Admission Funnel: How to Streamline the Private School Admission Process

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These days, it's getting tougher to recruit mission-appropriate students. You are working harder and harder. Now is the time to streamline the process, and muster every resource. This reference manual is filled with the best of ISM's solutions that fill your seats with great students.

As Admission Director, you’re probably amazed at the many different ways prospective families “discover” your school—hearing positive word of mouth from a friend of a friend of a friend, coming across your school Web site during a Google search, reading about your school in a magazine or newspaper, receiving one of your direct mail pieces, watching one of your sports events or attending a school play or concert, or hearing the School Head on a local radio talk show. Regardless of how they find you, the key question you must ask is: What do I do when parents and students express an interest in our school?

This book answers that question—and more! Not only does it answer what to do, but it provides a step-by-step process to bring prospective families into your office and eventually, if you meet their needs, matriculate their children into your school as successful, mission-appropriate students.

Keeping the funnel full—from top to bottom—and free-flowing is the Admission Office’s challenge. Your ability to skillfully guide mission-appropriate families through the admission process is essential in guaranteeing your school’s future and maintaining its quality. This book helps you assess your process to ensure the effectiveness of your current practices. If your school is having trouble maintaining full enrollment, analyze your admission process using the Admission Funnel as a gauge. As you read this book and follow us step-by-step through the funnel process, you’re likely to find ways to fine tune your own process and strengthen the overall enrollment program at your school.

The book is a based on the experience of the Consultants of Independent School Management and their consulting in private schools for more than three decades; articles published in ISM’s two management advisory letters, Ideas & Perspectives and To The Point; and materials used for teaching in ISM’s various workshops and seminars.

Throughout this book, we use a fictional K-12, coed day school, Aegis Academy, to provide examples and samples to better explain the strategies and techniques discussed. These examples (e.g., contracts, forms, and response letters) are intentionally generic in nature so that you can easily adapt them for your school’s unique character and mission.


The Foundation of a Successful Private School Admission Process

How Do You Define Your School?

  • Key Concept One: Product, Process, or Price
  • Key Concept Two: Purpose and Outcome Statements
  • Marketing Your Purpose and Outcome Statements
  • Defining Your School's Competitive Advantage (Being Mission—Not Market—Driven)

Encouraging and Handling Inquiries

  • Generating Inquiries: Internal Marketing Strategies
  • Generating Inquiries: External Marketing Strategies
  • Generating Inquiries: Strategies in Print
  • How Today's Parents Contact You (and How You Should Respond)
  • The Admission Inquiry Form
  • Admission Packet Essentials
  • Enter, Stay, Leave: Who Decides (and Why)
  • Inquiry-Response Letters Prospects Will Read
  • Even Kindergartners Go to Harvard
  • Keeping Prospective Parents on Track
  • Turning Inquiries Into Visits

The Visit

  • Creative Ways to Attract Prospective Families to Your Campus
  • The Key Elements of a Successful Open House
  • Qualities Today’s Parents Look for During a Campus Visit
  • Strategies for Successful Campus Tours
  • Ambassadors Provide a Student's-Eye View of Life at Your School
  • Student Interviews
  • Summer Admission Activities
  • Turning Visits Into Applications

The Application Process

  • The Application Form
  • How's Your Visit-to-Application Conversion Rate?

The Screening Process

  • The Admission Committee
  • Evaluate Prospective Students on More Than Grades
  • Flexing the Number of Students Per Grade Level

Acceptances (and Waiting Pools)

  • Admission Letters
  • Waiting Pools


  • The Enrollment Contract: Your School's Keystone Document
  • The True Implications of a 'Breach of Contract' Lawsuit
  • Barriers to Full Enrollment


  • Keep New Families Excited About Joining Your School
  • Build Strong Relationships With New Parents
  • Strategies for Fighting Summer Attrition
  • Recruitment Process Need a Boost? Add a 'Yield Party'
  • Examining Your Acceptance-to-Enrollment Status

Evaluating Your Admission Funnel Process

  • What Statistics Tell You About Your School's Admission Funnel
  • The Role of the Admission Office in the Fall
  • Records Retention in the Admission Office


Appendix A:

  • The Role of Faculty in Admission

Appendix B:

  • The Online Admission Office

Appendix C:

  • Strategies for Strengthening Relationships With Feeder Schools

Appendix D:

  • Recruiting Students Through Your Summer Program

Appendix E:

  • Admission Procedures for ADA Compliance

Appendix F:

  • The Applicant Survey

Appendix G:

  • The Shared Roles of Your School's Advancement Offices

Appendix H:

  • Re-Recruitment—Keeping the Students You Want

Appendix I:

  • Recommended Reading

“The Admission Funnel: How to Streamline the Private School Admission Process is the most comprehensive guide to the symbiotic relationship found between admissions and all other school operations. No other manual speaks with such clarity, providing practical applications for the wide range of admission-related topics ranging from marketing and development all the way to roles of Board members and expectations of faculty. I highly recommend this manual for all members of the admission staff. The book provides more confidence to the new Admission Director than ‘hands-on’ training, offers more practical guidelines and applications than graduate school, and may even be able to leap small buildings in a single bound! It is THAT good!”

Kathy Fisher, Director of Admissions/Marketing
All Saints Episcopal School (Beaumont, TX)

“The Admission Funnel has provided me a meaty resource for ways to help me realize a full school enrollment. I plan to pass the book on to our Marketing Director, Development Director, Head of School, and Department Heads as a means to open a discussion on ways to improve our ‘funnel.’ The book contained many ideas that I never thought about and I hope to implement several of them in the coming months. Many new Admission Directors would greatly benefit from this book!”

Christine McLaughlin, Director of Admissions
Holy Child Academy (Drexel Hill, PA)

“A wealth of information and valuable source of ideas for both the newcomer to admissions as well as an experienced professional. The book is well laid out and has an organized, step-by-step process covering the admissions process. It is straightforward, thoughtful, and easy to read and understand. This is a book I plan to keep on my desk as a ready reference.”

Chuck Harvuot, Director of Admissions
Fox River Country Day School (Elgin, IL)

“This book is an A-to-Z encyclopedia on the steps of the admission funnel, with a wealth of detailed suggestions at each step along the way. It will be consulted frequently by readers who are new to their Admission Office roles, as well as by those veterans looking to enhance their operation and strengthen their enrollment. The chapter on all aspects of the campus visit alone is worth the price of this book.”

Roger Dillow, Director of Admission
Friends Select School (Philadelphia, PA)

“Easy to read and filled with relevant information. I gleaned a great deal just paging through!”

Molly Arnason, Director of Admissions
The Archer School for Girls (Los Angeles, CA)

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