High bounce rates can leave us thinking: Was it something I said?
It very well could have been.
When families search for an independent school, they look for the best place to invest in their child’s education — and of course, their money.
Think about your school’s value proposition. If your peer schools can use the same words as you on their website — like “close-knit community” — how do you stand out?
Now, it goes without saying that the following 10 words and phrases are not necessarily bad or that they should be dropped altogether. Rather, it’s best to generate your school-specific synonyms in place of these broad, general terms.
1. Tight-Knit Community
What it means: We’re a small independent school where students and teachers work closely together and support and learn from one another.
Why you shouldn’t use it: Even the biggest independent schools boast a close-knit community between faculty and students, athletes and academic all-stars, seniors and freshmen.
What you should consider instead: Think about the most unique aspect of your close-knit community. Is it your faculty-to-student ratio? Is it that all students must participate in arts and athletics beyond academics? Is it an annual event that brings students together as one? Use the answers to these types of questions to develop your specific message.
For instance, the statement on Renbrook School’s (Connecticut) homepage, “Your Child is Known,” speaks to its small class size in a way that is emotionally appealing to parents looking to invest in an independent school education when their children are young.
2. Hands-On Learning
What it means: Your school offers plenty of opportunities beyond lectures and textbooks for students to acquire the experiences they need to succeed in life.
Why you shouldn’t use it: Hands-on learning is no longer a differentiator, but a standard.
What you should consider instead: What kind of hands-on experiences does your school offer? Aspen Country Day School (Colorado) promotes what is special about its academics while emphasizing its hands-on experience with the phrase “No Child Left Inside.”
3. Academic Excellence
What it means: Your school offers a wide range of academic programs that strive to challenge and prepare students for success in school and beyond.
Why you shouldn’t use it: Academic excellence and rigor are some of the most common buzzwords in independent school marketing. But let’s be honest: Families won’t invest in an education that’s anything short of excellent or rigorous.
What you should consider instead: Consider the result of your school’s academic rigor or the specific programs that make the school top-notch. For instance, the homepage of Blake School (Minnesota) showcases the statement “Leaders are made, not born,” which signals that the school’s academics prepare students to be leaders.
4. Outstanding Student/Faculty Relationships
What it means: The relationships formed between students and faculty will inspire students to learn.
Why you shouldn’t use it: Because what is an education without student and faculty relationships?
What you should consider instead: Think about how the student and faculty relationships form and what makes them unique to your school. Hint: Sometimes it’s not just about the academics. Woodward Academy (Georgia) uses the term “wise guidance” on its homepage to make this point well.
5. Athletic Excellence
What it means: Your athletics are top-notch.
Why you shouldn’t use it: Prospects who want to join a stellar athletics program may have already been recruited to your school or want proof that they’re joining a winning team.
What you should consider instead: Don’t be shy. It’s OK to boast that your school’s athletics rock. Baylor School (Tennessee) effectively does so on its site.
What it means: The term “unique” literally means to be the only one of its kind or unlike anything else.
Why you shouldn’t use it: Using the word “unique” is a great way to say that you’re not unique – and to bore website readers quickly. After all, every school is unique in its own way.
What you should consider instead: Think about a special tradition at your school that no other school has. St. George’s School (Rhode Island) takes the cake (literally) for this ceremonial beheading of the zebra cake prior to the school’s biggest game of the season. In this case, mentioning or sharing a video of this event replaces the term “unique traditions.”
7. Beautiful Campus
What it means: Your campus is a desirable place to visit, attend, or live.
Why you shouldn’t use it: Doesn’t every other school also boast about its beautiful campus? Whether it’s by the beach, nestled in the hills of California, or tucked in between city skyscrapers, every school’s campus is special and beautiful in its own way.
What you should consider instead: Note the specifics about what makes your campus beautiful, as Greens Farms Academy (Connecticut) does by sharing that its 42-acre campus is nestled amid three ecosystems.
What it means: Your campus offers a wide variety of programs and opportunities and/or brings together many faculty and students from different cultural backgrounds.
Why you shouldn’t use it: The word is meaningless unless you define what you mean by it and support it with statistics or graphics.
What you should consider instead: Instead of saying your school community is diverse, prove it. A fast-facts infographic, like the one Charlotte Country Day School (North Carolina) posts on its website, can give a compelling overview of the wide range of experiences your school offers students.
What it means: Your community features new and original methods of thinking and learning.
Why you shouldn’t use it: Sure, you think your academics are innovative, but compared to whom? “Innovative” is a subjective term and should be reserved for truly forward-thinking acts. (Hint: A 1:1 computer program isn’t innovative anymore.)
What you should consider instead: Focus on the aspects of your school that set you apart from others. See the “Distinctions” section of Westtown School’s (Pennsylvania) website for an example.
What it means: Your school fosters growth in all areas, including personally and intellectually.
Why you shouldn’t use it: The point of an education is to nurture. Reflect on how you nurture students to thrive, rather than the act itself.
What you should consider instead: Consider your adviser/advisee relationships, a series of classes that are available at your school, your faculty-to-student ratio, and all other aspects of student development. For example,The Harker School’s (California) homepage turns the tables on applicants, telling them to discover their passions, rather than “nurture” them.
Overall Rule of Thumb
When you’re considering which words to use on your website, keep in mind that each one should show, not tell visitors how your school stands out from all others.
A version of this piece initially appeared on Finalsite.com and is used with permission.