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Recruitment and Retention

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Beyond the Bells and Whistles

Beyond the Bells and Whistles

by Sean Atkins and Ed Thompson

Applicants and their families endure a long wait during the secondary school application process. March 10 comes, good news finally arrives in the mailbox (or now it tends to be an inbox), and after the celebrations are over, thoughts shift toward the revisit and the final decision. Admitted students and parents return to campus with various mindsets. Some families are there merely to confirm the decision they made months ago; other families are deciding between several schools and are waiting to be captured. Not surprisingly, it is this second group that represents the bigger challenge for schools. The tables have turned, so to speak, and now schools must contend with a tremendous mix of expectations (both reasonable and unreasonable), excitement, and plenty of questions to address as they coordinate a comprehensive revisit program.

Every spring we hear revisit stories - successful experiences as well as disappointments. One practical (and probably rather obvious) observation is for admission teams to have a twin focus: parent and student. From what we know from The Enrollment Management Association's survey data, parents attach a high degree of importance to the revisit and a negative experience can provide pause and consideration for another school. Therefore, the successful revisit program should include a balance of entertainment and grandeur, a showcase of the student experience, and connections to people in the community.

Admitted families look forward to a warm reception and introduction. Parents in particular love to hear directly from the head of school and the director of admission and want to be impressed with the latest news on campus and emerge confident about the vision of the school’s future. Students want to hear from the same people, plus current students, coaches, art teachers, and club leaders. They want to feel welcome, comfortable, and inspired.

Every school has something unique to their identity; however, there will be many similarities at revisit day. It is important to stay true to what makes you appealing to families and keep the mission of your school in mind as you plan. Moreover, revisiting families want to see the core elements of your school (academic program, college counseling, and student life) that intrigued them throughout the application process. They can see past the “bells and whistles,” so we would advise being transparent and intentional about your core messages.

The revisit day should be an opportunity to showcase all that is great about your school. It is a chance to empower your current students and faculty. At times we get too consumed by worrying about the “yield” and forget about the essence of who we are as institutions. Parents want their children to be stimulated, nurtured, and prepared for college.

Schools that can put together revisit programs which genuinely reflect the culture of their communities have put forth a comprehensive effort. If you have a consistent message that embodies your mission and a little bit of luck with weather, the admission team should feel confident in a good overall yield. Good luck!

Resources:

Special Report: The Ride to Independent Schools