By Brian Kathman

As higher education staff, you ask a lot from prospective and current students before they even arrive on campus. From completing college applications to registering for classes to applying for financial aid, students have an entire maze to navigate before their first day of class. But what do students need from YOU in order to get these tasks correctly finished in time? And why is it important to “nudge” students in the right direction?

According to research published by Dr. Benjamin L. Castleman and Dr. Lindsay C. Page, 10 to 40 percent of college-intending students fail to matriculate in the fall following high school. Their research shows that this is especially prevalent in low-income families. Factors that contribute to this phenomenon include absence of school support, confusion over paperwork, lack of parental guidance, and the very human tendency to procrastinate.

The good news is, there’s a simple strategy that can help address all of these issue- direct, personalized text messaging. The same research from Castleman and Page shows that personalized text intervention from education staff helps to significantly increase student awareness and comprehension of pre-matriculation tasks. So, what are the best ways to communicate with students via text to get the job done? We’ve pulled together our top tips.

Keep it Short and Simple

The reason texting students about important upcoming tasks and deadlines is so effective is that it breaks down complex information into bite-sized reminders. This means you need to be strategic about the information you’re sending via text – there are certain things students want to hear from you in order to truly benefit from your communication. To ensure you meet student expectations when it comes to the texts they receive from you, follow texting best practices when planning out your strategy. Take time to send the right message, and be sure to include only pertinent information. Students want a quick recap of the specific information they need. And be sure not to go overboard with abbreviations – students don’t need you to be “hip” with the lingo you use. Finally, most students reply to your texts within 90 seconds, so don’t leave your students hanging when you get a response.

Build an Effective Strategy

Once you’ve identified the right kind of content to send students via text, the next step is strategy. You’ll be reaching students directly on their phones, so you’ll want to build a text campaign that is purposeful and efficient. The first place to start is to identify the desired outcome you want to achieve by texting students. Do students need extra help when it comes to enrollment-related tasks? Have you noticed a pattern of incomplete FAFSA applications? Do students tend to have a lot of questions around housing options? Identify these student pain points and how you plan to negate each with text reminders. Next, set deadlines related to these goals – when do students need to know the important information you’re sending their way? Once your text reminders are out the door, set aside time to respond in a timely manner to make sure students are getting prompt answers to any follow-up questions they may have.

Get a Response

Anytime you send out a text – whether personal or professional – there’s the dreaded wait time. If you don’t hear back, thoughts run through your head like, “Did I say too much?” “Did I say the wrong thing?” The same concerns may come to mind when you text students. The best way to battle these fears is to personalize your texts before you send. Students don’t want to feel like they’ve been part of a mass text blast, and they’ll know if they have. If your messages read like a canned or plug-and-go text, it’ll be obvious that you didn’t take time to personalize. Students are much more likely to respond if you send them an individualized message. Text reminders work because they reach students directly – but don’t take for granted the importance of personalization.

The best way to reach students with information and support is no longer necessarily through email – it is often directly through their phones via text. With the right text content, strategy and personalization tactics in place, you’ll be able to nudge students in the right direction.

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Brian Kathman is CEO of Signal Vine. Connect with him on Twitter: @briankathman. 


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