Your Playbook to Stop Summer Melt For First Generation And At-Risk Students
Up to 40% of incoming freshman students, especially those from first-generation and low-income families, confirm intent to enroll in college but fail to attend1. This phenomenon, called “Summer Melt”, is a persistent problem in higher education. Luckily, text messaging campaigns have proven effective in engaging this vulnerable population and providing students with the support necessary to “stay in the game”.
To build an effective SMS campaign, it’s important to prepare early by considering the most common questions posed by students and by collecting phone numbers from accepted students. Next, examine your process and identify ways to ease the confusion by reaching out to students when they need the most help. Most higher education institutions will need to address the top five causes of Summer Melt listed below, and the associated templates are a great way to begin your Summer Melt SMS playbook.
The first obstacle for many students is transition anxiety. This may be caused by a lack of support or lack of understanding of higher education processes and should be addressed at both the beginning and end of your Summer Melt SMS campaigns. Transition anxiety is especially prevalent in first generation college students whose parents are unable to guide them through the process.
Campaign #1: We’re Here to Help
To solve this, your first SMS campaign should begin once students confirm enrollment. This is simply an introduction to the university as a resource for students. It’s important to establish a connection and provide critical information about connecting with live advisors. Each subsequent campaign should continue to address students’ anxiety, especially as the first day of class approaches, but this initial connection is, arguably, the most important.
Completing Admitted Students Checklists
After confirming acceptance, students still need to register for orientation, sign up for housing, take placement exams, find payment plans, and submit paperwork. Many schools have already developed checklists for admitted students and can start by turning this checklist into an SMS flow to prepare students for upcoming tasks. At this point, inform them that you will send more detailed information as deadlines approach.
Campaign #2: General Checklist Information
After sending general information about the tasks students will need to complete, you can use SMS campaigns to effectively nudge upcoming deadlines and ensure that students have reliable guidance through every step of the process. Nudge each deadline approximately 1-2 weeks prior to the deadline depending on how long the task should take to complete.
Often, the first and most crucial steps of the Admitted Student Checklists are to create or access student accounts. While your general checklist flow will point students to your webpage for help, a second campaign to walk them through these processes step-by-step will ensure students get successfully logged into their emails and student portals. This is vital because nearly every additional step requires interaction with these accounts.
Campaigns #3: Accessing Student Portal & Email
Once students have access to these accounts, they will need to register for orientation. Attending orientation is often required, and it’s a great way to both ease transition anxiety and get in-person assistance with registration, getting around campus, and much more. Send out an SMS campaign as soon as orientation sessions become available to help students register.
Campaign #4: Orientation
Before attending orientation or registering for classes, students may have to complete placement exams to help build their schedules. As these exams become available, send an SMS campaign to students to help them identify which tests to take and how to access each one.
Campaign #5: Placement Exams
Although class registration often happens during orientation with an academic advisor, students may be asked to fill out a class preference form prior to meeting, and may occasionally be required to register for their classes themselves. Whatever the situation may be for your institution, reach out to students to make this process smoother and stress free.
Campaign #6: High School Transcripts & Immunization Records
Admitted Student Checklists often include a variety of additional paperwork and required documents. Nudge each of these deadlines and offer to help students successfully submit this paperwork. Most commonly, students will need to submit their final high school transcript and health immunization forms.
Housing and Meal Plans
The housing process can be both confusing and intimidating. Students will have to find a roommate, pick where they want to live, and submit a housing deposit. Reach out to them a few weeks before the application deadline to provide details about housing options and offer to guide them through the housing application.
Campaign #9: Applying for Housing
When housing assignments are released, another SMS outreach campaign can help students access their assignments. Offer to help them reach out to their roommate and detail the amenities in their living spaces.
Campaign #10: Housing Assignment
Students who live on campus are often required to have a meal plan as well. These options and requirements can be just as confusing as the housing process. Send out a campaign to explain meal plan options and provide pricing information, and help them officially select the meal plan that is right for them.
Campaign #11: Meal Plan Options
As the deadline to select a meal plan approaches, send a nudge to students who have not yet signed up. Remind them of their options and walk them through the meal plan selection process.
Many students who succumb to Summer Melt are from low income households. Anxiety about paying for school or problems applying for financial aid may contribute to their failure to attend your college. To make matters worse, the process of applying for financial aid is exceedingly complicated. Your SMS campaigns can help students secure an FSA ID, provide all the appropriate documentation, and successfully submit the FAFSA form.
Start this campaign well before your priority deadline for filing the FAFSA and ask students where they are in the application process. If they haven’t started yet, reassure them, and guide them through the process from beginning to end. If they have started but haven’t finished, then help them pick back up where they left off.
Campaign #12: Applying for FAFSA
Some students will be selected for FAFSA verification. Completing this often unexpected process may discourage students and missed deadlines may prevent them from successful enrollment. Create an SMS flow to walk your students through the verification process.
Campaign #13: Verification
Finally, once you review the students’ FAFSA applications and the awards are posted, create a flow to help them understand and accept their financial aid awards by completing entrance counseling and signing the Master Promissory Note (MPN).
Campaign #14: Accepting Financial Aid
Low-income students may need more than the federal aid provided through the FAFSA. Your SMS campaign can guide students to private loans and outside aid opportunities.
Campaign #15: Additional Aid
After receiving the aid packet and applying for additional aid, low-income families may still need a payment plan to afford tuition. Design a campaign to inform families about payment plan options and help them sign up.
Preparing for Campus Life
As the first day of classes draws near, transition anxiety may reappear as students start preparing for first semester of college classes. Send a short dialogue about a month before classes begin that offers to walk students through their preparation for classes. For example, they may need help viewing the class schedule or purchasing textbooks. If students feel that they can show up prepared, they are much more likely to show up in the first place.
Campaign #16: Textbooks & Viewing Class Schedule
Students planning to live on campus may feel nervous about moving out on their own. Help them feel more confident by sending a campaign about a week before move-in helping them prepare for Move-In Day. Remind students of the dimensions of their space, what items are supplied, and what they should bring. Walk them through the move-in day schedule and provide contact information should they have additional questions.
Campaign #17: Move-in Day
The day before move-in or the start of classes, send out one final campaign to ease this last push of transition anxiety. Welcome students to the community and point them to some helpful on-campus resources.
Diminishing Summer Melt
To beat Summer Melt, universities should establish a solid connection with accepted students that is maintained throughout the summer. When these students are tackled by seemingly insurmountable roadblocks, they need clear communication and direction - to know who to contact or to have somebody contact them. An SMS campaign can effectively do both.
Also, be sure to consider your own process. The campaigns described above represent only a fraction of what SMS campaigns can do, so cater to your students. Identify your most frequently asked questions and proactively coach students through your unique processes. Strategic SMS campaigns are a scalable solution with demonstrated success getting students into your “arena”. Once there, they can knock it out of the park!!
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