Dejaih Smith
November 24, 2020

How to Use the Admissions Funnel to Increase Student Enrollment This Year

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How to Use the Admissions Funnel to Increase Student Enrollment This Year

We all know a top focus of any educational institution is the number of enrolled students. Enrollment dictates what size budget you need to consider to cover your institutional necessities for survival. Balancing creative demands, budget limits, and channel decisions will require an acrobatic marketing strategy

To effectively market your school, it’s critical to consider the process from the mind of a parent contemplating their enrollment decision. After surveying parents, you can speak to them on their terms according to their interests. In order to get the maximum number of students enrolled, you should first be inquiring about their “buyers’ journey” - i.e. your potential students’ journey. 

If you’re not properly targeting your prospective student’s persona, your advertisements and cultivation tactics will likely fall flat with your audience. Along with framing the big picture overview of your school’s mission, we will present a smart way to structure your admissions funnel, outlining ideas for all the different channels you must consider at each stage. You’ll learn how to better nurture and prioritize all of your marketing and recruitment efforts to market your childcare services or school to increase enrollment and retention. â€Ť

What You'll Learn:

  • What is an Admissions Funnel?
  • Why the Admissions Funnel is Important
  • Breaking Down the Admissions Funnel Sections
  • How to Create an Admissions Strategy and Expand Brand Awareness 
  • Why Traditional Communication Methods Aren't Working
  • How To Stand Out From the Marketing Noise to Drive Enrollment 


What is an Admissions Funnel?

The admissions funnel is a marketing construct used to define a reasonable sequence of events to boost your efficiency in order for parents to reach an enrollment decision. As a parent begins to travel down the admissions funnel, they also begin to make decisions - consciously and subconsciously - that will ultimately impact their final enrollment decision. 

At each phase of the decision-making journey, your future students have different questions and pain points. While a kindergartener’s parents need to be persuaded that your institution is worthwhile for their child’s early development stages, a fifth grader’s parents choosing between three schools needs to see why your school in particular is their best fit as they prepare for the middle school experience.


The Big Elephant Sized Problem

When forming your admissions strategy to win over the hearts and minds of prospective students, you must speak their language and give them the right content at the right time. You can control the content you present about your institution to establish trust and approval amongst parents . For example, as early as the “awareness” phase, they may encounter information about your school that plants seeds which take root as subconscious bias, and precludes their view of your institution.

In fact, without your proactive involvement, from a marketing perspective, your very first opportunity to even speak to a prospect will be once they make it to the “evaluation” stage. This means you won’t have the chance to influence any of their decision making until they are already on the second to last stage of the entire process! This is why it is crucial to begin traveling higher up the admission funnel when given the opportunity to assure and guide parents as they travel through each of these stages.

Breaking Down the Admissions Funnel Sections

Imagine a parent has no prior knowledge of your institution. They will begin at the top of the admissions funnel and slowly trickle down as they narrow to an enrollment decision. The admissions funnel is taken from a traditional marketing “sales funnel” approach which can be applied to every single purchasing decision we make. 

From something as small as an office coffee and donut run to the largest “purchases” of our lives-like choosing where our children go to school-the sales funnel is an existing representation of customer follow-through on their path to purchase. The importance of the school choice will dictate how long a family travels through the admissions funnel and which phases they will sit in the longest. 

To roll over students from phase to phase, it is absolutely critical that you spend the necessary time to understand their general path to an enrollment decision. When understanding where parents are in the funnel, what information they expect to see, and how they track through stages, will assist you in more effectively marketing your childcare center or school. Solidifying your online presence and content to contribute to their funnel experience will give you the leverage to engage with.

Now that we’ve outlined the basic structure of the funnel, we need to appeal to the parent’s content expectations. This is how you will go about cultivating them from initial reach to possible enrollment. 


admissions funnel example


Launching the first stage of a traditional marketing funnel, awareness, refers to your parent’s consciousness of their need for a potential solution. At this time, you get to uniquely show the angle your school approaches prospective students and frame your institution as the solution to their dilemma

This is why you don’t just focus on the reach of your school’s mission, but how the parent entered your admissions funnel. Understanding where the parent is in their search is the empathetic approach. You will be seen as a thought leader to their end goal, helping you speak directly to their child’s learning needs

Seed planting through various marketing channels will foster traffic to your platforms such as:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) auditing of your website so prospects can find you amongst nearby competitors
  • Pay-per-click (PPC) on major search engines like Google
  • Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) to turn unknown visitors from your website into known prospects
  •  Email marketing
  •  Coordinating school events or educational fairs 
  • Developing print and digital creative assets

All of these various tactics can either make or break your efforts to attract new students. Anyone who engages with your content usually is segmenting themselves as a potentially high-value prospect. From here, you can begin to segway into targeting the parent’s interests and worries. 



