Understanding the Decision Phase of the Family Journey

In my previous two blog posts, I discussed the Awareness and Consideration Phases of the Family Journey. This model has been developed by Andy Lynch, President and CEO of North Star Marketing.

We will be using the framework of the Family Journey for our discussion at our Geeks on the Road Workshop in Orlando. 52 enrollment and marketing geeks from 29 schools in 15 states and 2 provinces will gather in Orlando for the first “Geeks on the Road” Workshop. When Andy and I began planning this workshop, our hope was that 20 would attend. We are thrilled with this interest, and we are looking forward to a great workshop. Our plan is that this will be the first of many workshops that we will host in the future!

The Decision Phase

The third phase of the Family Journey is Decision. In this phase, the parent will decide to apply, enroll, and onboard. The parent has a decision to make. The school’s leadership also has a decision to make about the family.

This is a key phase in the Family Journey. Through your work in the Awareness and Consideration Phases, this is where the parent makes their decision for the best school for their child.

There are several strategies that are important for this phase.

Admissions as Sales – Your goal in the admissions process is to guide the parent through this journey. This requires a focus on selling your school along the way. Of course, this sales process isn’t in the same vein as that of a used car salesperson. Rather, the focus is on being proactive, intentional, and relational throughout all of your interactions with prospective parents. Remember, this decision is less about you and more about what the parent wants.

Application Process – While there is much that I could share about the application process, it is critical that your process is clearly outlined and communicated on your website and in your admissions materials. Parents need to understand the steps in the process and what is required for them. I still find it surprising that schools fail to clearly communicate the application process.

Surprisingly, I have even found some schools waiting until after re-enrollment to open their new student application. This old school way of thinking drives the school leader to re-enroll current families first before opening the opportunities for prospective students. The application should be open no later than October 1 for the following school year.

Priority deadlines can also work to create a sense of urgency for parents to complete an application.

School Decision and Notification – The key to your school’s decision process is to make sure you understand the criteria you are using to evaluate your applicants. Your goal is to fill the open seats with the best mission-aligned students and families.

The notification process should include many forms of communication including emails, phone calls and letters. Some admissions staff will produce a welcome video to communicate to the student that they are accepted and are in the upcoming class. One school that I am working with even recorded some individualized personal welcome videos for specific students.

You should also consider sending or delivering a welcome gift to your new students. Several schools that I am partnering with deliver a school-branded box with swag. One school sent their mascot with the admissions staff to personally deliver these boxes. Another school personally delivered hoodies to their new students.

Waitlist vs. Waitpool – A waitlist essentially gives an open seat in order of the applications received. A waitpool places all of the admitted applicants into a pool to determine who should be offered the open seat out of this group. During a recent webinar with Sarah Donovan, Senior Director of Advancement at The First Academy in Orlando, we discussed how a waitpool should work in the admissions process. You can access the recording of this webinar.

Onboarding – Many schools fail to consider the onboarding process. This is critical to reaffirming the parent’s decision and to begin their journey as a family enrolled in the school. The following are some tips for your onboarding process: 1. Communicate monthly with the parent after acceptance. 2. Post content on a webpage specifically designed for new families. 3. Connect new families with one another and with current families during the summer. 4. Provide mentoring relationships between your ambassadors and new families. 5. Host a new parent and student orientation to acclimate the family to your school.

Your goal during this phase of the Family Journey is to help guide the parent in making their decision as well as to reaffirm that they have made the right choice. The way that you engage in this phase will help set you up for the next two phases in the Family Journey as parents continue to evaluate their continued enrollment and become advocates for your school.