SMS for Universities: Why and How to Use Texting in 2024

May 30, 2023 | By Sam Pelton
College graduates reminder text

Text messaging has become the go-to communication method for people of all ages. As such, universities now regularly integrate SMS services into their communication strategies.

Here we'll explore the reasons why universities benefit from using SMS, how SMS for universities works, and examples of how universities can integrate SMS into their communication strategies.

Why Use SMS for Universities?

Universities use SMS because of its high open and response rates, its near-universal reach, and the personalized experience it provides.

To illustrate, let’s say you’re an administrator for my alma mater, the University of Nebraska. Now, in the Midwest, weather can be pretty unpredictable, especially in the winter. The weather forecast can predict snow, but it’s hard to know whether that forecast will prove to be true or not. So for the university staff, it can be hard to know at what point classes should be canceled.

In this scenario, SMS provides a quick way to let all students, staff, and faculty know that classes are canceled, so that there’s no scrambling or confusion.

SMS has a 98% open rate, after all, compared to email's average open rate of around 20% for marketing emails. In addition, text messages are likely to be read almost instantly after delivery—by some accounts, within 5 minutes most of the time. This makes it the perfect platform to send quick and important messages like campus updates, class cancellations, and emergency alerts. There’s no other communication method that will reach people as quickly and effectively.

In the “Nebraska snowstorm” example, this means that when you send the text about canceled classes, you can be confident that nearly all your recipients will actually read the text, so they’ll know not to come to class or work.

SMS for universities also has a near-universal reach. Nearly everyone has access to a mobile phone. In fact, there are around 300 million smartphone users in the United States—and that’s not even counting non-smartphone mobile devices. Since SMS doesn't require internet access like email or social media, students, staff, and faculty don’t even need a smart device or a data plan to receive SMS messages, making it even easier to reach a wider range of audience.

This near-universal reach helps ensure that your message goes to the broadest audience possible. In the snowstorm example, this means a large number of people (if not everyone) can be potential recipients of the cancellation notice.

Finally, SMS creates an individual and personalized experience. Response rate reports for SMS have been astounding (as much as 8 times higher than email for one reported industry). With an SMS system, students can reply quickly and get an automated response within seconds—then you can monitor response and reply back as needed. In this way, SMS allows fast and easy two-way communication between students and university staff or faculty.

In the case of a Nebraska snowstorm, these capabilities can help you answer any questions or concerns recipients may have. Seeing the responses can also help you see if you need to send a follow-up text blast with any clarifications.

Infographic on why universities should use SMS

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How SMS for Universities Works

SMS for universities is straightforward and easy to set up. Here are the basic steps in a nutshell:

Choose a Reliable SMS Provider

Work with an SMS provider (like Mobile Text Alerts) that’s experienced, reliable, and easy to use when it comes to school texting systems.

You can test out our platform with a free trial. Interact with sales and support teams to get a feel for how we operate, and even schedule a demo to get a walkthrough of the platform and all its capabilities.

Determine Your Messaging Goals

Know what kind of messages you want to send and how frequently.

Will you be sending regular updates? Or only during emergencies?

Will you be using SMS to notify staff, or students, or both?

Who will be in charge of sending out messages, and under what circumstances should SMS be sent?

These are the kinds of questions you’ll have to sort through in order to make the most use out of your SMS platform.

Create a Contact List

Upload and continually update a list of contacts to ensure your communication messages reach students, staff, and faculty.

SMS platforms also give you several options for allowing your students or staff to sign up for texts automatically (for example, text-to-join, QR codes, and web sign-up forms).

Plan Your SMS Messages

If you want to be more productive when the time comes to actually send your messages, you can do as much prep work ahead of time as you’re able to.

For example, if you foresee sending certain types of messages (such as class cancellations), you can set up a message template with the content you’re wanting to send. Then when the time comes, you can just fill it out with the appropriate additional content and send it out quickly.

Send Your SMS Messages

When you’re ready to send out a message, use your SMS provider's platform to send right away, schedule ahead of time, or create a workflow of messages to go to your contact list. You’ll then be able to monitor responses directly within the platform as well.

How Universities Use SMS

Universities can use SMS in their communication strategies in a variety of ways. Here are some examples:

1) Canceled Classes and Events

Has a Nebraska snowstorm made the road conditions hazardous? Does the football game need to be canceled because of an impending thunderstorm? Did a professor come down with strep throat last minute?

It’s a perfect time to send a text message letting everyone know that a class or event has been canceled. You can let them know the reason why it was canceled, as well as whether or not it will be rescheduled.

Due to the forecasted blizzard, all classes will be CANCELED tomorrow, 5/4. Please check your email for instructions from your professors in regards to next steps for each canceled class.

2) Event Announcements and Reminders

Sporting events, musical performances, plays, student body elections, fundraisers, special guest speakers, convocation—universities have tons of events going on all the time.

And you want as much participation in these events as possible. So why not send SMS to help remind students to attend?

Now, some of these events will apply to all students, while others will be more interesting to specific segments of students. You don’t want to send too many messages that aren’t relevant to students (because you’ll run the risk of being annoying, and they may start ignoring you).

So you could group your message recipient list according to your students’ preferences, to help make sure you’re sending the most relevant and effective messages.

There will be a fundraiser for the student government body at Applebee’s on Tuesday, May 2, 3-10 pm. 10% of proceeds will be donated to the student government. Come support your school!

3) Prospective Student Engagement

People (especially young people, the target audience for most universities) are growing more attached to texting and more adverse to phone calls.

Whether or not this trend is healthy for society is open for debate. But as we acknowledge the reality of the prominence of texting, why not meet prospective students where they are as you go about your recruiting efforts?

You can allow students to text in any questions they have, and then you’ll be able to have some good back-and-forth engagement with them. You can also send application deadline reminders, so that they don’t forget to finish the application process with you.

The positive experience of interacting with you via SMS just might help win them over so that they make the choice to attend your university.

Thanks for texting in to Nebraska University! What questions can I help answer for you today?

4) Other Important Notices

Lots of things happen on a college campus, and many of these things need to be communicated to students and staff.

Whether it’s a safety concern, a notice about construction on campus, or an important announcement, SMS is the best way to quickly get people up to date on what’s going on.

The Strauss building will be closed for construction this week. Classes will instead be held in the Fine Arts building. Check your email for details.

5) Staff and Faculty Notices

You’ll be able to use SMS not only to notify students on what they need to know, but also to keep staff and faculty informed and on the same page.

You can send out meeting reminders, deadline notices, HR updates, training announcements, and anything else you need people to know.

Since it’s via text message, they’ll be much more likely to see the notice than if you sent it via email only.

Reminder: Staff meeting today at 12pm. Lunch will be provided.

How to Get SMS for Universities

SMS for universities is a powerful communication tool that can help schools grow enrollment, keep students informed, and improve engagement.

Your university can take advantage of the benefits of SMS and create a student-centric communication plan that keeps everyone informed and on the same page.

Get a free trial account today to try SMS out for yourself.

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