Developing admissions for a new school

OurPlanet International School is still a newcomer on the world stage. We opened our doors in the city of Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, a little over five years ago offering the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme to Omanis and expat families. Our fledgling admissions process began with twenty students, occupying four classrooms in a two-storey villa, and has since grown to nearly three hundred students spread out over sixteen homerooms. Our campus has also expanded to three times its original size and we anticipate a further increase in enrolments this coming school year to over three hundred and sixty students. Needless to say our admissions process has also undergone rapid change from hand-written forms, an excel spreadsheet and local knowledge, to an online admissions and curriculum system. While the growth chart below looks good it belies the truth.  This was anything but a painless process.

Photo credit: International School Bulletin March 2018 Issue 4

Our Admissions experience went like this:

Year 1 – 20 students: Excited to be working at a new school! I know every student by name, and by age.

Year 2 –110 students: Feeling good and looking good!  We’re growing!  I still know every student by name and by age but I need to start an Excel spreadsheet to keep track.

Year 3 – 170 students: They don’t pay me enough for this! The school is at bursting point.  Where are we going to put the new grade 3? There are too many Muhammeds, Judes and Al Balushis to keep track of (are they siblings, cousins, or totally unrelated?). There are several versions of one spreadsheet in circulation – I hope they all have the same student count. The Board says we are not meeting our numbers!  They’re kidding right!?

Year 4 – 220 students: Looking for a change in career! The number of classes and teachers are expanding at an unseemly rate.  I have NO time to talk to prospective parents who turn up at ANY time and expect me to drop everything with endless questions (don’t they look at the website?). Classes aren’t full but I’m having to turn away some prospects because our Arabic language classes are at capacity.  I’ve lost one student on the spreadsheet!  I HATE Excel.

Year 5 – 360 students projected: SRLSY?! What Planet Are They On? Crisis point, the systems are no longer coping and neither are the admissions team

Baby Steps

The admissions process in a rapidly expanding school can change from a rewarding experience where you feel part of the development of the school to one where you resent coming to work and struggle to personalise the admissions experience for prospective parents.  This experience will not be new to many, so how do you survive rapid growth with few resources?

The first step we took was to look for an online admissions system that also integrated with an online curriculum platform.  In my opinion there is little point having a separate admissions database as all the student data will have to be re-entered into the curriculum database once a student has enrolled (with all the potential for error that brings).  With this in mind we decided to test OpenApply for our admissions system, and integrate it with ManageBac, our curriculum system

There were two key factors for us which made the change possible. 1. Having the support of the Business Manager and Head of School while we tried the new systems (there are bound to be teething problems in the beginning). 2. Simple training and good online help with a complimentary trial period.  As a new small school we had a very limited resources and budget to train and test.

Quick wins

Online applications via the website 

We no longer had to be physically present for applications, or decipher handwritten forms! Even without changing your website too much if you can put a simple link to an online application form which links to your admissions systems and you’re good to go.

Automated responses 

Parents who apply get an automatic message to say their application has been received.  This is especially useful for those applying overseas and during holiday periods.

Anyone can see where each application is at

Emails and notes from the admissions team are collated onto the system.  Admissions no longer relied on what an individual admissions officer remembers.

Downloading data – yep, there’s still no escape from Excel but you end up with a spreadsheet with a ton of useful data.

Board reports

Systems that give you nice-looking data – eg nationalities or enrollment rates are always going to make you look good!

Automated Re-enrollment

Re-enrollment used to take up a lot of our admin time.  Now we have a system that automatically emails all parents with three choices – confirmed, declined and pending.  All parents who confirm are automatically sent re-enrollment invoices, which gets deducted from their tuition fees in the following academic year. This process provides a huge time saving during the admissions period and makes our accountant very happy.

Pitfalls and next steps

Don’t have more than one copy of admissions spreadsheet! If you do end up having an excel spreadsheet in circulation share it via Google Drive, or on dropbox and teach staff to edit there.

Do not enable handwritten application forms! Rather sit with parents and show them how to apply online.  Think about having a computer or tablet device available for walk-ins.

Consider online booking for school tours at set times during the week.  While this doesn’t stop walk-ins, it does help structure your day a little better.

Finally, do not be afraid of failure. No matter how well you plan, a new system implementation such as online admissions will never be perfect at the time you go live. Engage with your key stakeholders (Head of School, Admin, the Parents Group), learn from your mistakes and adapt as quickly as possible.

First published in International Admissions Bulletin March 2018 – Issue 4