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Lessons learned while texting 30,000 students in 3 days

Kirk Daulerio  |  January 26, 2017

As a former college admission officer and independent school counselor, I’ve connected with a lot of students over the years.

In admissions, I’d visit high schools and speak to groups of 10, 20, sometimes 50 students at a time. The largest groups, upwards of several hundred to even a thousand (including their attentive parents), tended to be either on campus or at joint college programs.

As a counselor, I directed the college application process for about a hundred seniors a year. Small potatoes, but even with these relatively low numbers, it was a challenge to give every student personalized support. It’s almost unfathomable, then, to think of personally engaging tens of thousands of students simultaneously and being able to adequately meet each of their needs, but that’s exactly what we recently did at AdmitHub, kicking off a campaign to 30,000 prospective college students over text message.

#CollegeAngst

Applying to college is a stressful time for high school students. Every student has their own interests, needs, and questions. So how can one college admission officer, or even a whole staff, personally engage thousands of students at once? Research has proven that texting students throughout this process can increase student success, but many colleges have no texting policies because they simply cannot handle thousands more messages per day.

Thanks to recent advancements in

conversational artificial intelligence, it’s now

possible to personally engage an enormous

audience without needing to hire any

additional staff members.

 

Here are a few things I learned from managing 30,000 concurrent text-message conversations:

1. Students are curious and will inevitably ask questions

The nuances of admissions and financial aid are widely known to cause confusion and, as my Italian grandmother would say, “agita,” so it makes sense that when you initiate a conversation with 30,000 students, you should expect thousands of questions in return. Madonna mia! The key to easing their stress is providing quick, helpful feedback, and connecting them to the appropriate human and online resources when needed.

When managing thousands of conversations at once, artificial intelligence can be an admission officer’s best friend, as the technology can handle over 90% of incoming questions within seconds, giving students meaningful and reassuring information instantly and freeing up valuable staff time.

 

2. Conversations differ based on where students are in the process

Some of the students we connected with were trying to figure out how to apply, while others had already submitted their application. Many of these conversations were around deadlines, fee waivers, financial aid, even their odds of getting in.

On a given day, interested prospects may send over 50 messages in an effort to learn more about the college they’ve applied to and what they can expect if they are admitted.

After students apply, they inevitably want to know what’s up next, and they also start asking more questions about the college and its culture. Many students want to know about life on campus, as well as information about specific programs, what the dorms are like, or even the most popular eateries near campus. These types of Q&A are perfectly suited to conversational AI, and can be provided instantly to the inquiring students, thus saving admission officers hours of precious time.

 

3. Send texts to one batch of students at a time

With 30,000 students to engage, it seems easier to send a text message campaign en masse, but it’s actually more effective to start with a smaller group. By beginning the campaign with around 1,000 students, you can learn what common questions they are asking and prepare for the much greater influx of student questions. If a question isn’t yet recognized by the artificial intelligence, you can add the proper response so that when one of the next 29,000 students asks that particular question, it is answered instantly. By engaging with hundreds of thousands of students, admission officers can be informed of the many questions students ask, but there are always new questions that will be added over time.

 

4. Students are awake at all hours of the night!

I’m an early bird. I tend to go to bed around 9 or 9:30PM. I’m up early, circa 5AM, but my wee morning hours are devoted to getting the kids off to school and tiring out my energetic English Setter:

 denali-dog.jpg

 

Source: Denali, 5:30AM

 

 

 

Students, however, are typically bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the exact opposite times, and don’t always adhere to normal working hours when asking for assistance. In fact, many of the conversations we encounter with students are in the 8PM-1AM and 6-9AM timeframes. We’ve even had a student conversing with their virtual assistant about ACT test scores at 3:30AM! My astute advice in this situation would be “Go to sleep!" but students are thrilled to get instant replies from their prospective college when they wouldn’t even expect their best friend to be that responsive over text message. This is especially helpful to college admission staff, who obviously aren’t working 24/7...ideally. 😉

5. Students love a good GIF

Along with basic SMS messages, virtual assistants can send MMS images and GIFs (animated videos), like this:

 source-1.gif

When colleges utilize multimedia like this, students almost always give an overwhelmingly positive response. We receive countless replies of LOL, :), <3, even reciprocal emoji. One virtual assistant Easter Egg that students have discovered is that Georgia State’s virtual assistant, Pounce, is a “Belieber.” Engaging with students should be informational and fun!

6. The effort truly makes a difference

One of our biggest motivators for keeping up with all of these conversations was knowing that we were making even a small difference in someone’s life. For example, receiving a quick text about available financial aid can dramatically change a student’s mindset. That one message could be the reason a student decides to apply despite the sometimes daunting price tag. We experienced many students telling their virtual assistant that they couldn’t afford college tuition, and they responded with great appreciation after being informed of the available financial aid resources that would make a college degree attainable to them.

I was the first in my family to attend college. My parents weren’t familiar with the application process, and I wasn't even aware of the resources available to help me through the journey. If only I had a virtual assistant to keep me on task and text me encouraging information (and the occasional Bon Jovi GIF) as I was stressing out about applying to college. Then again, I’m so old that cell phones hadn’t even been invented yet, and Al Gore was still years away from inventing the Interwebs!

If you're interested in learning more about how to communicate with students via text and artificial intelligence, we're happy to help. Just go here to talk to us

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Topics: chatbot, texting, messaging, recruitment, artificial intelligence

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