Type of school: Coeducational Day School
Praveen, what are the most notable differences between independent school and graduate school admission? Was there anything that surprised you?
While the principles of enrollment management are similar across all academic institutions, the focus in the independent school sector requires many more touch points and higher degrees of personalization. In higher education, the functions between recruitment, admission, and enrollment are highly specialized, as there tends to be a higher volume of applicants. In independent schools, admission departments play a critical role in multiple facets of executing an enrollment strategy. One thing that surprised me was the relationship that our staff developed with families even after final decisions were made. This is critical in terms of supporting a strong retention strategy.
What lessons from your previous admission experiences have you put to use in your work at The York School?
One important takeaway from my previous admission experience was the integration of data in our decisions. Data-driven decision making is critical to optimizing efficiencies and experiencing positive outcomes. In higher education, there are divisions dedicated to collecting and analyzing data. In my first year at The York School, we spent the majority of our time trying to collect useful data and identify important benchmarks on which to focus. While independent schools do not always have the luxury of functional specialists, it was important to partner with other departments to identify and collect as much information as possible.
The first year, our goal was to acquire key internal enrollment data metrics and try to identify trends over a 10-year span. We evaluated data such as inquiries, applications, offers, acceptance rates, and we tried to identify effectiveness of various on-site/off-site recruitment events. Being a coed school with campuses in two locations, our focus was also to identify if there were differences in customer behavior based on age, gender, and campus location. Furthermore, this exercise helped us identify additional data points while establishing a clearly defined market position for our school.
Over the past couple of years, we have continued to identify key benchmarks to measure success. While a fully enrolled school may signify success, our enrollment strategy also ensures that we are consistently improving student quality across grades. While attrition is one metric used, we have begun to dig deeper and explore student success metrics that can be evaluated within the first term of study to evaluate transition, particularly for first year students, and to evaluate long term success.
Can you think of any examples of issues/challenges our secondary schools have solved from which our higher education counterparts could learn?
By virtue of size, independent school admission offices are a lot closer to understanding their customers and mastering the customer experience. The marketing demographic is very different; today, we need to market both to parents as well as students. Higher education admission offices have larger structures and systems. There are defined roles for each person on a team, which can create a risk of siloed work. In the independent school admission office, the teams are lean. Our staff has the potential to be closely connected to each student’s experience from beginning to end. I believe that independent school admission offices are a lot closer to the faculty and school and can therefore provide a much more tailored customer experience and have greater confidence that an applicant is mission appropriate.
What have you changed about the admission process since arriving at The York School?
Over the past three years, we have made several subtle changes in our processes. The result is that we have been able to successfully change the conversation while ensuring that our teams are able to easily implement new ideas. We have been able to better segment our candidate pool and identify commonalities between various groups by grade, interest, or ethnicity.
Our focus has been to develop an enhanced consumer experience that engages our applicants at every stage in the process. We started with moving our admission process online. We found that this change alone, coupled with a thorough admission cycle communications process, has improved our conversion rate substantially.
Another reason for higher conversion rates is our faculty, who are highly engaged brand advocates for the school. Our faculty wear many hats, and that includes promoting the school to candidates and their parents, completing assessments, and supporting the interview process when needed.
We have also integrated a group interview format for all of our middle & senior school students, which has allowed our faculty to engage firsthand with three to four candidates at a time. We have found this format to be beneficial in measuring a student’s emotional readiness to be engaged in a coed classroom, which is critical.
In the upcoming year, we'll also launch a new online video platform interview tool allowing candidates to participate in a one-to-one video interview followed by a timed written response. We were inspired by some of the developments in higher education, and this new initiative is a first in the independent school sector. I’m excited to see how this will further enable us to identify the most mission-appropriate students.
Have you employed any new marketing strategies or tactics? How did they vary based on your recruitment levels/enrollment needs?
One of our marketing principles is borrowed from Apple. Once we have established a relationship with applicant families, we quickly try to ‘’surprise and delight" parents and students with small things that reinforce our unique brand. When they visit for the first time, we ensure that our inclusive, open culture is evident from the start.
Since we have been clear about our difference, we have seen that we attract people who are equally clear about the kind of school they want to be part of. Families recognize that they are making a commitment to join a community, and are drawn to a culture that aligns with their values.
When we make offers, we create an experience that will truly delight students. We ensure that when they receive the offer, they feel special and part of a welcoming community. The result of this experience has been higher acceptance rates each year.
At a technologically agile, progressive school, things move quickly. If we were to see that we needed to boost enrollment in a particular area, we could work to address that gap very quickly. Being integrated with marketing & communications means that we could have a targeted ad on Facebook the same week we identified that need.
To which key metrics do you refer on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to best assess your enrollment strategies?
The key metrics considered are based on inquiries, applications, offers, and acceptance rates. These are compared over a three-year cycle, typically on a week-to-week basis. Our data reports are compiled regularly and shared with the executive team. In addition, our team monitors watch lists and consults with division heads to ensure that we are capturing any at-risk students early in the recruitment cycle. As marketing and communications are critical to both recruiting prospective students and promoting internally, we regularly review our admission key performance indicators (KPIs) and measure against our marketing metrics in order to ensure congruency in messaging and effective placement.
In the year ahead, we will review both non-academic and academic benchmarks to assess overall growth through the lenses of the advancement office, finance office, academic quality, athletics, and co-curricular engagement. Our plan is to measure these metrics by term to measure the success of our student body.
What kind of professional development have you found most valuable? Is there an area of your work in which you wished specific training were available? What areas do you hope to focus on for next year?
A couple years ago, I attended The Erdmann Institute. I really appreciated the retreat-style professional development as it allowed for members to discuss enrollment management issues outside our respective regions. I found the discussion between colleagues to be extremely beneficial in terms of understanding the multiple complexities that day and boarding schools face. For my own continued education, I think learning about the other areas (academic and non-academic) in the school is helpful as it allows me to better understand the full experience from which our students (and parents) benefit.
How have you worked to build or strengthen relationships with consortium groups and/or colleagues from other schools?
In the independent school world, relationships are critical. In admission, this is the core of our work and the secret to our success. Within a three-mile radius of The York School, there are several excellent independent schools. While our primary responsibility to is to identify and recruit mission-appropriate students, I think it is equally important that we’re able to help candidates identify alternate schools if there is either no space or there isn’t the perfect fit. Our jobs as admission professionals extend beyond accepting or declining a student to helping families identify alternatives whenever possible.
Meet The Team
Praveen Muruganandan, Director, Admission and Advancement
Praveen joined The York School in October 2014. Previously, he managed undergraduate and graduate admission at the Business School at York University. Praveen is responsible for overseeing the enrollment management strategy, including recruitment, admission, retention, and engagement.
Natasha Estey, Admission Officer
Natasha joined The York School in May 2011, having previously been a senior research manager at Ipsos Public Affairs. With a particular focus on middle and senior school, Natasha is involved with all aspects of admission, from leading school tours and working with families throughout the admission process to managing the school's Student Ambassador Programme.
Valerie Turner, Vice Principal, Junior School Admissions
Valerie joined The York School in August 2015. She held a variety of leadership and senior administrative positions in Canada and the U.S. in independent and public school settings. Valerie serves as the vice principal of the junior school and is an admission advocate supporting junior school students and their families.