The interest phase is where parents will sift through what your school offers vs what will meet their needs. During this time, a parent is more likely to gravitate toward messaging directly personalized to what applies to their wants and needs. You should be educating them on what all they will gain by choosing you as their child’s ideal learning environment.

Emphasize opportunities at your institution that helps you stand out like staff and faculty expertise, certifications, or awards that show exceptional value. You will be loaded with FAQs at this stage and you will be prepared to answer them and even provide marketing collateral so you are remembered by your prospect. This helps you dive into the mind of the parent making it easier to influence them accordingly in favor of your institution.‍

The 4 Biggest Challenges Parents/Students Face: 

  • How to start the institution search 
  • Finding funding for childcare service or school (if necessary) 
  • Lack of personalized information
  • Awareness of admissions deadlines and timeline 



You are now entering the “soft decision zone” and the parent is looking to you to validate their decision. Place confidence in their decision to choose you from the interest phase as they focus on their desirable options. Your online presence is a way you can display engaging information from the school’s history, your key differentiators and more.

‍Key Things Causing Parent/Student Frustration You Can Help Them Avoid:

  • Attending information sessions that don’t answer their questions or poorly advertised
  • Not given adequate information in order to compare to other institutions offerings
  • Not receiving the information from institutions they’re most interested in
  • Not understanding the cost breakdown (fees, tuition, etc.)

Your content is crucial at this stage like a “lead magnet.” You can use pieces to offer prospects some reassurance like a quiz on their student’s learning needs, an admissions checklist and even being transparent about rates and fees families should consider with your institution. With these nuggets of information, parents will transition from general content to fulfilling their solution checklist on an ideal learning experience for their child.



At this point, parents will begin to ask more pointed questions. This intent phase is key. Use this time to reassure parents with content like case studies or testimonials. As you may have noticed, reputation management aids in the process for positive, up-to-date online reviews through sources like Google and relevancy on directories like 

The parents should be able to imagine their child at your school through a tour or observing a class to see what the average day is like. This imagery can be painted through your marketing collateral and following this admissions funnel strategy step by step. â€Ť

Key Takeaway: Don’t let your parents become bored and push them towards marketing fatigue reducing the likeliness they will convert into the enrollment phase. Don’t make them dig so deep. Tell them who you are beyond the surface balancing social media, email marketing and other interactive insights.



Now, you’ve made it to the parents’ shortlist and they are well acquainted with you. As they ask for more detailed information and day to day expectations on campus, you know you’ve educated them well if the parent is this far along in the funnel at the evaluation phase. 

At this stage, schools use a method called nurturing. Nurturing sparks the next stage: enrollment. Being responsive, accessible and still educating parents are the most scalable tactics. In addition, your procedures and follow-up sequences should be able to be optimized easily for high conversion outputs. 



Congratulations! - the student was enrolled, but remember you also want to retain that student year after year. This is the time to follow-through with everything you’ve advertised with personalized communication to remind the family why you were their top pick. 

Let them know what to expect and make sure they have all the information to be reassured in their decision and educated on the way of life at your campus. Remember, don’t become too relaxed because your focus is on increasing your retention and continuing to intake new students.

How To Stand Out From the Marketing Noise to Drive Enrollment 

If schools want to exceed their enrollment goals, creativity and problem solving will be necessary to stand out from the competition. Traditional communication methods are falling flat or causing marketing fatigue. This means finding new channels to connect with families. Combing through your marketing strategies to fortify your admissions funnel will lead to the discovery of hidden opportunities vital for institutional advancement‍

What Do Parents/Students Want More Of? 

  • Information to answer their key questions
  • Brief, timely, and actionable cultivation of their interests 
  • Relationship building communications (instead of transactional)
  • Social media messaging that promotes engagement 
  • Assessment of how to map out development pathways 


Redefine the Admissions Process

So, how can you boost the numbers? Invest in curating an admissions funnel to increase retention. Enrollment professionals need to be aware of how to widen their funnel from the top phase to attract more prospective students. Taking your data and metrics from social media platforms, email marketing interactions and current regional demographics could help diversify your offerings and expand funnel reach

This will also take being a marketer of your product - a stellar education at an institution that wants its students to succeed and be prepared to lead the future of various industries. It all boils down to empowering the students. Showcase your mission and implementations that have been invested into the learning environment from the campus to the credentials of the faculty. Remember when cultivating your audience, your content presentation in each phase will effectively and properly guide them through each channel ultimately to enrollment.