The Advice Booth: Making Virtual Recruitment Real
Dear Prizmah Coach,
How can I engage prospective applicants when I don't have the ability to meet them and their families in person or access the campus to give them a tour?
A worried admission director
COVID-19 has turned our lives upside-down. As our daily routines came to a halt, we created new ones. We have had to figure out (some of us may be still trying to) how to juggle children at home and their new virtual learning schedules and/or taking care of loved ones at home, all while we try to work in the same (possibly small) space. We must get creative. We must be flexible. We must be patient.
As admissions professionals, such challenges are not unfamiliar. We have always needed to be creative in our efforts to reach students and families who we want to tour our school; we have to be flexible and drop everything to give a tour for a family who showed up on campus without a tour appointment because they are only in town for a few days and wanted to stop by (yes, it would have been nice if they called in advance, but they didn’t, so here we are). But above all, keeping patience front of mind with families and holding their hands as they navigate the admission process has a lasting impact on the families and their impressions of our school.
Stewarding and supporting families through this process is one of our most important jobs. And their experience with our school can often influence a family’s decision to apply and eventually enroll in our school. We know that a family will share their experience with our school with their friends and family—and they will share the good and the bad.
So how do we take the skills we have and our admission knowledge and pivot to a new virtual platform? There is a lot that we can do.
A virtual tour is your opportunity to give prospective students and their families a look inside your school. You can provide visuals of your learning spaces accompanied by a story and examples of what learning looks like in your school. If you have multiple divisions, consider doing a virtual tour for each division. It is important to showcase the uniqueness for each division and related stories and messages. Keep in mind that when you design a virtual tour, it will be as important as the tour you typically give in person.
Think carefully what and how you showcase your school. If you can access your school, take your phone (many phones have camera settings to do panorama images and/or video capability), or if you have a 360 camera and equipment, and record the tour on your camera or video equipment. There are dozens of resources online that can give you tips and tricks for doing it with little to no budget. Not comfortable on camera? Consider hiring a company to take the 360 pictures to make a virtual tour. (Check what is available in your area; many small businesses are still open despite COVID-19.) If you don’t have access to the school, take time to go though pictures you do have of your classes and activities, and build the tour with photos. With this approach, there are programs that you can find online that can help you build a video with photos, and adding your voice, or better yet, a student’s voice, can be great way to showcase your school.
Touch Points and Connections
Review your admission practices beginning with initial contact through enrollment that you typically deliver to a prospective student and their family during the year, and then do more. Get creative and thoughtful with your interactions. In this new reality, parents and students will naturally have more questions. Engage parents and students to help. They can be incredible ambassadors to help share their story and their unique experience with your school. Set up virtual coffee dates for them or virtual play dates for younger students. Connect parents and students to help them get a sense of the school and community.
Think about what would make them feel good or excited about your school. You have many stories (if not hundreds of stories) to tell. For example, share your school’s response to COVID-19 and how it pivoted to virtual learning, and share examples of your success and responses to setbacks. This can give families an idea of how your school responds to challenges and celebrates success. Consider collaborating with your development director to build a unified message about how your school made the transition. This alignment can be powerful to both admission and development work.
Customer Service and Patience
Providing customer service that inspires a parent to relate to friends or online is not only a compliment to you and your school, it is the best word-of-mouth marketing tool that a school could dream of. How can you go above and beyond for this potential customer? The key now, more than ever, is patience. During a typical admission season, the process can be stressful for parents and students; with the added stress of a global pandemic, we need to keep patience front and center. Showing parents your patience during this time is essential.
Think creatively of what families could use in this moment. Customer service should be proactive and consistent, and it is a great opportunity to illustrate for families what it means to be part of your community. Can you send them a Shabbat care package? Reach out and support a local kosher business and send challah and grape juice for Shabbat as a gift from your school. Is your school hosting any social online gatherings that would be appropriate to invite them to? Schoolwide Havdalah? Story time? Tot Shabbats? Book clubs for older students? Art or STEAM classes? As many parents are craving interactions for their children, you can become a resource for them. In turn, you are investing in a relationship, building connection with families and delivering exceptional customer service.
Now that people are spending more time online, this is a great time to work on your school’s website. Investing time and thought and money in your website is an investment in your school that can impact the short term and the long term. You want to use this time to thoughtfully plan and get your school prepared when schools are open again.
There are many instruments that can evaluate your site, such as website.grader.com. They give you an overall rating and break down your site’s performance, mobile interface, SEO, security, and more. Additionally, enlist select parent ambassadors to look at other schools’ websites and identify features and functionality. Give them a list of key things to look for, rate and report back to you.
Work with your school marketing person, or if that’s you, you can meet directly with your head of school to determine how you can make changes to your site. You may have to do the work in stages, depending on limitations of time or money. Identify some quick fixes and those that take more time and planning. This is a great time to review your web analytics, looking at traffic on admission pages, time spent on pages and click-throughs, and compare them to previous months and years. Use these data points coupled with your web research to inform any changes to your site.
As we adjust to this new normal (for the time being), we are given a rare opportunity to reexamine our admission processes, think through how we can improve our practice and opportunities for connection to prospective families, and showcase our schools’ flexibility and adaptability. I would encourage you to use this time to lean into Prizmah’s network of admission professionals to share practices and ideas. My hope is that we will emerge stronger as a Jewish community united in our work to increase enrollment in our day schools.
Do you have questions about enrollment management and admission practices? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.