School Selection: Whose Decision Is It?

School Selection: Whose Decision Is It?

By John O'Brien, President of the Academy of Notre Dame

In the early years of my career in the world of independent schools, it was very clear as students moved through school that their parents were the ones who made the decision on where their children would enroll for high school.  I recall that students had input in the process, but they were not the decision makers.  Over the years, that paradigm has shifted significantly for a number of reasons, and today more students than ever before appear to be driving this decision process.  Below is a summary of both factors that have influenced/contributed to this shift as well as ways in which schools have evolved with their marketing and recruitment strategies to leverage the shift.

Driving Factors Contributing to Shifting Decision Makers

  • Technology provides instant access to learning about schools, and students are taking full advantage of this access like never before.
  • In the past, the vast majority of independent high schools marketed mostly to parents or to the entire family.  Today, more and more schools are designing their marketing strategies to target students, and the advent of social media has influenced this shift exponentially.  As a result, today’s young people feel much more empowered to being the decision maker when it comes to choosing a high school.   Schools have also significantly increased the number of touch points with prospective students, a practice that today’s generation of young people have come to expect.
  • Greater competition, driven by a decline in enrollment in independent schools, has forced admissions offices to market more aggressively than ever before, and their focus continues to be on students.  The vast majority of admission office “viewbooks,” whether printed or electronic, are written for students and not nearly as much for parents.
  • There are also so many more school choices available to students and their families than in the past (e.g. charter schools, micro-schools, homeschooling, one-on-one schooling, for profit schools), and some of these options are both enticing and practical to today’s younger generation.
  • Fewer parents of today’s independent school students attended private school themselves, so when it comes to choosing a high school they are more inclined to allow their children a larger voice in the process, with public school being seen as more of a viable option than in the past.

Here at the Academy

At NDA, we market to both parents and students. Some marketing pieces are designed specifically to capture the attention of students, others are geared towards parents, and some are intended for both. With regards to the decision making process, we encourage our parents to engage in dialogue with their children as well as with our principals and guidance counselors about the entire high school process and the options available to them.  We also provide numerous opportunities for Middle School girls to learn as much as possible about all the wonderful opportunities in our own high school.  Lastly, while we do agree that students should have a voice in this process, we feel that parents should still be leading it.