SMS Texting for Higher Ed: How to Plan Your Messages

Tips for designing a conversational text messaging campaign that will engage today's students and support your institution in meeting its goals

Designing a good student experience takes planning. Offices and departments within your institution plan out the academic calendar, the course catalog, co-curricular events, the dining schedule and so much more.

You should also plan out your text messaging campaigns.

By being intentional about when, why and how you’ll connect with your learners, you can maximize the benefits of this modern communication tool. You can rest assured knowing that your messages align with one another and provide students with the right support they need to succeed at your institution.

Here’s how to get started.

How to set outcomes for text messaging students

Consider the departmental or institutional outcomes you hope to meet with texting. 

Don’t be afraid to be bold and ambitious. You might not see miracles overnight (or through a single text) but by detailing specific objectives, you can work backward to build a strategic campaign—with each text bringing you progressively closer to quantifiable measures of success.

For example, some colleges have used texting to meet the following outcomes:

Boost enrollment

  • Increase the retention rate
  • Reduce Summer Melt
  • Re-enroll stopped-out students
  • Increase enrollment in Continuing Education and Workforce Development programs 

Support academic success

  • Increase usage of academic advising and career counseling services
  • Increase student GPA
  • Increase on-time course registration
  • Increase the number of students who complete degree credentials

Increase engagement outside of the classroom

  • Increase membership in student clubs and organizations
  • Increase attendance in co-curricular programs and events
  • Increase students’ affinity with the institution
  • Increase attainment of co-curricular learning outcome

How to identify touchpoints for texting students

Touchpoints are opportunities to text students and provide them support in line with your goals. 

Touchpoints may include:


Texting is a great way to invite students to attend upcoming events, remind them that they’ve already RSVP’ed or ask about their experiences afterward. You can provide them with more details about the event, instruct them on how to reach the event hosts or send them a post-event survey. 

  • First-year orientation
  • Welcome Week
  • Homecoming
  • Career fairs
  • Parents & Family Weekend
  • Spring, Fall and Winter Break
  • National, local and institutional holidays
  • Student Involvement Fairs
  • Student Government Association elections
  • Mid-terms and final exams
  • Commencement


Texting is a great way to remind your learners of upcoming deadlines. By segmenting students by demographics—such as their year, major or financial aid status—you can ensure that your messages are personalized and relevant to each learner. Better yet, you can include links to forms and applications right in your texts. 

Not only can texting remind your learners that they need to complete a task, but by connecting with them one-on-one, you can answer their questions about each process. It’s a quick and easy way to help students overcome barriers that may otherwise stop them from completing a crucial task.

  • Immunization forms
  • Housing applications
  • Financial aid forms
  • Work-study applications
  • Tuition payments
  • Course registration
  • Study abroad applications
  • Major and minor declarations
  • Degree applications 


Texting allows you to build one-on-one relationships with students. By expressing how much you care about their success, you can earn your students’ trust and discover what barriers may be preventing them from truly flourishing at your institution. Through texting, you can refer students to local and community resources aimed at addressing common challenges like:

  • Childcare and eldercare
  • Time management 
  • Financial barriers
  • Mental illness
  • Physical illness
  • Poor academic performance

Connecting with students over touchpoints likely won’t be your ultimate goal, but each deadline, event and challenge provides you with an opportunity to advance your outcomes. 

For example, by reminding students to complete their financial aid forms, a dozen learners may earn the scholarship they need to stay enrolled—thereby increasing your retention rate. Or, by encouraging students to attend an Involvement Fair, more students will get to know clubs and organizations—increasing club membership, and ultimately, supporting student affinity and retention.

How to develop a texting schedule for reaching students

As with any project, planning out your texting schedule is key to meeting your objectives. 

Our Customer Success Team at Modern Campus Signal Vine, who help hundreds of colleges and universities design and implement savvy text strategies, recommend no more than one outgoing text per week and no less than one per month. That rate will keep students engaged without overwhelming them.

But that’s only a general guide. The quality of your texts is far more important than the frequency. 

With great SMS texting power comes great responsibility, which you should wield wisely. Not everything you send via email, post on your website or include in your student engagement portal should be a text message. 

Text messages, by the sheer nature of appearing on students’ phones, seem more personal and urgent than other forms of communication. As we explained in A Higher Ed Guide for Designing Text Messaging Campaigns, each and every text should be personal, relevant, timely and actionable.

So, only touchpoints that meet these criteria should get the texting treatment. Touchpoints are opportunities to message students; they don’t require texting. 

Consider also working with other offices and departments within your institution to build out your schedule. By collaborating, you can design complementary messaging that aligns shared objectives and hits the right texting frequency. For example, your office might text students the first week of every month and other offices might take charge of weeks two, three and four. 

For each planned text, consider:

  • The touchpoint: What is the timely event, deadline or challenge?
  • The call-to-action: What action do you want students to take after reading the text message?
  • The micro-goal: What goal, related to at least one of your broader objectives, do you hope to meet through this text?’
  • The strategic outcome: What larger, strategic goal does this support?
  • The message: What will your text say?

What are some examples of an engaging text message sent by college or university staff?

For Student Activities:

  • Touchpoint: Start of First-Year Experience programming
  • Call-to-action: RSVP for First-Year Experience Program events
  • Micro-goal: Increase participation in the First-Year Experience Program by 15% from last year
  • Strategic outcome: Increase engagement among first-year students by 10% from last year
  • Message: Nita, Have you heard about SV’s First-Year Experience Program? It’s a great way to keep the fun of orientation going all semester long. 🎉Learn more & RSVP here: [link]

For Enrollment Management:

  • Touchpoint: Summer semester registration
  • Call-to-action: Schedule an academic advising appointment that leads to summer enrollment
  • Micro-goal: Enroll 150+ undergraduate business majors in the brand-new Busy Summer program
  • Strategic outcome: Increase summer semester enrollment by 4% from last year
  • Message: Hi Stephan! 👋 Have you considered registering for our new Busy Summer program? It’s designed for business majors like you—with small class sizes and opportunities to hear directly from local business leaders! 🤓💼We have some great scholarships available too. You can schedule an appointment with me to discuss it, here: [link]

(yes, you can include GIFs in text messages via Modern Campus Signal Vine!)

Download our text message campaign planning templates


Ready to start building your texting schedule? Our free templates will help you plan out your messages based on your touchpoints, micro-goals and outcomes. Print or digitally edit your workbook... and voila!—you'll be several steps closer to engaging more students. 

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