Race to the Finish: Tips to Fill Your Remaining Seats

Private Schools Marketing

It’s that time of year again: the pressure is on to attract new students and fill empty seats for the upcoming school year. Here are seven tips to help you hit your targets as the application deadline fast approaches.

1. Team up with your colleagues in Admissions

As the marketing director for a private or independent school, you may be feeling the heat when applications aren’t coming in as expected – but it’s not all on you to recruit new students before your application deadline hits. Stay cool and team up with your Admissions staff (and someone external if you need objective help) to audit your school’s application process and ensure it’s as smooth as it can be. Go through the registration process from end to end and make sure the information and steps are clear and can be shared easily.

It’s important to remember who your audience is, and asking yourself the following question as you review the process will be critical:

  • Are the steps to apply clearly outlined, leaving no room for misunderstanding of where families should start (or which pieces are required vs. optional)?

  • Is it easy for parents to complete the application forms online and/or download print copies?

  • Is it easy for applicants to upload required documentation and submit online deposits or registration fees?

  • Are the platforms and links current and fully operational?

  • Do parents know what to expect and what information to collect before they start the online process? Or will they get frustrated and stop part way through?

  • Can busy parents book an appointment, call at their convenience or receive email updates  to verify their application is complete?

Think through what you would appreciate in an online application portal, and do what you can to simplify the process.

2. Analyze your open seats and target your niche

Are there specific grades that have open seats? Does your private school offer key programs with open capacity? Do you have day students but need boarders (or vice versa)? Target a digital marketing campaign with messaging for these niches – and those micro-targeted audiences – and spend your remaining advertising dollars for maximum impact. Develop messaging that’s specific to your programs with open capacity. 

The following examples can be used to guide email messages, digital campaigns, or even create a reason to host a themed event:

  • A Message from our Head Equestrian Trainer

  • Meet our Varsity Field Hockey Coach

  • Did you know that we bus to your neighborhood?

  • Benefits of the Boarding School Experience

  • Calling All Students Born in 2012

One of the best practices identified in our 2021 NAIS State of Independent School Marketing Survey is to check your analytics to identify which channels are doing the best job of moving leads through your funnel. Balancing the benefit:cost ratio of these channels against your acceptable cost per acquisition (ACPA, or the aggregate cost to acquire one paying customer on a campaign or channel level) will give you a sense of the best places to allocate your budget.

Need help getting started? Learn 10 Steps to Understand & Define Your Target Audience.

3. Break down barriers

What’s standing in the way of students applying to your institution? Is it location? Transportation? Cost? Make sure your messaging answers frequently asked questions or addresses barriers. For example, talk about your school's bus program that reaches outlying communities, your five-day boarding program, or promote your scholarships and financial aid opportunities. You could also consider sharing stories of students or families who’ve overcome barriers to attend your school as a softer and more relatable way to address challenges potential families may be facing.

4. Turn up the volume

Turn up the volume on any in-person or virtual events left on your calendar, and consider ways to make them more appealing to families. Try adding a virtual event to your all-live event calendar, offer events at different times of day, or waive the application fee for families who attend an admissions event. The more convenient it is for parents to attend an information session, the more likely it is that they will actually attend… and we all know once a family is able to experience your community first-hand, their likelihood to convert usually increases. It takes a lot of leads to funnel down to each qualified applicant. More folks attending your events = more qualified applicants.

5. Create a sense of urgency

Many private and independent schools have a March or April application deadline. If you need parents to spring into action in a last ditch effort to fill seats, create a sense of urgency by using “last chance” messaging in your online marketing and advertising campaigns. Publicize deadlines, use eye-catching design and phrasing, and offer rewards or early-bird pricing (like a school shirt or waived application fee) for those who submit on time. Act now, because people have a real fear of missing out!

6. Offer incentives for brand ambassadors

One of the most powerful marketing tools in your toolkit are your current students and families. Lean into their ability to be influencers for your school! Make it easy for your current parents, faculty or students to share your content by giving them an email or social post to forward or share, and consider sweetening the ask by offering to draw for school swag or tech items (depending on your budget) if they participate. 

The 2021 Neilsen Trust in Advertising Study shows that 89% of people consider recommendations from people they know as the most trusted channel of marketing. According to Dale Carnegie, 91% of clients will give a referral, but only 11% of salespeople will ask for one.” ...so ask!

(On that note, do you have a “How did you hear about us?” section on your application form? If so, make sure to include “Referred by ” as an option with space to fill in the name to keep track of and reward your most successful brand ambassadors.)

7. Leverage existing channels

You’ve got the canvas, now splatter the paint! Leverage all your organic channels to maximize your 

marketing push. Add a pop-up to your website homepage, post on all your social channels, work your email list, and take advantage of low-cost engagement efforts to call potential applicants to action! According to the 2021 NAIS State of Independent School Marketing Survey, most leads need to be followed up with three to six times before they close.

Some other great ideas:

  • Have select students or teachers take over your social media for a day

  • Post student-created content like reels*

  • Offer submission boxes and polls to generate ideas or find out why students (and parents) selected your school over their other options

*To minimize risk and ensure consistent messaging, create general guidelines for student-made content and screen it well before posting. This is also a great opportunity to involve your multimedia teachers by giving them an outlet for a creative class assignment, or hear late-in-the-process questions from the audience to understand what they’re still curious about!

We can help!

At Metric Marketing, we develop measurable and practical strategies to help private and independent schools like yours to make the most of your marketing efforts. We'd love to discuss your private school's marketing requirements with you. Contact us today to speak with our marketing professionals or sign up to receive more marketing tips in your inbox.


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