Dictionary.com defines an open house as “a time during which a school, institution, etc., is open to the public for exhibition or for some specified occasion.” Those of us in the admission world know that an open house is our chance to shine, our opportunity to capture the essence of our school, our shot at engaging prospective families for a moment in time, in the hope that they will apply and eventually enroll in our fine institution. Of course, while preparing for these open houses we may often refer to them with a much less enthusiastic term, such as “dog and pony show,” because we all know that we have to put on our best face and gear up for these exhausting events each time we host them.
Admission Open Houses can often become monotonous and typically involve administrator, faculty, and student presentations, campus tours, power points, explanations of the admission process, etc. Of course, each school conducts their individual event a bit differently in the hopes of distinguishing themselves from their competitors. At Ransom Everglades School, we did the same thing for many years. We had faculty speakers, we gave tours, and we talked about the admission process. We always knew we had the attention of the prospective parents, but we decided to change things up a bit in order to get the prospective student excited about applying to our school. About ten years ago, we started to really think outside the box and since then we have not looked back.
Jeopardy, Harry Potter, Family Feud, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire…what do all of these things have in common? These are just a few of the themes of our Middle School Admission Open Houses over the last 10 years. Instead of standing onstage and talking to prospective families as we had done in the past, we now endeavor to produce an actual show and disseminate all of our information through our theme. This certainly requires a great deal of creativity, effort, preparation, and coordination, but we have found the outcome to be absolutely worth it!
This year, almost 900 guests attended our Middle School Admission Open House, which was based upon the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? television game show and was transformed into the Who Wants to be a Ransom Raider? game show. Our parent ambassadors greeted families as they arrived and our band and chorus entertained them while they were waiting for the show to begin. We constructed a game show set so the audience felt as if they were truly in a Hollywood sound stage. Our technical theatre students ran all aspects of the show and our student actors were the stars playing the roles of the host and contestants. Working on the Open House with students we have admitted in the past seeking the students of the future was a live testament to the success of the admission process as a whole. All of the information about our school was explained through the game show questions, answers and dialogue. Students in the audience became more and more excited as the game escalated to the final question, all the while learning about our school in a compelling manner. The exciting climax of the show featured confetti and balloons descending upon the exuberant crowd.
A reception in the gymnasium followed the show. Interactive tables for each academic discipline, plus physical education, athletics, fine arts, media center, robotics, and student activities were set up around the perimeter of the gymnasium displaying books, curriculum, educational games, iPads, videos, experiments and supplementary materials. Department coordinators and faculty members were available at each table to answer questions. It was truly an educational utopia for the children in attendance! Students from over 70 different schools attended. However, the most significant facet of this occasion was how many people were involved in making it so special. The contributions came from a variety of individuals, including administrators, teachers, parents, staff, students, and alumni. The achievement of a school-wide event of this magnitude is the result of a team effort, and I feel quite lucky to be working with such a wonderful team of people at Ransom Everglades School. I am also extremely fortunate to have a head of school who continually supports and encourages the admission office to be as creative as possible.
This unique Open House format has garnered a great deal of exposure for our school, which is exactly what we wanted -- people talking about our school and getting excited to visit and learn more about us! Thinking outside the box can lead you in many directions, but it will most definitely lead you on a path to differentiate your school from others. Throughout this process, I have learned to always be open to change and to consistently try new things. In doing so, it has become quite clear that the possibilities are endless and the results are rewarding. However, the reward is not just in the number of applications elicited from the Open House, but more importantly from the experience of working with the community of people involved in making it a success. So as you prepare for your next Open House, change things up, get the entire school community involved, and think outside the box!
Secrets to Open House Success: a presentation at the 2012 SSATB Annual Meeting by Debbie Williams and Julia Davis, Crane Country Day School
The Power Practices Compilation - an ALC compilation including Marketing Musts for Day and Boarding Schools with hints for open houses (e.g., broadcast them via live webcast!)
Admission Marketing is Telling Little Stories! an article by Michael Horsey
A Pinterest with Open House Ideas (many are public school related, but great idea starters!)
A Better Way to Market Your School's Open House: a blog by Rick Newberry of Enrollment Catalyst