Admission Office Profiles: International

September 16, 2019 EMA Team

Admission Office Profiles: International

From The Yield, Fall 2014 

SSATB has long welcomed international schools as members, and this issue of The Yield shines a spotlight on two of them. An international school is most generally defined as a school that follows a national or international curriculum different from that of the host country. 
It is important to note that over the last decade the number of international schools around the world has increased substantially. The International Schools Consultancy group (ISC), 
for example, boasts more than 7,200 international schools in its network enrolling more than 3.7 million students.

Concordia International School - Shanghai, China

Enrollment: 1,250
Type of School: Day/International – Grades PreK 3-12
Student Breakdown by Country: USA-61%, Korea-12%, Canada-5%, Hong Kong-3%, Taiwan-3%, Austrailia-3%, Malayasia-2%, Other-11%

Nicholas Kent — High School Principal — Nicholas graduated from Providence College with a degree in history and later earned a masters in American history. After seven years of teaching in independent schools in IN, MO, and WA, Nicholas moved to China to teach at Concordia. In his nine years there, Nicholas has been a teacher, assistant principal, and principal. He is currently finishing his doctoral degree at Lehigh University focusing on marketing activities of international schools.

Carol Ann Tonn — Director of Admissions — Carol Ann has her masters degree in education from the State University of New York and is half-way through the doctoral program at Nova Southeastern University. Prior to working as the Director of Admissions at Concordia, Carol Ann worked in international media for 20 years. She began her career with the Asian Wall Street Journal, Time Inc., Computerworld, and Yahoo. Carol Ann has been director of admissions for five years and oversees all aspects of lower, middle, and high school division admissions.

Vina Peng — 
Admissions Coordinator
Suzanne Brandt — 
Assistant Director of Admissions
Kim Gaylord-Assistant Director 
of Admissions
Suki Chen — 
Admissions & Marketing Communication Customer Relations Liaison
Melody Chen — 
Admissions Secretary
Sivia Lv — Admissions Secretary

How is admission in an international school different from what you were used to previously?

Enrollment management in an international school is a little more frenetic than what I had experienced in independent schools in the United States. How is that possible, you ask? We do not have an admission season internationally, as global expatriation happens year round and rarely takes into consideration the school calendar. We need to be constantly aware of what our enrollment models are for the week, month, and year. Shanghai has become a global destination over the past eight years, so the average stay of families has increased, but we still deal with a 20-30% turnover every year due to repatriation of families.

The dynamic nature of a foreign country and a global economy can take an enrollment model and destroy it very quickly, so being flexible and planning for numerous contingencies is important. We may be able to look at growth in a particular industry and forecast how that might affect the number of expats coming to Shanghai in that area, but we can’t forecast disease, natural disasters, or sudden corporate relocation to another country.

Also unique to international schools is the role professional relocation companies play in the process of applications. These companies are contracted by multinational companies to help newly-assigned expats find housing and schools. We frequently need to educate these companies about our community as they advise families new to Shanghai.

What political factors in your region influence your work?

Every admission professional and administrator is tasked with interacting with the local community and government, but being abroad, this takes on a much larger significance. As a guest in China, we have to be aware of the political and cultural mores of our host country. Though we are not limited in what or how we teach, we are transparent and provide the local educational commission with access to our school.

One of the reasons we are given a little freedom is because we are not allowed to enroll Chinese citizens in our school. There are exceptions for People’s Republic of China students who have been outside of the Chinese educational system (due to parents working abroad); however, these cases must be reviewed by the government before we are allowed to consider them for admission.

Why are you, in your role as high school principal, involved in admission?

The two greatest responsibilities I have as principal both revolve around building a mission-appropriate community: hiring staff and admitting students. Based on conversations I’ve had with peers, I have more of a hands-on role with admission than most principals, but it is because of the effect admits have on the entire community.

First (and selfishly), I like being involved with admission, as it gives me another touch point with kids and families. Transition is a significant issue internationally as families adjust to moving into a new national and school culture. I find that as a community, we can do a great job in helping families if admission, administrators, and faculty all take a role in the process. Second, if I have a solid understanding of the kids we have in the building and how new students can add to that dynamic, I can be a better leader of teachers and students.

Describe the families enrolled in your school.

Our families run the range of seasoned expats on their fourth school in six years to families fresh off the plane that had no idea China even existed. The constituencies are so diverse — which we like to celebrate — but it does come with some institutional tension.

For some families, this is their first independent, private school experience, and the expectations, services, and mission are very different than their public school experience. Additionally, having competing cultural expectations can make being a principal a somewhat stressful, though very rewarding, experience. It is supremely important to have a clear mission and vision for your school, and it is best for potential families to have a clear understanding of expectations during the admission process.

Do you work closely with other peer institutions or like-minded constituent groups with regard to enrollment management?

