If you work in Admissions, you know an open house event is your school's chance to shine in front of your prospective families. And it’s where they form their first impressions of you and your school. It's also where you and your staff have the chance to inspire and encourage those prospects to submit their applications to your school. To accomplish this, you need to do things right through careful planning and thorough preparation.
Build An Open House Strategy
Here are some things you can do to improve the success rate of your efforts:
Establish Your Goals
As with any good plan, start by setting your goals. The general goal of any school open house is simply to get parents to attend. How many parents do you hope will attend? Since not all who are invited will attend, you need to know how many to invite to ensure you reach your desired attendance numbers. To do so, refer back to previous events and take a look at the number of those invited vs. those who actually attended and invite accordingly. For example, if only 50% of those you invited actually attended your previous event, you’ll need to extend twice the amount of invitations to meet your attendance goals.
Are you targeting a specific parent persona? If so, you can also set goals such as focusing on the promotion of activities and programs that appeal most to this target group. Take note that these goals will be important in measuring the success of your open house.
Realize The Benefits
An increase in your school open house attendance means that you have been successful in attracting prospects to your school. Regardless of whether or not this can be traced to how well you have implemented your inbound marketing strategy, an open house can be the deciding factor for prospective families. For parents, nothing beats the experience of getting to know a school by being on their campus.
An open house also gives you the opportunity to meet your prospects face-to-face and to address their needs for further information about your school. Hopefully, a favorable encounter with you and your staff, coupled with a pleasant experience walking around in your classrooms, can assist them in their decision to apply for your school.
How do you ensure that you can meet your goals and realize these benefits? We’ve compiled a few common and helpful tips on how you can run a successful school open house:
Prior to the Event
1. Plan Ahead.
Give yourself and your staff enough lead time to strategize and to make preparations. Planning at least two months before your event is the ideal. And send invitations to parents well enough to give them enough time to plan accordingly.
a. Who should you invite?
Check your records and your database. Find out who has shown interest in your school through any means possible. They may have subscribed to your newsletter, called your school, or even attended one of your events.
b. How should you invite them?
Remember, in most cases, this is your first opportunity to connect with them so create an email invitation that is visually engaging. Put in images, photos, and even a video. Catch their interest and make it easy for them to accept your invitation. Drive more engagement by incorporating bold, emphasized calls-to-action.
Don’t limit yourself to sending out emails. Be sure to make full use of every marketing method at your disposal:
- Put up announcements on your website.
- Post articles and images about the event, on social media. Make sure that these can easily be shared.
- Call prospects that have trusted you with their contact information and extend them an invitation.
- Spread the news through word of mouth through your current families.
- Print out flyers and signs.
c. When should you send out invitations?
Give at least two months lead time for awareness and preparation before your event. This will help both your staff and your prospective families to plan for your event accordingly.
You can send out follow-up emails that act as reminders about your event. Send these out a month before the open house. You can also remind them again a week or two before it.
A day or two prior to your event, a more detailed email should be sent to your attendees containing everything about your event your prospective families will need to know:
- Specific location on the campus
- Your school’s contact information (email, address, phone number)
The same information should also be available on your website and social media channels. And, to get a sense for who and how many are planning to attend, provide a way for them to RSVP online. This is typically the preferred form of confirmation for millennial parents, who prefer online forms over phone calls.
d. What materials should be prepared?
Create informational materials that you can present to your attendees during your open house. If you give ample lead time to your staff, they will have a longer period to prepare these materials:
A simple presentation
Share your school’s mission, vision, and values using a Powerpoint slideshow. Introduce your school using short texts and more visuals.
This should contain information about the following:
- The subjects covered during the school year.
- Learning goals and tips for each subject.
- The overall curriculum.
- Teacher information.
- A list of materials that students need for class. Also known as the classroom supply list.
- Important school contact information like phone numbers.
Provide this information in writing to your prospective parents so they can refer to it after your open house has concluded.
2. During The Event
Follow an agenda during the open house. Don’t just let your parents roam around without guidance or without discussing the reasons why they’re at the open house. Parents will be looking for more information about your school, so that presentation you prepared will come in handy. Create and host an informational session for them.
Here are tips on what you can do to inform, educate, and entertain your prospective parents:
- If possible, have several speakers, including the head of school, as well as members of your staff.
- Introduce yourself and briefly touch on your work and background.
- Discuss your school’s values, academic and athletic programs, as well as other extracurricular activities.
- Describe the routines of a typical day in class.
- Go through an overview of the curriculum.
- Enumerate important school events.
- After your presentation and Q and A (question-and-answer), give a short tour of relevant areas of your campus.
Mix It Up
Aside from keeping it informational, strive to make your open house interesting and engaging to further your attendees’ interest in your school. After all, it’s your time to shine, so you should show your prospective families the best of what your school has to offer.
Your open house can focus on a narrower theme or an unusual interest. For instance:
- Science for parents who are interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), or STEAM (like STEM, but add Art).
- Early Education for parents interested in preschool or kindergarten.
- Upper School for parents keen on looking at academics and student life programs for grades 7-12.
Have handouts ready for parents to read about the event’s entire agenda, as well.
Allow time for parents to ask questions after each topic. They may all have questions on their minds and the open house may be the best forum to answer them all at once.
After the last point in your agenda, be sure to honor your prospective parents’ time. They most likely have commitments after your event and/or their time may be limited. It would be best to hold your presentation to less than one hour and offer tours both before and after to accommodate their needs.
3. After The Event
If some of your prospective families stay behind after the formal event ends, be sure to approach them. Address any specific questions they may have about what they saw or heard during the open house.
For parents, answering their questions face-to-face is often a more powerful gesture than an email or a phone call. Take this opportunity while they’re still around.
After they’ve left, follow up with each family that attended your event. No, your job isn’t done yet. Show them your appreciation by sending a thank you email. This is a quick and easy way to engage with those prospective parents who attended your event. Aside from thanking them, be sure to include a few calls-to-action to elicit further engagement. As an example, you may send them links to videos on your school website further promoting your academic programs and other offerings.
You can also send these to parents who showed interest in the event but were unable to attend. Make sure you send this out a day or two (at most) after your event. You should also call them within a week after your event.
When you do your follow-up with your prospective parents, remember that this is the best time to gain more information about them. Ask them what they thought about your open house. What part did they like? What could be improved? And take the time to address any unanswered questions as well.
We also previously discussed 3 important points to consider to guarantee the success of your school open house event.
First-time school visits can seem overwhelming to your prospective parents. Keep in mind that they’re looking to see if your school may or may not be the best institution for their child. They may have concerns that need to be addressed and they’re hoping that you or any of your staff can help them, in person. Your open house is a venue that can either impress them or turn them away. With proper preparation and creativity, you can ease their hesitation and give them what they need to make an enrollment decision.