Attracting Millennial Parents to Your Private School

As educators and students gear up for the first day of classes, private schools simultaneously recruit to fill open spots this fall and prepare for next year’s recruiting season. For many, application deadlines loom in January. For siblings of current students, deadlines may be as early as November.

Now’s the time to sharpen your tools and techniques to help families find the perfect fit in your school. First, let’s take a good look at your prime customers.

Are You Connecting with Millennials?

Private schools are busy vying for younger students as they try to crack the code on Millennial parents. In a national poll by EdChoice, Millennials were asked which school would be their first choice for the best education for their child1. Get this:

  • 43% said private school
  • 28% said a regular public school
  • 13% said homeschool
  • 8% percent said charter school

But what Millennials say they want seems to be different from their school enrollment patterns. “Although a plurality of parents, including millennial parents, would prefer a private school for their children, 83% of American school children attend public school,” according to The Federalist.

The Rub: Tradition vs. Disruption

Part of the challenge for private schools is that their traditional marketing tactics don’t connect with younger consumers, says Aaron Cooper, author of the article, “Millennial Parents are Driving a Market Shift.”2

“Independent school leaders have traditionally defined their schools through their missions and traditions,” says Cooper, head of school at The Elisabeth Morrow School in New Jersey. “But today’s consumers want to be seduced by marketing, and parents are increasingly looking at independent school as a luxury product, making the ‘if we build and maintain it they will come’ model unsustainable.”

Millennials respond to “disruptive” brands (like Amazon and Uber) that promote innovative solutions missed by established brands, Cooper says.

The best way to market to this generation of parents? Create brand evangelists.

The Secret Sauce for Millennial Brand Evangelism

No generation is better suited than Millennials to tell your school’s story and promote its value, Cooper says. “We’ve seen them evangelize their workout routines or diets in their Facebook feeds and vilify their cellular providers on Twitter. They are a generation for whom the term ‘cult branding’ was invented.”

But education, in and of itself, doesn’t inspire that kind of enthusiasm.

Or, as Cooper says, it “doesn’t provide the emotional connection families need to effectively tell our school’s story in the same way they evangelize about a meal kit or workout routine on social media.

Word-of-mouth publicity remains the single most important factor driving people to our schools, and parents-turned-evangelists are our salespeople whether they are across the coffee table or behind a screen.”

Care About Their Opinion!

There’s no quick way to create cult evangelists but at its core, it’s about activating a generation that wants to be heard and shares opinions because they believe others will benefit from them. So, schools must learn to generate authentic experiences by listening to and partnering with Millennial parents.

Here are a few ways that Cooper and The Elisabeth Morrow School recommend going deep with Millennials:

  • Explore every possible source of dissatisfaction. The school formed a group of administrators to focus on marketing as a team. They have used surveys of all kinds to generate feedback from families and proactively address any “deficiencies or miscommunications that, left unchecked, can lead to attrition or a feeling of dissatisfaction that drives parents to seek different options.”
  • Keep asking. Last school year, the school surveyed parents 30 times, using online tools like Survey Monkey and receiving a typical response rate of 80%.This extremely high rate of survey completion is evidence that young parents appreciate being asked their opinion.
  • Reframe parents’ concerns and involvement. The “helicopter parent” often gets a bad rap, but faculty and administrators must understand that Millennial parents are less likely to go along with traditions unquestioningly; rather, they’re looking for engagement and respect for their perspective.

Each of these suggestions requires resources, forethought, and administrative training, but they also may be “crucial to our survival,” Cooper says. “Given the competitive landscape … a proactive marketing stance that seems over the top today may in a few short years prove necessary to meet the challenge of engaging prospective and current families with a school, so that they don’t pursue a shiny new option.”


1The Federalist: Millennials Prefer Private Schools Yet Vote School Choice

2National Association of Independent Schools: Millennial Parents are Driving a Market Shift