By Jeremy Tiers, Senior Director of Admissions Services
4 minute read
Over the past few years, our ongoing survey research with prospective students and current college freshmen has revealed that a greater number are comfortable receiving text messages from colleges and universities during their search.
While that may not be breaking news, we’re also continuing to hear that most students are convinced BOTS send every single text they receive from a college.
Last month one student said, “I didn’t think my counselor was a real person until she immediately replied to my text. I was like you really do exist. She talked to me like a friend and was so kind and helpful.”
In early 2019, the percentage of students who said they never wanted to receive a text from a college during their search was just shy of 30%. As of March, 2022, that number has dropped to 22.6% – that’s according to Tudor Collegiate Strategies (TCS) national survey data, as well as data from multiple joint surveys between TCS and Niche over the past 18 months.
Students like the fact that text messages are instantaneous and convenient. Plus, for many they feel like a more efficient method of communication because, “most of us are always on our phones”, and, “we miss a lot of the emails that colleges are sending because we hardly check it.”
A text message also feels a lot less scary than the idea of having a phone call. Don’t get too excited though and think that means you’re off the hook from making calls. Students say when their admissions counselor texts them to schedule a call ahead of time (versus randomly cold calling), and explains the reason for the call, that 1-1 dialogue often feels more personal than any text or email a college sends.
While the majority of students are okay with colleges texting them, we also continue to consistently see quotes like these three all the time in surveys:
“Don’t get crazy with texting because then it starts to feel spammy like a lot of college emails.”
“STOP USING EMOJIS when communicating via text to students that are future students especially when you have no idea how to use them. It gives us very uncomfortable vibes.”
“I didn’t like getting texts before I applied to a college, it was intimidating. I wrote some of the most formal texts of my life back to admissions officers. Email is less awkward at the beginning. Once I got comfortable with the officer and applied, texting was ok.”
If you want to identify which students do and don’t want a text, simply ask for their preference on your inquiry form, or in one of your early communications or conversations.
Let me circle back to that last student quote for a minute because you might be wondering if texting a student at the beginning of their college search is effective.
The data remains very clear. Only 14.4% say texting is the first kind of communication that a college should use. I do want to offer one piece of important context – If a prospective student-athlete is being recruited by a coach, the majority are comfortable (any many actually prefer) a text to initiate conversation with the coach…but not with their admissions counselor.
Ultimately, texting shouldn’t be incorporated into your communication plan until you’ve built some trust and rapport.
In terms of the frequency that most students are comfortable with, 31.7% say once a week, 14.6% are actually okay with multiple texts in a week, while 22.9% prefer only one text per month from a college.
Here’s a list of the primary things you should be utilizing text messaging for:
- Reminders remain the most popular answer from students. Things like upcoming deadlines, missing documents, and event reminders.
- Scheduling phone calls for important conversations around things like financial aid.
- Alerting them to an email you sent or a voicemail you just left.
- Updating them on the status of their application or financial aid package.
- Inviting them to your virtual event the next day or even the day of.
- Sharing a link to your latest social media post, especially when it’s a current student story/vlog.
Ultimately students want text messages that are short, clear, conversational in tone, and feel personal without sounding like you’re trying too hard.
Now let me give you two big things to avoid. Do not send texts from the “admissions team” or a general admissions number. It needs to feel like there’s actually a human being on the other end. You also should never use texting to just “check in”. Any outreach you do needs to be intentional 100% of the time.
A final thing to remember – Make sure your staff or colleagues are in the loop on the timing of any text that you send, especially if you’re encouraging a response. You lose all believability if the student replies back and doesn’t receive a response within a matter of minutes.
If you’d like to talk more about something I said in this article, let’s do it. Simply reply or email me here.
And if you found this article helpful, forward it to someone else on your campus who could also benefit from reading it.