Why and How Families Choose K-12 Schools: Reason 1

6 min read
Nov 5, 2021 9:59:39 AM

What makes your K-12 school or district appealing to families? In this first installment of a five-part series, you’ll learn why your school’s brand and reputation plays a role in whether a family will or won’t enroll with you.

In a world of greater choice and innovation across K-12 education, parents and guardians have more say in how and where their children are educated. Why and how do families choose schools? In this series, you’ll learn the five areas — the decision drivers — that work in tandem to guide each family’s choice of school.

Why do families choose to educate their children in your school or district? Families in your area likely have options other than your school. Other institutions might have longer track records than you or are perceived as being more prestigious. Some may have bigger campuses, lower tuition, or be a free, conveniently located public school.

With so many factors at play, it’s amazing families can make a decision at all. The only thing that’s certain is every family’s decision-making process is different — but parent and family surveys from around the world have given us insight into why and how families choose their child’s education.

How Do Families Choose a School for Their Children?

Research shows that families make their enrollment decision across five major decision drivers — drivers which subsequently form the five priority focus areas for district and school leaders.

What are the behaviors, actions, attitudes, and interactions that negatively impact these decision drivers, and what are those that serve to attract and retain students and families?

The five things families that guide a parent or guardian to your school are:

  1. Reputation and Brand Awareness. Families often make decisions based on reputation and brand awareness, which are often derived from informal sources.
  2. Quality Customer Service. Families make enrollment decisions based upon the quality of customer service they receive.
  3. Student Academic Achievement. Families typically rate the academic characteristics of a school as one of their top priorities in school choice.
  4. Innovation and Programs. Families often make enrollment decisions based upon the availability of attractive programs and innovative approaches
  5. Positive Climate and Culture. Families seek out environments that are safe, caring and personalized.

What are the behaviors, actions, attitudes, and interactions that negatively impact these decision drivers, and which serve to attract and retain students and families?

In the coming weeks, we’ll examine these closer. Today, you’ll learn more about the driver that begins before a family even enrolls with you: your school or district’s brand and reputation.

young asian couple sitting on a gray couch and looking at school options

Families Consider Your School’s Brand and Reputation

The brand and reputation of an education institution and its faculty are important variables for families deciding on a school.

In fact, the opinions of other families often outweigh more quantitative metrics in making school choice decisions.

  • What do parents say about your school in grocery stores or at soccer games?
  • Equally important, what are your teachers telling those parents?

In an increasingly competitive market, institutions have turned their attention to evaluating and managing their reputation and brand perception.

What is Your School’s Brand and Reputation?

There is no one thing that determines whether you have a negative or positive reputation. A variety of factors play into that. Some factors, like what people in your community say about your school, can be hard (or even impossible) to change.

But there are things you can focus on to cultivate a positive reputation for your school.

First, consider some positive and negative factors that contribute toward your school’s brand and reputation:

Positive Factors

  • You create a brand promise, communicate with the community, and deliver on that brand promise
  • You promote unique programs and distinctions that differentiate the school
  • You engage your families and share the institution’s positive attributes
  • You address school climate, customer service, innovation, and achievement variables

Negative Factors

  • The school has a history of not being family-centric and offers poor customer service
  • There is a lack of or poor communication and promotion to overcome local opinions
  • The school has a history of low student performance
  • The school has a history (or perception, regardless of validity) of poor school climate and culture

How Can I Improve My School’s Brand and Reputation?

You probably have a good idea of what your school’s reputation is in your local community. If you don’t — or even if you just want to gauge how accurate your own perception is — you can conduct anonymous surveys or meet with current and previous families to evaluate how people perceive your school.

With that knowledge, there are then things you can do to improve your school’s brand and reputation. That, in turn, will make your school more appealing to prospective families.

Here are some tips and ideas. This list isn’t comprehensive by any means, but it will hopefully get you thinking about ways you can build a positive perception of your school.

Evaluate your website.

The most important tool for educating families about your school is your website. Your website is more than just a repository for information — it’s also your one chance to make a stellar first impression.

  • In addition to using eye-catching graphics, photos, and videos, make sure your website describes your school in a way that tells a story. Highlight specific students and accomplishments.
  • You want to elicit an emotional response in parents and guardians that allows them to picture their child at your school.

However, whatever claims you make about your school, back them up with evidence.

And if your school is outperforming the competition, don’t be shy.

Be proud. Tell the world!

Engage with prospective families.

Make a personal connection with each family. You want to create a bond between prospective families and your school community.

School tours are a common form of engagement. Families on tours have taken the effort to visit you in real life, and they are interested in more than seeing the library.

These families want to get a sense of what your school is really like:

  • Are the kids happy?
  • Is the office staff polite?
  • Is this a positive place where my child will thrive socially, emotionally, and academically?

Again, the goal is to let parents envision their child at your school. Your trophy case and empty gym might be impressive, but parents are more interested in seeing a classroom in action.

You don’t want families to walk away thinking your school has a strong math program. You want families to think, “Suzy will love Mr. Peterson’s algebra class.”

However, school tours are only one way to engage. You can also offer shadow days or have personalized contact with a prospective family, where you learn their interests and then build outreach around that.

For example, if a student is interested in playing a specific sport, a phone call from that coach would really let them know you’re paying attention.

Leverage teachers, current families, and students.

Remember what we mentioned earlier about field-side conversations at soccer games or off-the-cuff conversations in grocery stores? If your school comes up, what are teachers and current families saying about you?

  • Reach out teachers and current families and students, and gather testimonials from them.
  • Have Mrs. Davis the science teacher talk about her classroom, students, passions, or what made her get into teaching.
  • Ask the Jones family about their son who went on to become a doctor or attend an Ivy League school.

Strategic Marketing Services for K-12 Schools

A lot goes into marketing, and time is absolutely a huge component of building a positive school brand and reputation, especially if you’re working to reverse pre-existing perceptions. SchoolMint can help you!

Our strategic marketing services team can help you on a variety of fronts:

  • Enrollment coaching
  • A full audit of your website
  • Secret shopping service
  • School satisfaction surveys
  • Marketing plan development

Here’s what a previous client had to say about SchoolMint’s marketing services:

“This report has become my enrollment bible. It captured everything we were doing wrong and a lot of things we had no idea we were doing wrong.” Geoffrey Vu, Principal | Oakland Unified School District



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