Some school marketing reference materials I’ve been reading advocate the practice of referring to a period of “application” rather than “registration.”

In this day of accountability, this is a very good suggestion. With the guidelines presented by the Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act of 2004, schools are responsible for accommodating all children once they are admitted to the school. An “application” allows a school to review potential students to determine they can provide the necessary accommodation for those students; a “registration” form infers that the school will admit everyone that “registers.” If a school registers a student, and then finds it cannot accommodate the child, it is incumbent upon the school to make provisions for whatever assistance is necessary in order for the child to succeed. It may either be very costly for the school, or could potentially incur a lawsuit. Either way, such an action could close a faith-based or private school.

This has nothing to do with discriminating against students with special learning needs.  Rather, as a faith-based or private school, your facility may not be equipped with an elevator.  If it doesn’t have one, and you’re not prepared to install one at a cost of six or seven figures, then you may find that “registering” a student who requires a wheelchair may be difficult to accommodate.  However, if your school does not have an “application” process, and simply “registers” students, then you may be obligated to provide accommodation for that student.

“Enroll” has the same connotation as “register.” You can enroll students that are currently enrolled in your school…but new students need to apply, need to be accepted, and only then can be enrolled once a financial deposit is made to ensure their seat is reserved for them.  Not requiring such a deposit fails to commit the parent to have their child attend your school.  Therefore, the deposit amount needs to be substantial enough so that the parent will not make the decision to walk away from the school during the summer if they change their mind about becoming a part of your school’s community of learners.

Some marketing materials have also been quick to point out that an application process can also be seen as discriminatory. Administrators must take great care that admissions are based on objective criteria provided on the application, and that no discriminatory practices be tolerated as defined by other long-standing statutes.

Some of these materials have also said that since “economic status” may not be considered discriminatory (since the ability to pay tuition is a factor in the admission process), an application process could be a good way to bring diversity to a school as well as allow for a healthy bottom line….and that’s where things become as gray as a springtime sky in Pittsburgh.

For instance, many Catholic Schools have adopted an “Order of Admissions” procedure, accepting students from their parish first, followed by other Catholic students, followed by other Christian and/or non-Catholic students. Some schools have even adopted an “early application” period for current parents in order to assure that their child’s place in school is reserved for the following year. Such a window of opportunity should be short, especially if demand for seats in the classroom is great. Once a classroom is filled, the Order of Admissions policy takes the “first come, first served” entitlement out of the picture.

How does it work? Say you have a full classroom of 25 students, and a waiting list of 5. To split the class into two and hire another teacher would be fiscally detrimental. Parents choose to remain on the list because no other acceptable educational opportunities are available for their child. For this illustration, let’s assume the five students who are on the list are placed there chronologically (just like a restaurant).  Those five children are:

A Catholic non-parishioner;

A parishioner;

A non-Catholic;

A parishioner; and

A Catholic non-parishioner.

If an opening occurs, in first come, first served, the Catholic non-parishioner would be given precedence over the parishioner, which might elicit a call from your pastor or board of pastors regarding person #2 and #4 in line. If an Order of Admissions policy is clearly spelled out in your parent handbook, then the first opportunity is given to the first parishioner. If they decline the opportunity since they feel there’s not enough financial aid for them, then the next parishioner (fourth in line) is contacted.  Then, the first person would be considered, then the fifth person, and finally, the third person. If the parents of those students choose not to take advantage of the opportunity, then they can remain on the waiting list until the next opening occurs.

Some may complain that this is putting a lot of pressure on the parents, and that’s absolutely correct!  Nothing like pressure to turn carbon into a diamond. Of course, if your waiting list expands to 20 students, then it might be prudent to open a second class where all can be welcomed. However, make sure that those parents are indeed serious about enrolling their children. It can be devastating to open a second classroom, hire a new teacher, then discover that half of the 20 on your waiting list don’t show up on the first day of school.

Several years ago, some schools opted to drop registration fees that were applied toward tuition, and insisted that tuition payments be paid on a 10-month basis beginning in July…so if a parent wanted to “get in line” at the start of August, two months of tuition was due to reserve a space. If your programs are high-quality programs, and people are aware of the quality reputation of your school, the line will form.

Today, may I be so bold as to offer a “Next Practice” insight – roll all those fees into your tuition, including your registration fee.  Then, make your new registration fee 1/10 of the family’s tuition payment, due before MAY 31st. The remainder of your tuition payments are payable over 9 months starting in July. If you’d like more details about this new way thinking about your tuition, and how it can help your school improve its financial revenue cycle, please send an email to with the words “Ten Percent Registration Fee” in the subject line.  Why a May 31st deadline?  That gives parents time to set up their payment plans in June, and start payments in July…and give time for those people who call to say, “Can I have an extension on the deadline?”  That’s kind of an appropriate comment for today, since your IRS tax returns are due.

Speaking of which – if your registration fees are due in May, then you may be asking, “What about those families who say they’re filing an extension for their income tax, and won’t have their tax returns until October?”  Then that’s a problem – especially if your school’s governing authority or auditors require the income tax return from the previously completed tax year for verification.  Is there a way you can enroll those students in your school?  There certainly is – but that’s something that won’t be offered in this forum.  It takes a concerted and coordinated effort from your school’s leadership and governing board, as well as a strong and enforceable policy to make that happen, along with the expertise and confidence to have the proper conversation with the parents involved.  That’s a coaching subject, and there’s not a simple way to do that.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2007-2022 (Original Publication Date: 20070416)