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Real ROI, Real Results: 15 Ways to Use Two-Way Texting for Community-Wide Engagement

Providing a barrier-free academic journey for all is key to ensuring student and institutional success.

Conversational (AI-Powered 2-way) SMS Texting What Makes it Tick, and Why it is Exciting

Text messages are the best way to reach current and prospective students. The results speak for themselves:

  • 98% open rate
  • 90% read rate within three minutes

If you have a stake in any part of the student journey — whether you work in recruitment or student services or career planning (or alumni too) — you have a stake in providing consistent, clear communications that break through the noise and generate real results.

Connectivity, Campus-Wide and Beyond

Texting isn’t just for recruiters, admissions offices and financial aid. Sure, texts are the best way to remind prospective students to file their FAFSAs and submit their transcripts. But there are endless opportunities to engage with students and streamline their educational experience — via the humble SMS message.

Here are 15 ways to use texting at your higher education institution — end-to-end, from curious high school students to alumni donors.

1. Outstanding Application or Financial Aid Items

The most popular (and most urgent) reason to text message prospective students is to let them know they’re missing critical application items like transcripts, recommendation letters or financial aid forms.

2. Event Follow-Up and Event Reminders

After high school visits, tours, portfolio days or other recruitment events, prospective students go about their busy lives. How do you ensure your school remains top of mind? 

Follow-up messages after in-person events allow you to check in and solicit feedback, offer help with the admissions and financial aid processes, or simply reaffirm your school’s brand with potential applicants. If prospective students request a catalog or input their contact information online, take advantage of the opportunity to promote information sessions, regional outreach events and other opportunities where they can get to know your institution IRL.

3. Warm Outreach to Specific Potential Students

When admissions counselors or other representatives of your institution connect with prospective applicants that have particular backgrounds, interests or talents, they can use text messages to nurture relationships with those students and encourage them to explore relevant campus resources or communities. 

Sometimes applicants are persuaded by the smaller things that set a school apart, like niche extracurriculars, support networks or facilities. So launch campaigns that promote these specific features as benefits. That’s the power of texting along with data.

4. Collecting Deposits

A lot can happen in the time between the acceptance letter, the student’s decision and their arrival on campus. Reminders about deposits, and any other time-sensitive messages from the cashier’s office, will yield the best results when sent by text.

5. Health and Medical Records

The average first-year student’s college life essentials list is fairly straightforward: laptop, backpack, noise-canceling headphones, shower shoes. Medical records are probably the last thing they consider. But most higher education institutions require proof of vaccinations like MMR, meningococcal, HPV, influenza and COVID. 

Unlike those new earbuds, vax records aren’t optional, though. And because those documents might take some time and effort to track down, So it’s essential to send persistent, crystal-clear reminders until they get it done and get them to you

The best way to ensure critical messages like these cannot be ignored: texting them (and providing an easy way for students or parents to connect to ask questions or look for more information.

6. Orientation and Housing Matters

All things related to campus life, but particularly onboarding processes and events like first-year orientation, identification cards and passes to facilities or mandatory on-campus housing emergency/safety training are well-suited to text outreach.

7. Academic Advising and At-Risk Interventions

Details about degree paths, compulsory courses and prerequisites, as well as transfer credit processes and evaluations, can be complex and overwhelming to students, especially those who are new to the school. To ensure they fulfill their program requirements, reach their educational goals and take advantage of the resources available, advisors can convey approachability, personalized support and gentle nudges with text messages.

Students who struggle with academics may be at risk of losing financial aid, the ability to complete requirements for a major, failing courses or dropping out of school. One-on-one interventions by academic advisors can be a crucial turning point for at-risk students. Approaching students via text to schedule appointments, follow up after advising sessions or just check in will likely have a more positive impact than other communication channels.

8. Outstanding Balances

Raise your hand if you had to return a stack of long-lost books to the library before you could register for classes (or even graduate from university). Outstanding balances can be notoriously difficult to collect from students. But if reminders are direct — and payment is simple and convenient — students can remain in good standing without disrupting their educational experience.

9. Mental Health Check-Ins

Several of Ocelot’s clients have found success with text messaging campaigns about mental health, communicating information about how to access resources on campus during the busiest and most stressful times of the year. This kind of outreach is a valuable opportunity to engage with students beyond traditional administrative departments and roles.

10. Public Health Reminders and Alerts

We hope the days of social distancing, lockdowns and other COVID mitigation policies are behind us, but if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s to be prepared for … anything. If masks are still required in certain facilities or contexts, students are more likely to comply if they receive direct, official messaging from the school. 

Texting students is also one of the most effective ways to encourage students to use on-campus health clinics and resources, as well as disseminate information about outbreaks of flu or other communicable illnesses.

11. Career Center Initiatives: Job Fairs, Networking Events and More

When students are in their third or fourth years of college, their focus turns to the future. Text messages can announce or remind students about job fairs, resume clinics, mock interview sessions and networking events — and simply promote the breadth of career planning, counseling and placement resources available.

12. Campus-Wide (Non-Emergency) Announcements

You likely already use an emergency notification system to alert the campus community about inclement weather closures, security lockdowns and other emergency events. But what about the extended hours at the library during finals week? The venue change for that sold-out lecture? Suspended shuttle service? A new parking policy? Consider texting the student body (or segments thereof) in time-sensitive situations that don’t merit a red alert.

13. Meetups/Alumni Networking Events

The experience your college or university offers doesn’t stop when graduates turn their tassels. The true value of their education —and your school’s reputation — will emerge over time. Texting can be an ideal channel to promote alumni networking events (segmented by department, major, degree type and/or location). It’s also a great way to increase alumni engagement and attendance at reunions, homecoming festivities, mentor/mentee opportunities and meetups like happy hours, golf outings, cruises and group trips to musical or sporting events.

14. Alumni Benefits

Many schools have a wide variety of resources and benefits available to alumni, like exclusive job boards, online communities, email access and discounted tickets to on-campus events. But once graduates fly from the campus nest, it’s difficult to catch their attention. An alum’s level of engagement with the campus community, and their overall affinity for their alma mater, can be nurtured if they keep getting positive reminders about the benefits they earned along with that degree.

15. Fundraising

Fostering positive relationships with alumni pays off when it’s time to solicit donations to scholarship funds or capital campaigns, promote matching and planned gift campaigns, or leverage their connections to build corporate/community partnerships. Although older alumni may (or may not!) prefer direct mail or phone calls, fundraising texts to Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Z grads just might yield better results than other channels.

The ROI of Texting

Students receive emails from dozens of sources: admissions, financial aid, registration, housing, bookstores, individual programs, faculty members…the list goes on and on. They tend not to pay attention to emails or phone calls, but the numbers show that text messaging is different.

Students want to engage in ways that are organic, approachable and convenient. And right now, that’s text messaging.

Knowing this, we can’t imagine why a higher education institution wouldn’t use text messages (responsibly, of course) to reach everyone from prospective students to enrolled students and alumni.

Ocelot makes it easy. Our AI-powered SaaS platform empowers colleges and universities to reach students where they are — and deliver a seamless experience throughout their educational journey.

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