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No Empty Seats: 5 Top Tips to Maximize Enrollment

Presented by CSAN Corporate Partner: CSMC

As with any kind of prediction, predicting next year’s enrollment is not easy. Perhaps now more than ever, given how many options parents and students have.

Whether your school is in a urban center or a rural part of the state, you may be experiencing some enrollment pressure. The growing number of charter schools, traditional private and district school competitors, as well as the growing number of home schooling parents, have created new competitive pressures and made it harder to predict what your enrollment will be for the coming year.

But while predicting the future is always challenging, it is possible to set achievable, as well as stretch, goals for enrollment, and increase the number of applications. In other words, to not just survive, but also thrive.

At CSMC, helping schools create achievable enrollment targets is part of our job. We have been doing this work as part of our commitment to our school partners to keep them financially healthy. Since many CSMC leaders are school leaders and former school leaders ourselves, we have all experienced the anxiety and stress of setting, and then achieving, school enrollment targets.

In our experience, there are five key components to a successful enrollment campaign:

1. Invest: While it is important to spend the vast majority of dollars in the classroom, schools that have hit their enrollment numbers are investing between 2 and 10 percent of their annual budget on marketing and enrollment. Many campaigns are successfully carried out by school leaders and/or their board members. Other parts of a campaign make more sense to outsource.

2. Research the market: Know, and then relentlessly reach out to, your target audience. For instance, what jobs are on the rise in your town or part of town? Who are your competitors? And what are the racial/ethnic/gender demographics, projected changes in population, and socioeconomic trends coming up?

3. Set clear goals (and then measure them): Are your enrollment goals realistic and aligned with your programmatic goals? Have you created them because of a specific facility constraint?

4. Storytelling: Identify and trumpet your school’s unique qualities. You need to test, adapt, refine your story and keep improving it. Your story shapes your school’s “brand”. And your “brand” increases enrollment, or builds a waitlist.

5. Retention: Keep your families coming back for more. Recruitment and enrollment efforts don’t end when school begins. Building and maintaining enrollment numbers is an annual endeavor. One of the biggest mistakes any school can make is the failure to plan for a year-round campaign.

In sum, working on, then successfully executing, these five steps will go a long way towards increasing your school’s presence, its reputation in your area…and the number of enrollment applications, if that is also your goal.

If you are not already employing some or all of these steps, don’t worry! It is much easier than it might seem, as long as you have the right tools and the right team. You could try to do this alone, or you could get some expert assistance from a team who has the tools and experience you need to get you started.

CSMC would be happy to assist you in coming up with and executing your enrollment strategy. To set up a meeting, contact CSMC’s Nick Driver at

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