Creating models and forecasting is very important for us in navigating the shifting economic landscape. We are constantly scouring economic data from the government and various national chambers of commerce — as well as what we hear from corporate parents at dinner parties. ISC research is another great source of data about international schools.

The best resource specifically for Shanghai is other international schools. One reason why I respect admission professionals in this region is because of their collegiality and sense that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Admission and marketing professionals from the international schools in Shanghai get together two or three times a year to share data, engage in professional development, present their school’s enrollment trends, and discuss governmental expectations. I have never been part of a group that is so collaborative and transparent.

Do we compete for students with each other? Yes; however, it is clear that by collaborating, all the institutions in the area (there are over two dozen) have experienced greater growth and created specific community niches that better serve the expat families transitioning into our adoptive city.

What is your primary vehicle for marketing your school?

Marketing for international schools is multifaceted, but the most effective is always word of mouth. When a family finds out that they are being transferred to China, they call their friend, who has a friend, who lived there once. The bulk of first touch contact comes from word of mouth. Once families get a sense of a few schools to look at in Shanghai, they hit the internet and then find out about the wealth of options available.

The greatest touch point for building those relationships is the admission office, hands down. Every admission professional in North America and abroad knows that there is parental anxiety when applying to a school, but that anxiety is magnified to the 100th degree when moving abroad. Our admission office is as much about family/transition counseling as it is about enrollment management. We have shifted our admission focus from simply getting students enrolled to helping families transition successfully to Shanghai and helping them find the right school for their entire family, even if it is not Concordia.

What are the biggest enrollment challenges you face?

The number of challenges is too long to list: government, economy, lifestyle, culture, parental expectations, differing curriculum of entering students, the rise of individual learning needs, transition, etc. This can be overwhelming when you want to create a strategic plan or a financial model to predict the future. However, so many of these are beyond our control. When we focus on our mission and simply ministering to families, regardless of their enrollment status, the stress of these challenges goes away and families are better served.

What challenges/advantages do you feel you have vis-à-vis your colleague schools in the U.S. or Canada?

I think the diversity of student, family, curriculum, and experience that walks through our doors is both our greatest challenge and advantage we have with respect to our North American colleagues. We are in a special situation being abroad, in that we have opportunities to innovate and develop in a way our North American colleagues may not be as free to do because of tradition, state mandates, or inertia. We are incredibly flexible institutions that are really innovating within education, and we would like to share our experiences by developing partnerships with our North American colleagues.

Why did you decide to require the SSAT of applicants? How has it influenced admission decisions?

When our school was founded, our admission assessment was made to suit our needs at the time, and we simply evaluated basic skills. However, in 2008 it became clear that we needed to grow our practices to meet the significant growth of the school. Also, given the dynamic nature of our student body, we were looking for an assessment that could be transferred to other schools so as to lessen the stress on families leaving Concordia. As an admission organization, SSATB was a great resource and helped us better understand our practices and our needs.

We use the SSAT as one piece of an admission process. The SSAT provides information about where the student fits on the spectrum of students we already have in the building. It also helps us when placing students in particular courses. Given that transcripts from around the world are not consistent, we need that standard measure of academic performance. That being said, if you look at the range of students in our community, their SSAT scores would also look quite diverse.

TASIS - The American School in Switzerland

Enrollment: 740
Type of School: Boarding-Day/Coed International – Grades PreK-PG
Student Breakdown by Country: 62 countries, 41 languages, USA - 25%

Bill Eichner — Director of Admissions — Bill joined TASIS in 1983 as an AP art history teacher, a role he continued for 15 years. He served as academic dean for a decade before becoming director of admissions in 1997. During his tenure, the school has expanded from 340 to 740 students. Bill also plays a crucial role in alumni and development efforts.

Emily McKee — Associate Director of Admissions — Emily grew up on boarding school campuses and has spent the past 13 years working in admission. She began her career at Culver Academies (IN), then as associate director of admissions and director of international recruitment at Western Reserve Academy (OH). She joined TASIS in 2011, and her role includes international marketing and public relations initiatives.

How is admission in an international school different from what you were used to previously?

Only 25% of our boarding students are American, so the international dimension of our population is the biggest difference. These students come from 62 countries, including the markets that U.S. boarding schools visit. TASIS has a strong international travel program and Global Service Program, and the global scope of the school environment means that international schools market themselves differently than other independent schools. In our office of four, six different languages are spoken, which accommodates most of our families. This is a strong selling point for TASIS, as our global reach helps deliver a truly international experience to our students.

Another major difference is the cost. At today’s exchange rate, first-year boarders pay $90,000. Our financial assistance budget totals $2 million, and 70 of our 270 boarders receive awards from this budget. This budget also helps attract State Department and Aramco students, whose subsidies fall short of our tuition.

