By Cheryl Schenk Miller, Director of Enrollment Management
Sharing what we love about Eastside Prep comes very naturally to our community: EPS students talk about their experiences with friends from community groups and activities; parents and guardians share their positive experiences with colleagues and neighbors. During the interviews we conduct with all families applying to EPS, we hear time and again that applicants have already connected to the EPS community through the stories of students, alumni, and their families.
The Admissions team takes pride in continuing those relationships through the application process, enrollment, and re-enrollment. Each of these stages of the admissions and enrollment process sets the tone for what students and their families can expect from Eastside Prep: communication, context, and compassion.
Whether applicants know an enrolled family, or they are gaining their first information about EPS from the school website, we provide events through which they can connect with us right away. Many families seek an introduction to the community before knowing what questions they might have about an EPS education. While large-group Open House events were often a first connection point in the past, small-group and virtual settings have offered the best vehicles for learning during the past two admissions seasons.
Organized around six themes in the Eastside Prep experience, our community panels feature a range of community members including students, faculty, parents, and alumni. Former Eagles, now college students, joined half of our community panels this year—all made possible through the virtual meeting format. Meg Blyler, Admissions Events Coordinator, shares that “we’ve loved having the opportunity to incorporate alumni voices into our Admissions events this year. We’ve heard alumni reflect on the awesome independent study projects they did while at EPS, reminisce about their favorite classes and teachers, and share how the skills they learned in their time at EPS have helped prepare them to make the most of their college and career opportunities.” Alumni remarked at the close of each panel that they enjoyed the opportunity to connect with their teachers during the community panel conversations, or that serving as a panelist felt like giving back to the EPS community. The benefits extend to our applicant families. As Blyler notes, “for prospective students and parents, hearing from alumni helps them envision how EPS will not only be a rich learning environment during their time at EPS, but also how it will prepare them to pursue their big dreams for their own futures.”
Every EPS applicant family has an interview conversation with a member of the Admissions staff or Senior Leadership Team. These conversations feature four questions that we ask all parents/guardians whose students are applying to EPS, with an equal amount of time scheduled for the questions a family wants to ask us. The parent/guardian interviews set the tone of open dialogue between the folks at home and those at school—an element they will experience at advisor/student/parent conferences each August, in Head’s Table meetings each fall, and throughout a student’s years at Eastside Prep.
A large element of the connection future EPS parents feel to the school comes through our current parents. Blyler also shares, “In parent/guardian interviews, one of the most frequent questions I’ve heard is ‘What is the parent community like? Is it welcoming? How will we connect as new EPS parents?’ and our parent ambassadors have been especially wonderful in sharing their experiences and helping prospective parents envision what it’s like to join the EPS community.”
Parent ambassadors join Q&A panels offered in tandem with applicants’ mock class visits. These panels provide a vehicle for parents and guardians to relate to the stories of others, while reflecting on how to support their students in staying organized and grounded, and hoping and dreaming about who they will become as a result of their EPS education. Compassionate leadership abounds as ambassadors help onboard applicant parents to the EPS community, empathetically relating to what it’s like to apply to EPS in addition to foreshadowing what’s to come. Blyler notes regarding this support that “parent ambassador stories help applying parents understand what they can expect in terms of support and communication from the school—whether it’s check-ins with advisors, weekly school newsletters, or communication with Learning Support staff about how they can help their students through any struggles.”
STUDENTS AT THE CENTER
The greatest support for a prospective student envisioning a future at EPS comes through our current students. “Student ambassadors do a far better job of ‘promoting’ EPS to potential families than our admissions staff could ever do. Their ability to speak to the firsthand experience of being an EPS student, and the genuine, unvarnished answers they give to questions, really helps applicants get a sense of what it’s like to go to school at EPS,” notes Blyler.
Student ambassadors contribute their voices to community panels, campus tours, and student mock class visits. They also host virtual game nights for Middle School applicants and evening Q&A sessions for Upper School students. These “for students, by students” events are a popular way for applicants to receive direct responses to their questions without an adult needing to be the conduit for their inquiries. “Ask a Student,” an online video Q&A site, provides a forum for accepted students to ask current students their questions at any time of day during their decision-making window. In response to those impromptu video questions, says Blyler, “student ambassadors talk about all aspects of life here at EPS—from how great our food is (even if they wish we’d bring back bread bowls for soup), to what the homework load is like (and the importance of using study halls and free periods wisely). Or how advisors and teachers support them in exploring exciting new ideas and tackling the challenges of everyday teen life.”
THE OFFICE IS OPEN
Connecting with students involves an understanding of the ever-changing conditions of the teenage years. Likewise, connecting with families involves being responsive to the ever-changing circumstances of COVID. “After two years of remote life, families are in need of connection and want to know they are seen,” shares Jenn Chi, Admissions Communications Coordinator. While responding to families’ emails and phone calls, there are often common themes and needs, so new “Admissions Office Hours” became a solution, offering both connection and concise information. “Families could pop in anytime during an hour-long Microsoft Teams meeting to ask their questions to an Admission team member,” notes Chi. Offering admissions events in the morning, afternoon, and evening helps us to connect with families during a timeframe that works best for them, and Office Hours were in keeping with that equitable and affirming practice. Chi happily added, “Over fifty families attended our first evening session, and the three sessions that followed each had about twenty families. We noticed that many families would stay the whole hour to hear others’ questions as well. We have received many emails from families this year thanking us for these sessions and the overall wonderful application process with EPS.”
Whether virtual or in-person, one-on-one or small-group, the opportunities for connection in the EPS admissions process kick off the community relationships and dialogues families can expect for years to come. Even as our community grows, the collaborative conversations that begin with ambassadors and admissions staff create authentic, lasting connections.