January is my favorite time of the year. Yes, it’s a New Year filled with fresh starts, but in the school world it often means Open House time. I thrive on being busy and in the Preschool world, September and January are typically very busy. At my school, the Open House was a big deal. We would enroll 80% of our enrollment at or around the Open House for the following school year. This event could easily make or break our entire financials for the following year, so needless to say, it was a big deal!
You may be asking yourself, what is an Open House? Well an Open House is an event hosted by your center with the purpose to show families around your facility, allow them to see the classrooms and meet your team first hand.Since Open Houses are normally done with the purpose to gain enrollments, they are best done around new registration or an enrollment period. For the school I led, we enrolled new students in January to start the following September. In our local area, this enrollment structure was the norm. I do suggest being consistent with other schools or centers in your area.
When preparing for an Open House, marketing is key! You need to let people know about your event. Here are several marketing ideas that I have used and find they work well.
- Alert current families via email and newsletter
- Street Sign (hung over a local busy road – two weeks prior to event)
- Mailer Ad
- Facebook Ad
- Google Ad’s
- Bing Ads
- Social Media Accounts (Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn)
When marketing for your event, the key is to use a mixture of forums. I suggest picking at least two marketing ideas in addition to alerting your current families. One of the best strategies that we used was encouraging our current families to bring a friend to the Open House event. We would give 20% off one month of tuition if a current family bought a new family to the event. This is a great way to entice your current families and also get new families in the door.
The structure and layout of your event is key to gaining enrollments. We have tried several different structures, but here is what has worked best. First, make it an open house style, this means come as you want and leave as you want. During the Open House, allow families to roam the school, check out the classrooms and meet the teachers. Afterwards, make sure they have time to enroll. You want them to have a reason to enroll at the Open House, so we waived the $150 registration fee for families who enrolled at the event.
Here are the areas that we set up:
Welcome: Setup a welcome table near the front of your lobby area. This is a great place to capture the names and information of those attending your event. You will want this information later to follow up with your guests. Hand out an enrollment package and any other pertinent information at this table. This is also a good place to have a few extra hands. I had our extended care team at the front to walk new families around the center. It’s important to make a good first impression so try and walk new families throughout the whole center, don’t just point.
Food/Coffee: If you ever host an event please make sure there is coffee, food is a plus. There is something about coffee that makes people feel at home. For food, we would just do bagels and donuts, our event was hosted in the morning so that is what made sense.
Classrooms: Have all of your classrooms open with the lead teachers in them. Make sure they each have an activity for the children who come around during the event. Inside each classroom, there should be a few free play activities setup as well as one structured table activity. We would always do a name activity, this was a hit with both the children and parents.
It’s also good to have something for the teacher to hand out to the parents. A great handout that we used was the development milestones for each age group. If you don’t already have this defined for your center, do it! Communication is everything and parents want to know where their child will be heading in their development in the next school year. This also gives parents an idea of what their child will be working on in the class.
Registration: This is the most important part of the whole event. The key is to make it as easy as possible for families to enroll. If you are using the online enrollment feature found on Sandbox, you can have a few computers available for families to register. If not, make your form short and sweet. Remember, they are securing a spot, not starting school. Keep the long drawn out paperwork for later.
Here is a short version of my suggested enrollment process. We only do #1 and #2 at the Open House and or time of registration. The rest can wait.
- Online Registration Form – completed by parent to secure a spot
- Invoice and Charge
- Paper File/Collect Paperwork
Remember that when you have built a center that you are proud of, touring families can be fun! Setup your event in a way that encourages families and staff to engage and connect. One thing I noticed is that when families connect on a tour or at an Open House, they almost always sign up! Take the time, plan a fantastic event and have fun showing off all the hard work you and your team have done!