Miriam Stein

Miriam is the founder of Saddlerock Strategies, a boutique consulting service that works with schools and camps in enrollment strategy, program design and professional development.  She has worked in experiential and formal education and in strategic enrollment for more than 20 years. Miriam offers deep experience in understanding school dynamics and in strategic enrollment campaigns, having been responsible for recruiting for local schools and on national programs, while understanding that closing a deal with each individual family is what matters. She holds a BA in Jewish History from the University of Pennsylvania, and Masters Degrees in Education and in Jewish Studies from George Washington University. As a lifelong learner, Miriam is a graduate of Atidenu, Prizmah’s signature program in enrollment strategy training and in the Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI). She lives in the suburbs of Washington, DC with her family and dog, Ruby.

Why Late Season May Be Your Best Season For Enrollment

In the world of day school enrollment, the phrase “better late than never” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to late-season applicants. Sure, many families embark on their school search early in the year. But talk to any admission professional or school leader and they will tell you that “admission is a year-round cycle.” The more we embrace what each season offers during the cycle, the more we can be prepared to shift our expectations and dive into the process with eyes wide open. 

Let’s explore how to handle late season admission work, and how it just might be the best season for recruiting new families.

Use Data to Manage Hysteria 

Tracking data around when families inquire, apply, and enroll can help you head into your recruitment season with knowledge and with confidence around what to expect. Instead of praying that your phone starts to ring, you can predict when it will ring and when it won’t. Having this kind of data will help you manage expectations around enrollment—especially of your head of school and board. 

Data manages hysteria. Here’s how.

Application Timing 

Look back at the past three years (five or seven years is better, if you have it), and track how many students inquire and apply after March 1. Compute that average, and use it as a guideline for your spring recruitment season this year. Does it match up? I would bet it does. And now you know, looking ahead, that consistently, you will have x percentage of families apply to your school after the typical application deadline.

Timing of First Choice/Second Choice 

Depending on your market, you may be competing with schools that are selective, which means that some of your applicants may come to you only after they are not accepted at their first-choice school. This may impact their timing. Track the timing on those applicants, and plan ahead for them.

High- need Student 

If your market is anything like mine, many late-season applicants are high-need academically or behaviorally. You know this is going to happen, so stop being surprised, and don’t let your educational support professionals be surprised, either. Plan ahead. Schedule time with the right people, such as counselors and support specialists, specifically in the late spring and summer, because you know you are going to need them to evaluate these applications. Create a plan if the right people to review these applications are out of office.

By predicting the ebbs and flows of applications, you can understand the factors that influence late-stage interest. The data are key in refining admission strategies for each season and managing big emotions.

The Spring Open House: A Hidden Gem

Most schools hold an open house in October or November, officially kicking off the recruitment season. And yet we know that so many families come to our schools well after those fall events. Why hope the fishing rod that you cast in November is going to hold the same bait for the next six months? A spring open house offers a new opportunity for families to look at your school. 

There are three types of families who are low-hanging fruit for the spring open house.

Families who have not yet made a decision for next year 

Maybe they did not get into their first-choice school, or maybe they’re marching to the beat of their own timeline. Either way, they are not on the November open house timeline, and they are yours to lose to another school in the spring.

Families for whom their school is just not working 

They’ve made it through fall, through all of first semester, and come spring, they are facing the music that their current school is just not the right fit. They’re shopping now, and they were not shopping in the fall, when you were in heavy recruitment mode.

Families who are looking 18 months ahead

Families looking at high school may attend a spring open house with their seventh graders, thinking that they’re looking 18 months out. And your Spring Open House may just convince them to start a year earlier. At the Open House, they fall in love with the school and recognize the benefits of starting a new school in eighth grade, work out the transition while in middle school and start ninth grade strong. 
All of these families are customers who were not on the market earlier in the year. When they are looking for a new school in the spring, your spring open house could be just what they need. 

Here are ways you can make the spring event stand out.

  1. The spring open house should be smaller, with fewer bells and whistles. Make it intimate, make it personal, because you’re going to have to move fast with these families. Craft the program to allow for conversations directly with them, rather than a formal presentation.
  2. If you’re working with a population with young children, consider hosting this event in the evening, or over Zoom (or both) to make it easier for them to attend. 
  3. Reconnect with families who missed the fall event, or who didn’t choose your school on the first go around. They may be ready to shop again. 
  4. Always have current students present. They are the product, and parents want to see who their kids can become. This point does not differentiate a spring open house from the fall, but is so important that its worth emphasizing. 

Springtime is the Best Time on the School Calendar 

So many of our schools have end-of-year events that showcase impressive arts programs, the deep impact of experiential learning, and students who have matured after a full year with us. Invite prospective families to these events. Back in the fall, you could not have shown them your Lag Ba’omer festival, the leadership of the color war captain, how beautifully the fourth graders are approaching their Pesach seder, or how confidently first graders present at their publishing party. A kindergarten or first grade class shows very differently in May than it does in November. Late season recruitment gives you the chance to showcase in flying colors what a year can do for children. 

Now, more than ever, families are looking for a Jewish home for their school-aged children, and we can be ready for them in any season. Let’s use what the late season offers us. Instead of spending the fall worrying, let’s welcome the opportunity that each season brings for different types of families to look at our schools.