “It’s important that parents and children see similarity between camp and school, similar to purchasing different products or services from a corporate company.”

At Westover, summer programming echoes the scheduling of the academic year as well as fun long-standing school traditions such as the weekly “Empowering Girls” event and a friendly “West” vs “Over” competition.

Blake School sees its summer programs as a vital piece of the school’s brand.“We utilize our branding vision to foster consistent messaging with a little extra flair and fun for summer programs,” says Clapp. Beyond its visuals and messaging, what the summer programs offer is intentionally driven by the school’s mission and academic focus. It is also driven by market needs, and this is where working closely with the admission and communication staff can yield powerful results. Blake leveraged a national reputation in debate to be one of the first summer camps to offer “Introduction to Debate” for middle schoolers. Blake’s market exploration also led to more strategic scheduling of its summer programs. Clapp explains,“We gained tremendous market share just by being open a week or two ahead of our counterparts.” Blake also took time to look at their facilities in new ways and to brainstorm opportunities. She advises schools to consider all resources — from forest areas to ice skating rinks to STEM labs. 

3. How can you strengthen connections within your school to enhance your camp and its success in driving enrollment?

Clear and shared goals along with a partnership with the admission office help smooth the pathways between summer camp and enrollment efforts.

Beyond that, Outlaw stresses the importance of process and intentionally. “Just having programs in place will not drive school enrollment,” he says. “Rather, creating specific processes where the connection is intentional makes for a better feeder system.”

Finally, support from leadership is key. Clapp says, ”Heads of school can be crucial in fostering a turn around in a summer program or simply in supporting the myriad coordinations that need to happen between faculty, buildings and grounds, and the wider school community.”

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