Paige Brewster, Director of Admission & Financial Aid at The Boston University Academy, describes challenges faced in achieving enrollment each year as well as effective marketing tactics.
What is the composition of your admission office?
As is common for a school of our size, the BUA admission office is a lean operation--we have two full-time admission officers and one part-time seasonal staff member. While each team member is responsible for certain aspects of the admission process, there is a need for everyone to wear a variety of hats and to understand all aspects of it. As a result, we each play an integral role in our team's successes and have a shared appreciation for each other's contributions. Equally important, we each get to know prospective families over the course of the admission season. Our office also relies on the help of our faculty interviewers and committee members, student hosts and tour guides, dedicated alumni, and gracious parent volunteers throughout the admission season. We depend on the support of all constituencies within our community to help spread the word about BUA and to share the value of our distinctive program.
Do you have any particular events/touch points during the admission season that you believe are influential in a student's decision to apply?
Shadow visits are one of the best ways for prospective students to experience a day in the life of a BUAer... and, we hope, fall in love with our community and all that our program affords. Approximately 85% of students spend a full day on campus while they are in the research/ applicant phase of the admission process (separate from our revisit program). Although offering this opportunity creates some additional logistical challenges for our office and requires buy-in from the faculty, we feel it is an extremely useful recruitment tool while demonstrating authenticity for families. Our office is also willing to coordinate class visits for prospective parents if requested.
Have you created any unique events/touch points as a part of your admission process?
The majority of the initiatives that our team plans and executes are not unique to BUA: we host open houses, send monthly e-newsletters to families in our pipeline, offer student-led tours, and facilitate communication between current and prospective families. Nevertheless, our office does its best to provide a level of individualized attention and responsiveness that many visitors cite as being unique to BUA; in a small school environment like ours, we think that families should expect no less. We strongly believe that families’ experiences with our office need to reflect the personalized experience that they will receive if they choose to join the BUA community. We are told that our student panels at open houses and our admitted student reception authentically represent the character and culture of BUA. Our student volunteers are neither scripted nor coached outside of our request to be honest in their responses. Fortunately, we have plenty of kind-hearted, thoughtful, and witty students from which to choose! It is also a great way to showcase the variety of interests and personalities that make up our student body.
Geographically, BUA is located amongst many other independent schools. What sets your school apart? How do you convey that message to families?
The thing that sets BUA apart from our peer schools is our affiliation with Boston University. We are the only Boston-area independent school that is located on the campus of a world-class research university and that incorporates real undergraduate coursework as an essential part of its program for all students. One of our office’s primary tasks is to help prospective families understand the benefits and nuances of such a distinctive program. With this goal in mind, we created a stand-alone print piece that highlights the variety of ways in which our students benefit from our connectedness with Boston University. All families are mailed a copy of this “University Connections” brochure along with a companion letter from the university provost.
What, if any, are some of the challenges faced in reaching your enrollment targets each year?
There is tremendous value in being located in such a dense independent school market and being affiliated with Boston University. However, compared to a handful of our peer schools (some of which have been in operation for 200+ years), BUA is still a relative newcomer to the Boston independent school scene. One of our challenges is to ensure that prospective families in the area know who we are and understand how and why our program offers a singular college preparatory experience. Equally important is the need to help some families realize and appreciate the benefits of those qualities that make BUA exceptional, namely our integration with Boston University and our urban location. We are fortunate to have plenty of students and parents who can attest to the value of our program, and to the fact that it is possible to balance a demanding academic load, a healthy social life, and (potentially) a daily commute on public transportation.
Your head of school is new to BUA this year. How has this transition impacted your office?
It has been a fruitful and constructive few months since Dr. Ari Betof joined the BUA community in July. For any of our The Enrollment Management Association colleagues who have had the good fortune of working with him--either at the NAIS School Leadership Institute, as a part of Penn's Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership, through the Friends Council on Education, or at one of the independent schools at which he’s worked—you know that Ari brings an extraordinary level of energy to everything that he does. As a former director of enrollment management, he also has an inherent interest in our school’s admission and marketing efforts, as well as a deep appreciation for the work that our team does. Ari has affirmed a lot of the things that our office does in terms of outreach, lead nurturing, and events. At the same time, his arrival has pushed us to reevaluate our processes and touch points with families in a productive and collaborative way.
How are marketing and communications for admission handled at your school?
Do you have a dedicated director of marketing and communications working with the admission office? Is there someone in your office who oversees marketing as a primary or secondary function of his/her role? Outreach to prospective families has historically been initiated and executed by the admission office. To date, our team has been responsible for overseeing the design and creation of the school’s collateral pieces as well as for developing strategies to tap new markets and to increase our applicant pool in both quantity and quality. The assistant director of advancement is ultimately responsible for managing BUA’s online presence; however, we also help to generate new content for the school’s website and social media accounts.
We continue to explore authentic and compelling ways to show our program in action while looking for ways to involve students in the creation of new content. In this spirit, Ari has begun conversations about ways in which we can collaborate with the advancement team while we evaluate the school’s overall needs in this area in terms of staffing and resources.
Do you have plans to change the way you market to students/families in the coming year(s)? If so, what types of changes are you making and what market research prompted the change?
BUA has always been a school that is committed first and foremost to the life of the mind. While this tenet will remain unchanged, we are acutely aware that savvy families in the Boston area expect more of their high school options than just a top-notch academic experience. In order to continue to attract high caliber students with well-rounded interests, we recognize the need to do a better job of showcasing the varied passions and accomplishments of our amazingly talented students, faculty, and alumni. We also plan to highlight how students balance their commitments and manage their time, since this concern is often raised in our year-end admission surveys. Lastly, we have begun to explore creative ways in which to mobilize our current families and to target certain affinity groups that may find our program appealing.
Do you enroll international students?
BUA endeavors to be an option for all students who are excited by and capable of succeeding in our program, including those who live outside of the U.S. Despite being a day school, our office fields a large number of inquiries from families and agents living far afield. While we have the ability to enroll international students, BUA has issued fewer than five I-20s (Student Visa forms) within the past decade. Throughout the admission process, we are transparent about the housing arrangements and about the level of English proficiency we require of our students. Despite only having two students who meet the NAIS definition of being "international," BUA is an extremely global community--42% of our students speak a language other than English at home and 12% either hold dual citizenship or permanent resident status.