School Viewbooks: Do we really need them?


Nearly every private school and college has an admission viewbook – a big, beautiful book that highlights every aspect of the school community, academics and programming. They are usually visually stunning and vastly informative, but are they still relevant? Do we really need viewbooks?

If you think about it, admission viewbooks date back to a time long before we literally had a world of information readily available at our fingertips. Back then, schools needed a way to promote themselves and educate their prospective audiences about what life at Academy X was like and why they should apply. Thus, the viewbook.

The viewbook has always been a large, beautiful and typically expensive publication chock-full of valuable information. Everything you needed to know about a school in order to make an informed decision about applying was available to the reader. And, it was mailed to your home usually within a week of requesting it. It was a great method of sending out information, but it was also expensive, especially when you consider the costs of creating it, printing it and distributing it.

The Phantom Application

Fast forward to today and many schools are experiencing an increasingly common occurrence, what some of us like to call, the phantom application. Thanks to the world wide web, prospective students and their families can research schools and colleges without ever having to make contact with the institution. Every school offers its own website, many schools also offer blogs (which are great for inbound marketing efforts), social media and there are thousands of other websites chock-full of information about every private and public school out there. Believe it or not, prospective families know far more about schools than you may realize.

By the time the interested student applies, they usually have a good idea of what the school is like, the programs it offers and even what the social life is like, even if they have never contacted the school. So, once the family receives the gorgeous, informative and expensive viewbook, it isn’t always going to make a major impact on their decision to complete an application or enroll at Academy X.

Which brings us back to the original question: Are school viewbooks still relevant and necessary? Many marketers today will say, no. Now, that doesn’t mean the end of print collateral, it just means it’s time to re-assess the viewbook itself. What value does your viewbook bring to your admission marketing efforts that you don’t get from your other print and digital collateral?

Viewbook vs. Website

Think about it, school websites have come to essentially serve the exact same service as a viewbook. The only exception is, you can’t hand it to someone to flip through paper pages. All the information in your school viewbook (and so much more) should be contained within the pages of your school website. In fact, schools want their users reading the information online more than on paper for one simple reason: conversion.

What does nearly every school website have on every page? An inquire or apply button. That’s right. Your prospective student is browsing your athletic web pages and is convinced that he wants to play football for Academy X. How convenient! There’s a button right there where he can submit his information and connect with an admission officer, within a matter of seconds.

This is an exciting time for school marketers as they assess how to use their budgets most effectively. Giving up the formal viewbook in favor of a less expensive search piece or replacing it with a new digital endeavor could be your school’s ticket to success. This doesn’t have to mean the end of print admission collateral, print does play an important role in marketing today, but it does mean rethinking your overall marketing strategy.

Think about it, a viewbook is an expensive endeavor and runs the risk of becoming obsolete during its typical lifespan of three to five years, especially if there are leadership or programmatic changes. It’s not uncommon for a school to drop $40,000 or more on the production of viewbook, and this figure doesn’t include the cost of mailing it to prospective families.

The Future of a Viewbook

So, what if you did something different? You might consider creating a fun, fold-out infographic style search piece that can briefly touch on the 10-15 most vital points you need to highlight about the school in general. And, drive your users straight to your website where you can convert them into inquiries and applications.

Or, focus on creating a series of small but focused marketing cards each highlighting a different program or activity, which allows you to mix and match cards to personalize the marketing material that you send to prospective students. Have a student interested in performing arts and science? Imagine if you could pluck a card from the shelf promoting just those programs and send it to that student with a letter encouraging her to visit and apply. And … use these pieces to drive traffic to complementary landing pages where, you guessed it, you can convert readers into inquiries and applications.

What will the future of your viewbook be? It’s time to assess your school’s budgets, goals, needs and capabilities and determine how you can best connect with your prospective students. Need help deciding? Let’s chat.


2 thoughts on “School Viewbooks: Do we really need them?

  1. Andrew says:

    Two thoughts: One, yesterday’s Daily Spark addressed the increasing role of grandparents in selecting and paying for independent schools. Might this population still value the tactile experience of thumbing through a paper viewbook over a cup of tea or glass of wine? Second, see this article on LLBean, known for their print catalog (ie viewbook). It’s not going away! They now design and expect the catalog to drive customers to the website instead of to the telephone. (

    1. Stacy Jago says:

      Good points. Different things work for different audiences, and different communities. There’s also the matter of budget. If our schools have the resources to do both, then that is awesome. But when we’re strapped, I think we need to pick the most cost effective way to share our message.

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