by Pam Mason-Norsworthy
CRANE strategic partnerships manager
I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
–Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
‘Twas a time in the independent school world when prospects contacted schools in the fall then visited some weeks later. They submitted applications sometime around the holidays then waited for the mail carrier to deliver the hoped-for good news just as the crocuses—or daffodils and dogwoods in the case of southern climes—were preparing their spring show of color. It was a simpler time.
But a convergence of realities has transformed the traditional admissions “season” into a continuous loop—or at the very least, a Season B. Our new digital lives mean applicants wait longer to apply because they can hit that “submit” button on the iPad at the eleventh hour—or perhaps, long past it.
What used to be the first hurdle prospects needed to clear to demonstrate serious interest has transmogrified into a hurdle for the admissions team to clear: “They inquired. They visited. They emailed. They called. They started an application. But how do we get them to complete and submit the darn thing?”
The rise of the Millennial parent
Millennial parents are doing their demographic research and in many markets, are well aware that the fewer number of four-year-olds out there means that their child won’t necessarily get turned down just because the paperwork is late. In their book Millennials with Kids, Jeff Fromm and Marissa Vidler assert that today’s parents want a very tailored and individualized education experience for their children. And perhaps that begins with the application process, where they may test the school’s willingness to consider their family’s particular situation and timeframe outside of published deadlines.
With qualified families operating on their timetable—not the school’s—social media, earned media, and website newsfeeds must tell a compelling story all year long. Not just in the fall when admissions season kicks off. Not just during the weeks before Open House. Not just as a reminder when the application or financial aid deadlines near. But ALL. THE. TIME.
So how can schools respond?
Even well-reputed schools must increasingly go beyond simply posting adorable photos of the sixth-grade field trip with the caption “Sixth graders had a great time at the Air and Space Museum!” Instead, they must help the uninitiated decode the message in the photos. And whenever possible, must tie the event or activity to pedagogy, academic program, and school culture.
Sixth-graders got an inside look at how history, physics, and politics merged during our visit to the Air and Space Museum. We examined how the Space Race catapulted engineers, scientists, and mathematicians to new discoveries— all to ensure the Russians didn’t get too far ahead of us! It’s part of our Cold War study, which students incorporate into grade-wide presentations later this year.
While this kind of post requires a bigger investment from the communications team—to connect with the teachers involved to get an authentic picture of the value of the experience—it also does far more heavy lifting in appealing to prospects than a straight-tell caption could ever do. While we’d all like the admissions work to be wrapped up in late spring, technology and market forces have changed the game. So remember to shape every public-facing message through a marketing and positioning lens all year long—not just in the fall. And have a little patience with those running-late Millennials. They simply want to make the very best choice for their child. And that, increasingly, takes time.