Finally, while the TASIS admission process is quite similar to that used in independent schools, one difference is the idea of an “admission season.” In some summers, we’ll have 40 students to go before we make our targets, and strong applicants come through the door every day.

What political factors in your region/the world affect your work?

As the oldest American boarding school in Europe, TASIS has dealt with varying political factors for decades. Instead of focusing on differences, students are encouraged to discuss and learn about current events and politics and tend to do this with open minds, mainly due to the international nature of our student body. While the global economic crisis has been an issue with some of our families, we have yet to see a major impact on our admission.

Describe the families enrolled in your school.

Our families are as varied as the 62 nations they come from, but all share the same desire — they want their children to become global citizens. Many of our families are dual citizens or have lived in a variety of places, so they understand the value of an international experience at a young age. TASIS offers access to a network of alumni around the world, many of whom are top business and political leaders. This is attractive to families who work in global markets and want a school with global reach.

Like most schools in your region, you utilize a wide network of agents to whom you pay fees. Please describe these relationships.

Agents are an important part of our international recruitment strategy. Around 25% of our boarding students come to us through agents, and standard practice among our peer schools in Switzerland means we pay commission on the first year of a student’s attendance. Similar to working with stateside educational consultants, the key is to be sure agents know our school and policies well, and to gauge whether or not they have access to students who are appropriate for us. Some of the best agents we work with are well known to U.S. schools, such as EDICM in Japan. We place a high priority on maintaining and cultivating our agent network. Our Agent Coordinator, Helen Roowalla, maintains our agent database and annually renews contracts with our key agents and oversees commission agreements. Every market is different, so what works in Japan won’t in Brazil. In a few of our major markets, such as Turkey (21 students), we work with one dynamic agent who represents only a few Swiss schools. In Brazil (30 students), we work with many agents. In all cases, it’s important to maintain regular contact, and we visit each of our major markets at least once a year.

Do you work closely with other peer institutions or like-minded constituent groups with regards to enrollment management?

We are lucky to have a sister school in the U.K., TASIS The American School in England. This relationship allows us to benchmark against one another and share marketing strategies. TASIS is also a member of Swiss Learning, a consortium of Swiss boarding schools. We meet twice a year to discuss marketing strategies, enrollment numbers, agent fees, and current trends specific to Swiss schools and relative to boarding school in general.

What is your primary vehicle for marketing your school?

We increasingly turn to social media to stay connected to our constituents. As an international school we find outlets like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook to be extremely helpful in sharing all aspects of the TASIS experience, from our beautiful campus to the programs that set us apart. In the past year we also launched an interactive viewbook app for the iPad and an alumni app for smartphones. We use broadcast emails to share notable school news, and various publications, such as our quarterly e-newsletter, help families glimpse everyday life at TASIS. Despite this outreach, we also keep the strategy of our founder, M. Crist Fleming, at the core of our marketing — we travel extensively to share the TASIS story with families around the world. This past recruiting season our office visited 19 countries, several more than once.

What are the biggest enrollment challenges you face?

Cost and space – interesting when put together! Compared to U.S., Canadian, and U.K. schools, we are considerably higher in cost, which makes it challenging to compete in these areas. Space is also an issue. We are located in a hillside village and have strict space limitations, which mean we often don’t have space to enroll students, even if their applications are strong.

What challenges/advantages do you feel you have vis-à-vis your colleague schools in the U.S. and Canada?

A major advantage is our location. Europe is truly our classroom and provides students unparalleled exposure to the world. As an example, our ancient and medieval history students visit Greece for their fall academic travel trip; this makes learning come alive in unimaginable ways. As we discuss with our colleagues in Swiss Learning, we are lucky to live in a country known for financial stability, safety, and efficiency. Another advantage is that we have rolling admission, which is particularly important for our families.

TASIS boasts a multi-tiered ESL program. How do you assess applicants’ fluency?

Our ESL program is called “English as an Additional Language,” because so many of our non-native speakers are learning English as a third or fourth language. During the application process, we require TOEFL Junior®or Cambridge test scores, along with our own written proficiency assessment. We find that the level of written English is the best indicator of how an EAL student will succeed in the upper levels. We have many students who come to us as 10th or 11th graders and aspire to complete the IB diploma or several AP exams. At this level, a close review of written proficiency is an important complement to standardized testing.

What kind of professional development did you offer your admission team this year?

The annual SSATB conference is a highlight for our year, but usually only one of our team can attend. Swiss Learning hosts two conferences a year that focus on admission and marketing, and we ensure several of us attend these. Each September, we host an admission and marketing retreat where our entire office, along with alumni and development staff, can analyze, reflect, and plan. These team-building opportunities are an essential complement to conferences. Last year, we convened in Tuscany for two days of meetings and socializing. This September, we are meeting on the TASIS England campus, where we will benchmark with our sister school.


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