Webinar Recap
Enrollment Insights Blog

Key Insights for Boarding School Marketing and Admissions Professionals

During our most recent K-12 webinar, we took a deep dive into the latest data and trends shaping the boarding school segment.

The webinar, which covered everything from school search trends to enrollment performance, highlighted the importance of understanding the shifting dynamics and priorities in the K-12 school search, particularly for boarding schools. 

Here’s a summary.

Using Google Trends to understand market dynamics 

Google Trends is a great tool for understanding trends and patterns in search term volume. For example, the term “private school” showed steady search volume pre- and post-pandemic, from January 2020 to December 2023, with expected dips around the winter holidays and July 4th.

Google Trends data reinforces what we’ve been hearing for several years now: there’s an ongoing interest in alternative K-12 schooling options, including private schools. Results from Niche’s 2023 State of Enrollment & Marketing Survey for Private and Independent Schools showed that 50% of schools saw an increase in inquiries year over year, 14% noted a decrease and 35% remained stable. When schools were asked about applications, 48% reported an increase, 22% experienced a decrease and 30% remained consistent year over year.

A closer look at boarding schools specifically showed that 55% saw an uptick in inquiries year over year and 49% saw an increase in applications.

By June 1, 2023, 27% of private and independent schools had met their goals for new student enrollments. However, there’s been a yearly decline in this success rate since 2021 that we’re continuing to watch.

More broadly, private and independent schools reported that retention and increasing enrollment were their priorities for this year, with the student and parent experience rising in importance due to its impact on both retention and new enrollment through positive word-of-mouth. Compared to the rest of the group, boarding schools were more focused on increasing applications but also prioritized retention and increasing overall enrollment.

Challenges and opportunities

A Google Trends analysis of the search term “public vs private schools” showed a consistent pattern but with a notable spike in the summer of 2022. We speculate that the spike was driven by parents considering a switch from private to public schools for cost-saving reasons once they gained confidence that public schools would remain open after two turbulent COVID years. 

In the same vein, recent Niche research points to increasing price sensitivity in both K-12 and higher education. Specifically, 20% of K-12 families surveyed in 2023 eliminated schools from consideration due to lack of financial aid, a figure that increases to 32% for those considering boarding schools, underscoring affordability as a significant factor. The data also suggests that tuition cost has become an increasingly important deciding factor, with 60% of families acknowledging its influence in 2023. That statistic was the same for boarding school families.

Looking at school competition, 64% of parents considered three or more schools during their search and comparison process, and nearly a quarter looked at five or more. This number increases among boarding school families, with nearly 70% considering three or more schools and 40% considering five or more, indicating that families considering boarding schools have a lengthier “shortlist” compared to those looking at other school types.

These data points highlight the challenges and opportunities for all schools that charge tuition: families may be intimidated by cost, but providing transparency around costs and financial aid could positively influence families during their decision-making process and make a school stand out from its competitors.

Tuition sensitivity and financial aid in boarding school choice 

Next, we took a closer look at the data on tuition sensitivity for families seeking boarding schools. While 20% of families who completed the 2023 Parent Survey opted out of certain schools due to a lack of financial aid, that figure increased to 32% for families considering boarding schools. Similar to broader survey respondents, 60% of boarding school families reported tuition cost was an important deciding factor in their school selection process. 

In the webinar, we recommended boarding schools lean into financial transparency and share as much information about financial aid as possible. Beyond sharing the percentage of students who are awarded aid, schools can go even further. What is the average award? What, on average, is the annual household income of a family that received financial aid? 

This kind of transparency empowers families to realistically evaluate a school’s feasibility early on. This example from Berwick Academy was highlighted for its clear, empathetic approach to describing its flexible tuition program.

Detailed financial aid information is critical to supporting families as they evaluate educational investment decisions and can support their perception of a school’s overall value. 

Digital trends in parent engagement

Because many are evaluating school choices that are further from home, boarding school families have different social media preferences than the general population. 

Instagram was the leading channel for boarding school families, with 47% using it in the school search process. And while only 5% opt for Facebook groups, 34% rely on Google search and reviews during the research process. YouTube rounded out the top three at 26%.

These channels are perfect for boarding schools to share “day in the life” content and provide a glimpse of life on campus, which is very important for families who can’t come to campus easily. 

Search and review platforms like Niche also played a big role at various stages of the funnel. Eighty-four percent of boarding school families preferred search and review platforms for researching schools, and reviews from other parents on these platforms are key influencers, impacting 66% of boarding school family decisions.

When boarding schools create their digital marketing strategies, it’s key to prioritize content and platforms that resonate with their target audiences. In addition to social media, reviews are not just a go-to research tool—they significantly influence boarding school families’ decisions. Managing and actively seeking positive reviews is crucial for boosting a school’s online presence.

Boarding school family preferences

There was a notable difference in how boarding school families first engaged with the schools they considered. While 28% of K-12 families overall attended an on-campus enrollment event first, 37% of boarding school families submitted an online inquiry and 32% attended an enrollment event. Again, this can likely be attributed to their distance from the schools they considered.

In terms of priorities, boarding school families were also unique. The three most important things for them were school type (families who choose boarding schools are typically focused on that category), a strong sense of community and campus safety. 

Boarding school parents also expect comprehensive care for their kids. Social-emotional support was a top priority, and boarding school families had a greater focus on college matriculation and college counseling than families who considered and chose other school types. 

Final thoughts

Our latest webinar shed some light on the importance of leveraging market, industry and school-specific data for making decisions. Technology is playing an increasingly important role in the decision-making process for prospective families, emphasizing the need for schools to establish a strong online presence and choose platforms that resonate with their audiences. Finally, recognizing and addressing boarding school families’ unique priorities and preferences—from financial aid to holistic care and college guidance—allows schools to tailor their offerings for broader appeal and impact.

Angela is the Manager, B2B Brand Strategy at Niche, where she supports content and partner engagement strategy in Niche's work with K-12 and higher education institutions. Before joining Niche, she was the director of marketing and communications at Flint Hill School, a PK-12, co-ed day school outside of Washington, DC. In addition to developing research and content for Enrollment Insights, Angela is a frequent conference presenter, guest author, and podcast guest.