Enroll, Apply, Register – It’s All the Same, Right?

I guess I could just say, “Nope,” and leave it at that, since there are distinct differences between all three practices.  Yet, school administrators, personnel, board members and parents use these words interchangeably.  Did you know if you have a yard sign that says, “Register Now – Classes Begin in August,” you may find that what you have put out there as a marketing message can have a detrimental impact on your school?

You do now.

Many educators use words that mean different things as synonyms, and then wonder why there is confusion and difficulty in communicating.  It helps to develop a lexicon to help delineate the distinctions.  And, as the Chinese proverb states, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right name.”

As an example, it’s not “Lexicon of Terminology,” since “Terminology” means “The Study of Terms.”  Even calling it a “Lexicon of Terms” can also be considered incorrect, since the word “lexicon” implies a grouping of words.

“Fundraising” and “Development” are also two words that are used interchangeably in many schools, as well as in the non-profit world.  While the end result of the processes involved is the same (the amassing of revenues to fund an organization’s work), the processes are completely different.  Fundraising is short-term focused, and usually is a direct approach for funds through the purchase of an item or a donation to a cause.  When a natural disaster strikes, fundraising takes place.  It can raise a large amount of money in a short period of time because everyone knows “why” they should participate.

Development, however, is focused on the long-term view, concentrating on building relationships.  In doing so, individuals continuously become more deeply engaged with the organization and the work it does.  Once individuals are engaged, they can be asked to take the next step, and eventually commit financial resources (usually substantial gifts) to the organization by means of a one-time gifts or continuing (sustainable) gift to the organization.  These sustainable gifts contribute to the sustainability and long-term viability of the organization.

So what’s the difference among “enroll,” “apply,” and “register?”  “Enroll” and “Apply” infer some type of process is involved.  “Register” does not.  The difference between “Enroll” and “Apply” is that “Apply” is a little more extensive, and often a priori to “Enroll.”

An “Enrollment process” may have several steps to it – Inquire, Apply, and Enroll.  A family makes an “Inquiry” to your school so they can find out more about your educational environment for their child.  They like what they see so they complete an application and “Apply” for admission.  The school reviews the application, and accepts the child, allowing the child to “Enroll” in the school, usually culminated by the parents or guardians paying a fee to reserve their seat for the child in the classroom, guaranteeing the child will show up for the first day of school in the Fall.

Simply skipping to “Enroll” may involve an application, but the distinction should be made clear.   Calling it an “Application process,” could cause confusion, as the terminology implies there could be many steps to applying.  In some cases, there is an “Application process” within the enrollment process, which includes completing an application form, submitting recommendations, perhaps an essay, and in many cases, a financial need assessment.  If these steps aren’t made clear, families may consider their children to be enrolled in the school simply by paying the enrollment fee…and that can cause problems.

For instance, if a child is “enrolled” in your school who requires wheelchair access, and your school is not ADA compliant, you may have to make accommodation for that child since, by accepting the enrollment fee, they are now a part of your school community because a process requiring a parent to disclose any special needs that the school would be expected to provide accommodation for was not in place.  On the other hand, if your “enrollment form” asked this question, you might be able to not enroll the child; however, you could have a legal battle on your hands, since it could be argued that an enrollment form is simply a record or a document.  If your handbook of policies or policy manual does not describe the application and enrollment processes in detail, then you may have no choice by to make accommodations any and all children which have been enrolled in your school.

“Registering” children, however, is something that should be avoided, since doing so assumes complete acceptance no matter what economic circumstance or physical need a child has.

Private schools have enrollment criteria.  Even the Catholic Bishops state that the Catholic school is a “privileged environment” for learning.  That does not mean only those that are well-off financially are welcome.  Rather, it means that there are expectations that need to be met in order for effective learning to occur, and the educational environment is set apart from the “normal” learning environment.  Public schools, on the other hand, can indeed “Register” students, simply because they must.  Taking a cue from this practice, a faith-based or private school which may not have application or enrollment processes may charge a nominal “Registration fee” to ensure there is a space for the child  to attend school when classes begin.  However, a “Registration” fee infers “registration,” rather than an “accepted enrollment” in the school.

Please understand that there is nothing wrong with registration, so long as your school is prepared – mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially – to “walk the talk.”  If not, you could be dealing with issues you never dreamed of dealing with.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2008-2015 (Original Publication Date: 20081020)