Bring in somebody from the outside to review your website, your campus and your school visit protocols. Make sure this third party has no agenda or interest in securing business from the school. Think of him just like you thought of the house inspector when you bought your house. He was your eyes and ears. He drew your attention to things which needed fixing. He reassured you that the roof was in good shape and would last another five years. And so on.
Compare your site with other sites. Tip: don't entrust this to a staff member. Actually visit other websites yourself and see how they look and feel.
Make an anonymous call to your school's Admissions Office and see how you are treated. (You can always have a friend do this while you listen and monitor the call.) Is your staff courteous? Helpful? Empathetic? I have personally encountered the whole range, from perfunctory to extremely helpful.
Email the Admissions Office and see how promptly you are answered. Note the quality of the response too. Does it represent the atmosphere and feel you wish the school to portray?
Is Your School's Website the Best It Can Be?
A website is your school's parlor or reception room. Most of the time it is the first thing your visitors see. Good web design is not necessarily a function of money spent. The critical elements are similar to those in good house decoration: simplicity, elegance and cohesiveness. Keep your website simple and easy to navigate. A professional web designer can impart elegance to a site which makes it feel comfortable and appealing. A logical flow to the 'message' makes the site cohesive and unified. More on design issues here.
Plan Successful Tours and Visits.
Nothing sways a prospective student more than the tour. Nothing! You need to put your best people on this important part of the public relations process. Train guides well. Here's an example of why.
A couple of years ago one of my students went off for a week of independent school tours. Her thirteen year old's comments were insightful. I am not sure that she had picked the schools using any systematic approach. No consultant seems to have been employed. Furthermore, she visited the campuses without having filed any applications, so that the visits were relatively anonymous. (I suspect many potential applicants do this to screen schools before embarking on the applications process.)
The first school she visited struck her as "boring". I gather that the tour guide was not very enthusiastic. The next comment concerned the over-use of the word "like" by students she encountered. She stopped counting after one hundred repetitions of the word. Her aversion to "like" was probably my fault, as I used to correct students' sloppy speech patterns constantly.
Another school impressed her mightily with its splendid sports facilities and championship teams. She knew nothing about the school prior to visiting it. The tour was excellent and included attending a class. Yet another school which had been highly recommended to her failed to impress because of its lack of programs. The caliber of its students apparently was ordinary.
What I am trying to point out is that a discerning teenager doesn't miss much during a school tour. Initial impressions ARE important and often lasting. The effort a school puts into the campus tour really does pay off. You love your school. So, be sure to put your best public relations foot forward when you assign tour guide duties and plan your tour agenda. The same advice applies to sleep overs. Spending a night in a school dorm is a great way to find out what boarding school life is really like. Make sure that you rehearse the entire experience and get it right.
Don't forget the parents either. They don't miss a trick and are easily impressed with sensitivity and courtesy. I'll never get over how impressed some of my clients were when they visited a school and the staff spoke with them in their native language which was Spanish. It cinched the deal.
Learn From Your Colleagues
Thinking about online applications? Want to know what other schools have done? Don't reinvent the wheel! Learn from your colleagues. The Admissions List sponsored by NAIS is the place to ask questions like these! It's a 'must' for Admissions Officers. It is only open to admissions personnel in independent schools.
Indeed, if you do not yet belong to your local, state, regional and national associations, you should. Unfortunately many a school has floundered and gone out of business simply because the powers that be lost touch with the market or their constituency or both. Here's a list of private school associations to help you with that important aspect of your work.
First impressions count in marketing your school just as much as they do in any endeavor.