Back to School…

By Sallie Ly posted 02-07-2019 11:28 AM


Back to School…
Written by Simon Fitch, Director of Student Recruitment and Admissions at TASIS, The American School in England

I was honored to be asked to write a few reflections on some of the similarities and differences of attracting students best matched to centres of learning across our industry.  For me, the age of the students I’ve recruited has moved from 16 in 3 in just 12 months, as I’ve spent the last year returning to high school, as I joined TASIS The American School in England as Director of Admissions in 2017.  Previously I’d spent a lengthy period as Director, International Development at St George’s, University of London and had a happy interlude as a pathway Centre Director with INTO University Partnerships.  

Approaches to recruiting at secondary schools and universities may seem similar – for example, the centrality of telling the story, and engaging with influencers (from the understood, such as agents, to the less well known – specialist pet relocators?!) around the world to enthuse families to consider our school.  Indeed, connecting with many of the stakeholders has felt familiar to me, though, for example, very evidently a good University agent may notably not have the same expertise or interest in boarding schools.

The similarity in the challenges around boarding and university admissions also resonate.  The recent Enrollment Management Association conference featured a number of sessions on complexities of the Chinese market, for example, featuring largely socio-political driven anxieties.  These are understandably amplified for those parents looking to send their children, at a more tender age, many miles away. 

Where the sectors seem to diverge more, though, are around day student and family enrollment (and we should never forget, this is all about the family).  In the U.S., organisations such as the National Association of Independent Schools are using “Jobs To Be Done” framework to understand parents’ choices. For TASIS and other international schools in the U.K., the situation is uncertain – for many companies, a previous flood of relocations has become a trickle, and Bloomberg, for example, provided commentary on ISC Research’s data on falling enrollments at UK international schools earlier in the year.  I write, though, at a time when the whole Brexit process is in disarray and, truly, who knows what lies in store for us – I at least have the benefit of experiencing our country’s universities have been grappling with such uncertainties for far longer.

It’s possibly in the day market that higher education provides some pointers in terms of attracting families to schools. The higher education sector in the UK, for example, has learned new tactics very quickly in terms of attracting students – with many who previously scoffed at the obsession with the buyer’s journey employed by ‘recruiting universities’ (two of which I’ve worked in) and pathway providers now employing exactly these techniques, including needing to enter the ‘clearing’ scramble in unprecedented numbers.  But this is a two way learning opportunity – the nuance and personalisation in the buyer’s journey at high school level should be of great interest of universities’ future plans, juxtaposed with automation on an altogether larger scale.

We are also starting to see more emphasis on student-to-student and digital marketing in schools, and a realisation that the ‘visit’ experience so revered by schools may need virtual parallels (over half of our newly enrolling students this year hadn’t been to campus).  I’d also observe some schools have moved to very expedient applicant processing, reflecting the realisation that speed does matter even in something as life-changing as boarding school enrollment.  When done well, what schools do best is to approach their admissions with a huge level of empathy for the ultimate ‘customers’ – younger children.  For relocating day students, these attitudes necessarily extend to supporting the whole family in their major upheaval.  Individualised assistance with what may seem to be trifling problems - but are anything but in new surroundings.  This is an area, via connections with the relocation industry, that I’d suggest universities would do well to consider as more of a focus, for example, postgraduate student recruitment. 

These humble observations come from being back at secondary school after about a 30-year absence.  For anyone considering such a move – think carefully.  Do you genuinely like nurturing children from pre-school through teenage years, who come with so much intellectual curiosity but also a lot of angst?  What are your compassion levels really like?  Do you really like structure? Our students trust us to be on our game same time, same place, every day – there is no hiding place, and feedback is instantly obvious than any National Student Survey could ever be.

If the answer to these is ‘yes’, pick your school carefully. I am privileged, for example, to work with kids and faculty from over 50 countries in a truly global community – make sure you ask about the international student experience, and about any dominance of students from certain parts of the world – familiar to colleagues in every part of our industry, but I’d argue even more impactful in terms of younger children’s learning experiences. Get it right, as I have, and the rewards to you from using all your transferable skills and experience working in the school environment are many, and very different from a university sector where, for most administrators, most students are more number than a name. Hopefully, you can see which side of the fence I’m now on!


At TASIS international school in Surrey, Simon Fitch is the Director of Student Recruitment and Admissions, accountable for the admission of students to our global community for academic year and summer programmes. Previously, Simon worked extensively at University level, most recently as Director of International Development at a London University. Simon was also the Centre Director within the INTO network and have led student recruitment teams based in the UK and US. Simon enjoys bringing a wide range of perspectives from the University and Pathway sectors to my current school role. Simon can be reached at



The Enrollment Management Association.

“The “Jobs to be Done” Theory of Innovation.” Harvard Business Review. Published electronically December 8, 2016.

Turner, Camilia. “Russell Group universities struggling to fill places through clearing, figures show.” The Telegraph, January 25, 2019.

Waite, Suzy. and Ring, Suzi. “Brexit Banker Kids Leave Top U.K. Schools With Rare Empty Seats.” Bloomberg, July 2, 2018.