Enrollment Blog

Why "U should apply! :)" is the wrong message for enrollment marketing outreach

by Pam Kiecker Royall, Ph.D.

In the competitive world of undergraduate admissions, enrollment leaders are always looking for new tactics and promising channels for reaching prospective students. But our latest research on student communication preferences confirms what we’ve suspected for a while: Colleges should go easy on the texts.

EAB Enrollment Services' research division surveyed 8,515 college-bound high school students this past summer on their preferences on how they’d like to hear from colleges. In a series of questions, we asked how open they would be to receiving text messages from college admissions offices.

This is a particularly important topic for those of us in the enrollment world who try to engage potential students though digital channels. Since today’s students grew up with text messaging and tend to use texting as a primary form of communication, it's tempting to go that route. But our survey found that just a slim majority (57%) of students would be open to receiving texts from colleges.

For the students who didn’t want to get texts, the most common reason was that it was “annoying,” followed by “texting is too personal/too informal.” One reason for students’ reticence about receiving texts from colleges could be that while unlimited texting plans are more common than they have been in the past, some students still pay a fee per text.

But certain texts may be effective

However, students’ willingness to receive texts differed depending on why the texts were sent. Students were least interested in texts to let them know about events on campus. But most students who were open to receiving texts (86%) were fine with getting a text that announces an application-related deadline. And 82% of students would be okay with a text response to a question they asked.

These findings related to text messaging dovetail with our own experiences at EAB in working with prospective students on behalf of our client institutions. Texting, social media and other forms of “non-email” digital communication can play an important role in supporting recruitment campaigns, but our most effective channel for outreach to prospective students remains the plain old email, as well as printed mail.

What’s more, we find that in many cases the letters and emails that resonate the best tend to be the ones that capture the authentic, personal voice of the college and come from a recognizable individual. That’s seemingly contradictory to our survey finding that students believe texting is "too personal/informal." But our conclusion is that students do want to be communicated with in a personal, relatable way—just not by text.

We certainly haven’t given up on the promise of “next-generation” channels for reaching students. Our communication strategy researchers are continuing to test alternative approaches for reaching students, including search-based advertising, website ad retargeting and social advertising.

But unsolicited texts to prospective students? Less than "gr8."

Want more on students' communication preferences?

For a more complete picture of the communication preferences of today's high school students, read our entire white paper detailing the results of this summer's college-bound student survey. Access the white paper.

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