Speak to anyone in higher education these days and you will hear a similar refrain, “Students today don’t check their email.” With frustration we find ourselves sending emails to the masses with little response. In today’s high-touch world of higher ed, we spend hours of our week typing and texting in an effort to get students engaged in our office. At my previous institution we began a new approach to communication, one that focuses on beginning the relationship in the initial email, rather than seeking to simply inform and instruct. Today I am sharing some best practices I have learned as a result of this initiative to help make email not only an effective tool in reaching our students, but also one that can help us begin to build the relationship with our students at the same time.
1. Make Sure The Email Subject Stands Out: This may seem like a no brainer, but you don’t need a PhD to know that most of our students are getting tons of emails a day and their primary way of deciding whether to open the email is the subject line. Words like “reminder” can go a long way in prompting the student to open the email and see the contents. Before sending an email, pay extra attention to your subject line.
2. Share a Bit About You and Ask for a Bit About Them: As I mentioned, my previous institution initiated advising appointment scheduling with not only a link to make the appointment, but first a quick bio about you as an advisor and a person. In this brief paragraph we shared a bit of our background and personal interests and asked the student to reply with a few questions back to begin the relationship. Questions such as, “Why did you choose this institution?” and “What challenges and successes have you faced so far this year?” allow to student to spend some time processing the purpose of the advising relationship and provide the advisor with some important information for the session before the student has even arrived.
3. Include Your Professional Head Shot: What better means for rapport than including your head shot in an initial email inviting students to your office? As previously mentioned, students get countless emails a day from folks all over campus. The personal touch of adding your head shot will immediately convey the warmth your office may wish to provide for the student before they have even arrived.
4. Make it Personal: What a difference an email will make it it includes a personal greeting using the student’s first name! By taking this important step, you have communicated that this is not simply a mass email but rather a personal invitation and that you value a response. I have found a greater success rate in students replying to my emails if I take the time to individually type the students name into each email and send them one by one. Does this take time? Yes. It is possible in every scenario? No. As higher education professionals, should we be mindful in finding the instances where we can add this personal touch rather than default to the mass email? Absolutely.
So before we bemoan the modern student’s failure to read and reply to emails, let’s challenge our own use of email as student affairs professionals as a means of establishing rapport with our students. You may just find that you are one of the few offices on campus committed to providing that extra personal touch and stand out amongst the land of email.
> BONUS <
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