Online chat

An underused resource for building school admissions?

Online chat does not seem to be commonly used by international schools. admissions teams. ITM asked an industry expert, Kaitlyn Shipp to explain how a ‘live’ chat feature can be used by a school admissions team to grow student admissions.

Admissions headache

There has never been a more uncertain time for private schools, colleges, and universities. Families are finding commitment almost impossible, and a lot of last-minute decisions are going to be made. In this new, crazy world, students and their families are spending more and more time online hoping to find the right school new school or college this upcoming fall that will meet their needs. While we are all uncertain what the rest of 2020 looks like, the problem for admissions officers is to keep up the momentum until we have a semblance of clarity.

Five main problems

There are five main problems for admissions counselors and development officers alike:

  1. New student leads are down because you can’t be contacted or visited. Once a family finds out about your school, their next step is to probably head over to your website, but what happens once they get there? They might be able to find their way around, but they need to be engaged quickly and get some answers to their questions. A phone call may be difficult at the best of times, but may be almost impossible now. A visit to the campus itself is likely to be out of the question.
  2. With campus events being canceled, schools have not been able to host visiting days or student interviews.
  3. Families can’t find the information they need, so they have a lot of questions. Using contact forms is a thing of the past and people have little confidence that they will get a response for days – if at all.
  4. Admissions staff are overwhelmed with phone calls from parents and students. With so much confusion, families want to pick-up the phone and ask questions now more than ever.
  5. Alumni donations are down. Stock portfolios are down and giving campaigns have been postponed. Budgets are tightened.
Live chat: a neglected channel?

According to the EAB, colleges and universities should keep communicating with prospective students across as many channels as possible and one possible channel that is probably being under-exploited by many schools is online or ‘live’ chat, which gives an admissions office the opportunity to answer those questions quickly – while family members are online and engaged . It is a relatively affordable tool that can restore a personal touch, and, according to Forrester more than 41% of visitors expect live chat to be on your website.

Engagement and support

Chatting online with parents and students is a great way to make a first impression for your school, and helps you gather the information you need to continue growing that relationship from the first point of contact.  Admissions counselors can chat directly with families to answer questions, hold interviews, or host virtual info sessions to keep the conversation going. Students and parents want to feel supported and over-communication is now a necessity. Chat, not only makes it easier to direct inquisitive students across your website, but it also increases your overall throughput.


Live chat software can also be used on your giving pages to build personal relationships with the alumni who are looking to give in these times of trouble.  Engaging your passive alumni when they are browsing your giving campaign websites, can build relationships and boost giving just at the time when you need it most.

Live chat in a lockdown

Finally, admissions staff are likely to be working from home for some time to come.  With an influx of questions, it’s easy for your admissions counselors to get behind. Live chat can help route incoming requests to the right department and one chatting agent can talk to 3-5 people at a time.

What to look for in a live chat solution for education

There are three key areas to be aware of:

  1. Privacy – Many live chat products were built for aggressive sales and marketing-driven organizations with little regard for privacy. Look for tools that have the ability to purge personally identifiable information (PII) to reduce the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) risk.
  2. Accessibility (WSAG Compatibility) – Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that educational institutions provide equal access to students regardless of disability. Live chat software is fantastic for the hearing impaired, so make sure your solution is also compatible with screen-reader technology.
  3.  Simplicity – Find a solution that will grow with your organization and can be deployedquickly. Think of live chat software as the telephone of the modern era. Adding live chat should be as simpleas adding a phone number, but give you room to grow as your needs change over time. Avoid solutions thatrequire months of customization and long consulting agreements to deploy.  Good software will meet your needs out of the box.


Kaitlyn Shipp is Head of Partnerships at Olark, an Online chat platform provider/ For more about Olark’s services to schools and universities see:



Feature Image: Kindly provided by Kaitlyn

Support Images: Computer screen images provided by Kaitlyn

Boy image by Bokskapet from Pixabay