In today’s world, most families’ first interaction with your school is more likely to be with pixels than with people. That is, they are more likely to click on your PeerPal widget, read your Niche.com reviews, or explore your financial aid page than they are to pick up the phone and call you directly.

In the past five years, there has also been an increased focus among independent schools on initiatives that are fundamentally aimed at inclusivity and reducing barriers for families that historically may not have considered independent, private schools.

A lot of great work has been done to make independent schools more inclusive, but what I find interesting is that there has been very little discussion of how the first trend I mentioned, software’s increasing prevalence in the admission process, intersects with the overall work of increasing access and inclusivity at independent, private schools.

Fundamentally, the software that schools use, particularly in the recruitment / admission process, is a representation of the school’s brand and community. If a school asks families to apply by using software that is complex and outdated, it will reflect poorly on the school. It may even reinforce perceptions prospective families already have about independent, private schools being complex and outdated.

This was the main reason that I felt so compelled to start Clarity. When I started learning about financial aid and the processes schools were asking families to complete, I was pretty taken aback. Frankly, the process was complicated, intimidating, and frustrating. I could easily see how some families, especially those new to independent, private schools, would get stuck in the financial aid process and decide that this whole independent, private school thing just wasn’t for them.

What surprised me the most was how counter the whole financial aid experience was to all of the great work that schools were already doing to reduce barriers and make their communities more inclusive. It seemed like there was a huge opportunity to help schools reduce the barrier that filling out the financial aid application presented, and in doing so, help to align that experience with the industry’s overall attempts to increase access and inclusivity.

Financial aid software is just one example and Clarity is by no means perfect, but what if we looked at all the software that we use in schools through the DEI lens?

Here are some questions that I think are worth considering:

– What is the experience of discovering, learning about and applying to my school like for non-native English speakers?
– What is the experience of discovering, learning about, and applying to my school like for those with disabilities, including visual impairments?
– If I knew nothing or very little about independent, private schools, are there any resources on my school’s website that would help me feel more comfortable / confident in continuing my search process?
– How long does it take the average applicant to my school to complete the software portions of the application process? Are there ways that we could reduce this time without sacrificing quality of information received?
– How easy / possible is it to discover, learn about and apply to my school using a mobile device?

What these questions all emphasize is that truly increasing access to independent private schools and increasing the size of the pie requires that we take a holistic approach to reducing barriers and overcoming preconceived notions of what an independent, private school is. And that certainly includes software.

Bring Clarity to your Financial Aid

The financial aid platform purpose built to remove enrollment barriers for today's families.

About the author 

Brennan Stark

Brennan is the founder and CEO of Clarity, where he is focused on helping schools remove barriers that prevent families from accessing their institutions, particularly in the financial aid process. Prior to Clarity, Brennan founded PeerPal, which was acquired by Graduway in July 2021. Brennan lives in the Seattle area with his partner, Sara, and two dogs.