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Did COVID Take the Admissions “Season” Too?

By Andrew Cocco posted 01-31-2022 08:08 PM

Did COVID Take the Admissions

As I put pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keys) for this blog post, I am back in the office after a thankfully healthy but far from relaxing holiday break. That is not to say that I didn’t get some quality downtime with family or a few woodworking projects done. Those things happened, because with admissions and financial aid applications in full swing, it’s important to make the time and find the space to recharge.

Since the start of the pandemic, I have found a distinct blurring and almost total disappearance of the seasonal nature of this work. There’s no longer a clear end to one admissions season with a time for preparation and a clear beginning of the next. I’m working at any given time on new enrollments, re-enrollments, mid-year enrollments, new financial aid, returning financial aid, and mid-year financial aid to a degree that I have not experienced in any of my prior 8 years in admissions. With COVID still a major fixture of daily life, families seem to be increasingly inquiring about the possibility of their child joining the school in the middle of a school year. To illustrate, over the past three years at my current school, mid-year inquiries and enrollments have nearly tripled.

This disappearing sense of demarcation and mid-year trend makes me wonder if the pandemic has created an increased sense of urgency for families who are considering a shift away from public school.

All of this has shaped new approaches to how I structure my events, outreach, and financial aid modeling in a few concrete ways:  

  1. Instead of a single fall and a single spring open house, I host a large fall in-person event followed by several mini virtual open houses at the end of January and beginning of February. This allows me to engage with the fall families for our “Round 1” applications and gives opportunities for targeted virtual events for the families who enter the process later in the year. Most of our new families come from public schools, so there isn’t an innate sense of independent school deadlines.
  2. Outreach and marketing are ongoing throughout the year to remind folks that we’re always open to a conversation about a mid-year start as long as there is room in a given grade level. While this does result in a bit of a feedback loop for mid-year enrollments, it also shows families that we are an open, welcoming community, willing to prioritize the needs of their children.
  3. With so many new families coming onboard midyear, financial aid and accessibility need continuity. I implemented a disciplined, data-driven net revenue strategy to ensure that we are still able to provide assistance to families even in the middle of the school year. By understanding that families receiving financial aid are still generating revenue (and a clear understanding that the amount of aid-to-revenue fits a sustainable model), the ability to help families should not end in September. 
  4. Finally, we moved to a continuous enrollment contract model last year. The hope is that this will help us determine budget, staffing, raises, and section sizes much earlier in the year. Simultaneously, it will give me and the Financial Aid Committee a clearer picture of how much resourcing can be allocated to assistance for new enrollments throughout the year.

The past two years have been exciting, stressful, energizing, and enervating all at once. It’s important to stay flexible, be willing to try new approaches that respond to your market, and above all take some time to recharge your batteries when you can. I have a feeling this trend will continue even once COVID finally fades to the background.

Drew Cocco
Director of Enrollment Management
Montgomery School