In NAIS’s April 2023 snapshot survey of independent school admissions officers, two thirds of respondents said they had not yet met their total enrollment goal. For most independent schools, enrollment is now a year-round process, and admissions offices are enrolling students into the summer and throughout the school year.
In the traditional enrollment cycle, applicant families typically apply to multiple schools. In effect, they’re choosing among multiple possible visions of their future, asking “Who will this student be if they attend Fictional Country Day School?” Families considering schools outside of the traditional cycle have a different dilemma: “I know what will happen if my student stays at their current school… but what could happen if they attend Fictional Country Day?”
When families choose between a known option and an unknown option, risk assessment often comes into play. Students who are in high school now had their key developmental years interrupted and impacted by the global pandemic, and the long term effects are unknown. In other words, there’s already a lot of unknowns for our current students, even before they reach the perennial unknown of college admissions. Families know that college admissions offices at highly selective schools demand that students take the most rigorous courses available. What’s the best way to manage risk here? Ensuring that a student has the same kind of courses available if they transfer to Fictional Country Day.
At One Schoolhouse, we’ve noticed a shift over the past three years in the kind of questions parents and guardians are asking. Phone calls and emails now ask for increasing levels of detail: not what textbook but which chapters, and when they’re covered. We know from our consortium schools that this is happening on campuses too, and especially in middle and high school admissions offices. So many factors should go into school selection–but in these days of increased risk and uncertainty, concrete details like course offerings can assume outsized importance.
With that in mind, the strategic school will do their best to make sure they can affirmatively answer questions about details like course content and syllabi. One way to do that is to make the course catalog offerings as broad as possible. On campus, schools are limited by finite space, staff capacity, and the boundaries of the school day. When schools have online partners, however, they can add online course titles to their catalogs. By expanding their offerings, especially in languages, computer science, and higher mathematics, they can help prospective students and families feel more confident and comfortable about the opportunities in front of them–and about enrolling.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)