How to Go From “Top Three” to “Final Choice”: Tips for Working with Potential School Families

Why do families send their students to private schools?

Smaller class sizes with more instructor-student interaction? Improved student safety? Higher academic standards and better career outcomes? In all likelihood, it’s a combination of all of those.

But is it because those families have a lot of money to burn? Probably not.

When you think about the student-family lifecycle and how families research to find the right place to educate their students, consider the steps they’ll take to do so:

  • Google searches
  • Reviewing school websites and their social media pages
  • Checking out online reviews
  • And probably the most influential step – asking people in the community.

These are the “top-of-the-funnel” school marketing activities we focus a lot of our energy on.

But once families have narrowed their choices down to their top two or three schools, how do you convince parents that your school is the right choice? It comes down to the experiential differentiators (aka value) you’re able to convey and the ease with which you make the admissions and enrollment process.

A big part of that means letting families know – not right away – but early on in their search process how you’ll help them afford school tuition and fees. Though it’s important to communicate “experience first,” if you wait too long to communicate affordability, you could lose a prospective family that may add diversity and richness to your school culture.

Tuition payment plans are actually a great way to attract new families (and support current ones). They also allow you to outsource and automate the mundane, sometimes burdensome task of being a payment collector and focus more on strategy and high-touch student/family communication.

When your school offers automated payment plans, you’re doing more than giving your families another payment option. You’re showing them you care enough to be flexible. To adapt for their needs. To be there for them no matter what.

But in order for those plans to work effectively, you need to promote them. Here’s how to make payment plans a part of your school marketing efforts and attract new enrollees.

Show Your Flexibility and Willingness to Collaborate

It’s widely known that one of the largest barriers to attending private school is the cost. When you give families options to afford your school, they’ll be more confident that they can send their child to your school for the long haul. Make it known that you provide flexibility in your payment options.

Due Date Flexibility

Rather than expecting all families to pay the entire year’s tuition up front, offer plans such as:

  • Quarterly
  • Monthly
  • By semester
  • Bi-weekly
  • Weekly

Let families choose from a few different due dates to accommodate their payroll schedules. And some families may rely on a yearly bonus or tax return that will allow them to get ahead on tuition payments at some point during the year. Give them the flexibility to log in and make an online payment ahead of their due date.

Sound like a reconciliation nightmare? Not when you have a tuition management vendor that allows you to see payments made and cash flow projections in real time.

Add Affordability Information to Your School Website

Millennial parents are thorough online researchers. When they choose to tour your school, they will already know about your school’s mission, who your teachers are, where you rank nationally among other private schools, and especially how much it costs to attend. Don’t make it difficult for them to find this information – be transparent.

Under the admissions menu of your website, include an Affordability section where families can read about their options for paying tuition/fees and applying for financial aid. It will be one of the first places families look when they’re researching schools, and if the information isn’t there, they’ll assume there’s no way they can afford your institution. Importantly, remember to briefly incorporate your school’s value propositions on the top of this page (in case it’s the very first page they visit on your site). Sell the value and experience first, then outline affordability methods like financial aid and payment plans.

Make the Business/Financial Aid Office Part of Your School Tour

Whether these are done virtually or in person, take a page out of college and university playbooks and incorporate business/financial aid office information near the end of the tour.

Now that more and more campus tours are being offered virtually, families are able to “visit” more schools. From a competitive standpoint, this means your virtual tours need to cover more than just drone footage of your institution. And if your tour is available on demand, families aren’t able to engage with you and ask questions like they can in person. Again, sell the experience first – tell the story about what makes your school attractive and unique – but make sure to answer questions families normally ask (like, “how will I be able to afford this?”).

Post-Enrollment: Make Affordability an Ongoing Conversation

Once a family has decided your school is the right fit, don’t let financial constraints become a reason they leave later on. Do a check in each semester to make sure families are comfortable with their payment plan arrangements, and remind families who have opted to pay in full that they have other options. Financial situations can change at any time, and letting families know you’ll work with them is a way to keep them enrolled and build a strong school community. During re-enrollment, make choosing a payment plan (or to pay in full) part of the process. It keeps affordability options front of mind and lets families take control of their finances.

Your tuition management partner should provide a payment plan marketing kit to help you spread the word about affordability options at your school.

So, yes. Things like smaller classrooms and higher academic standards are obviously attractive for potential families. But what’s really going to set you apart from other schools is the lengths you go to support them and make their lives easier – even if they aren’t a part of your school community yet. Be flexible. Be transparent. And most of all, be helpful.