#NACACreads: Using Text Messages to Nudge College-Bound Students


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Using new technologies to provide personalized support and timely information can help students get to and through college, author Benjamin Castleman noted during a Wednesday #NACACreads Twitter chat.

“We know that students face complex and consequential decisions all along the road to and through college,” Castleman tweeted during a discussion of his book, The 160-Character Solution: How Text Messaging and Other Behavioral Strategies Can Improve Education. “These choices range from HS juniors/seniors choosing which of the thousands of colleges in the country are a good fit for their (postsecondary) goals, to advanced college students (identifying) financial resources they can access to get through the last mile of college.”

College counselors and admission professionals from across the country joined the hour-long chat, sharing their own experiences helping students chart a path to college.

Text messages, in particular, can be especially effective in reaching teens and young adults, said Castleman, who was tapped to help the Obama White House create Up Next — a mobile messaging campaign aimed at boosting college access.

“Texts demand our attention,” Castleman explained. “Every time our phones chirp or vibrate, we look at the message, and for that moment in time, the text stands out as its own content. That’s a powerful avenue for breaking through the informational clutter we all experience.”

Yet colleges and counselors shouldn’t become overly dependent on text messaging, he noted.

“Texting is an effective strategy, but not the only way to reach students,” Castleman tweeted. “And texting won’t always be effective—it will probably get saturated the same way email did before it.”

But no matter the means of communication, students benefit when complex tasks (such as applying for college) are broken down into “digestible, actionable chunks,” said Castleman, an assistant professor of education and public policy at the University of Virginia.

“Simply by keeping something top of mind for students…they are more likely to follow through,” he tweeted.

Read the full chat transcript and learn more about #NACACreads.

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at mstegmeir@nacacnet.org.