SMS Strategies: Navigating Student Engagement in Higher Ed Admissions

Nina Lifshey May 14, 2024 Nina Lifshey Senior Slate Communications Strategist Persona The Compassionate and Brilliant Theorist

In college admissions, it has become a challenge to connect with prospective students via email. So how can a higher education institution find a way to connect with prospective students in this overly communicated world? The answer is text messages.

Remember the excitement of hearing “you’ve got mail” blaring from your computer speakers? Back then, email was a new and exciting way to communicate with friends, family, colleagues, and businesses from around the world. Today, email has become an overwhelming communication tool that’s home to all sorts of advertisements from companies, schools, and more. Most high school students I know and speak to say they don’t read every email they receive—some even set up filters to delete them before they check their inboxes.

On the contrary, texting is direct, personal, and rarely gets lost in the mix of other messages. Many schools are already integrating texting into their communication strategies. Leveraging text messaging as a way to communicate with students is nothing new, but developing an effective strategy is essential to ensuring your messages are getting across to your prospective students and/or parents. Here is an 8-point checklists you can use to optimize or kick-off your texting strategy.

Are you okay with us texting you?

The worst thing a college can do is text students without asking permission first. Failing to do so can annoy students, potentially damage your school’s name, and may even cause you to receive some hefty fines. In August of 2023, updates were made regarding the A2P Campaign guidelines. As a reminder, an A2P (Application-to-Person) campaign is a marketing initiative where automated messages are sent from an application to individuals, typically for promotional or informational purposes. So if you utilize a service that sends out SMS text messages to students, this falls under an A2P Campaign. Part of the guidelines indicate that students need to opt themselves into SMS communications. A simple question asking “Would you like to receive SMS messaging from us?” should do the trick on any of your existing forms that capture student information. If you use Slate as your CRM, it’s super easy to create a custom text opt-in field that does just this. Be sure to add this field to all your inquiry forms, applications, campus tour registration, or any other form where you may be collecting a mobile phone number.

Additionally, you want to make sure to register your institution to ensure that your A2P campaign has been approved. This article provides more information about A2P Campaigns and registering.

What type of student should receive texts?

Recent updates to the A2P Campaign dictate that only inquiries, applicants, and admitted students who have opted in to receive SMS texts are eligible to be contacted via text message. While many schools engage in purchasing student information to foster interest, it’s crucial to note that sending text messages to this particular demographic contradicts the guidelines. These students, often referred to as “cold leads,” may not be familiar with your institution. Instead, it’s recommended to focus on students who have actively engaged with your institution by filling out forms, registering for events, completing applications, or submitting enrollment deposits. Targeting these populations ensures higher levels of engagement, as they have already expressed interest in your institution.

Are you a bot?

You need to make sure to personalize your text messages. Whether it’s to one person or a massive group, you should include who you are, what institution you’re texting from, and what you’re asking the student to do. The more you personalize your content, the more the student will engage with you and not think a text is coming from a system, a bot, or an unknown stranger they don’t know.

How much is too much?

When texting prospective students, you want to keep your text messages short and sweet. If you have to, you can always text a link to a video (or if you’re a Slate user, utilize Slate Video) to share information. Texting a book of information to a student may cause them to ignore your message completely. High school students are busy and are often juggling multiple responsibilities, so they’re likely to appreciate receiving texts that are brief, to the point, and easy to understand. You also want to make sure the information you share over text is very general, not too personal, and doesn’t contain sensitive information. You can always text the student to read an email that has important and personal information if you’re worried they won’t see it in their inboxes.

What do you mean by that?

If your college or university uses a lot of jargon or acronyms, you may want to consider not including them in texts. These may confuse the student if they’re not familiar with them. You should also avoid using slang or all caps, as these can be distracting or misinterpreted. Even though texting in capital letters could show you’re excited to share something with them, they may feel you are yelling at them instead. Emojis are fine to use in your text messages to convey tone—just be sure to use them sparingly.

When to send and when to respond?

I don’t think I have ever met a person who enjoys waking up to the ding of an incoming text message in the middle of the night. You’ll want to make sure to send your texts during the daytime and account for time zones! Texts during the weekend should be limited to reminders about a weekend event. When you send your text message, you should also make sure you’re available thereafter for any responses that come through. It’s important to respond in a timely manner—this shows that you’re available and engaged, and it helps build trust.

When is enough, enough?

Even though you may have the urge to text students with updates or exciting information, do not overdo it. No one wants to receive multiple messages per day or week; you’ll risk having students opt out or ignore your messages. It also makes sense to keep this type of communication to a specific call to action (CTA) like a last-chance reminder for an event registration or an application/deposit deadline.

Is it worth it?

We know texting can cost a lot of money (or in Slate, credits) and the costs can add up. So you need to ensure you’re being strategic about how you’re spending your money or credits.

Texting doesn’t allow you to track message opens or clicks in Slate, but you can create reports that show conversions for students who were sent text messages. Additionally, if you use Inbox and your rules are configured for Staff Assignments in Slate, students can reply directly to their admissions counselor. This creates a more personalized and positive experience. Plus, you’re able to query or create a report on Inbox activity to assess the effectiveness of your text efforts even further.

Contact Carnegie to set up a text message strategy for your institution!

Whether you’re new to text communications or have been communicating to students this way for a while, these questions and recommendations can help you further engage with your prospective students. I encourage you to try a text campaign or review your current one. And if you need help with any of this, start a conversation today to partner with us!

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