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5 Email Communications Tips for Financial Aid Offices

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There’s no such thing as too much communication when it comes to talking with students about financial aid. Financial aid is a complex topic that requires a great deal of student action. Financial aid offices have universally found that the more you can explain information and nudge students to action, the better. But finding the best method of communicating with students can be difficult, especially as demographics change and expectations shift.

Many financial aid officers choose email as their preferred format, as it seems to be the best way to ensure students have the information they need. With email, staff can break down steps, include important links, and open an avenue for students to ask questions. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, communicating via email can be tricky. Here are 5 tips to improve engagement when emailing with students about financial aid.

1. Develop a Financial Aid Communications Plan

Offices that put together a comprehensive communications plan often have an easier time reaching students. When developing a workable plan, first plot out a communication timeline that considers important college-wide deadlines (like registration, midterms, or finals). Avoid sending emails during times of high stress or when students may be receiving a lot of other emails (like during club registration). If you have modern communications software, you can create email sequences ahead of time and automatically send emails according to your pre-determined schedule.

You also want to set expectations with students ahead of time—during orientation or during one-on-one meetings. Let them know that any email they receive from the financial aid office will contain important information. This way, students will be more likely to open those emails and act.

2. Write Clearly and Use Simple Language

Readers have short attention spans when reading emails. This is especially true for college students who are used to scrolling through applications and having multiple browser tabs open. Make sure that your subject line alerts students as to the nature of the email, then get to your point quickly.

When reading on a screen, readers benefit from text written at a lower reading level. Limit your paragraphs to contain around 80-90 words. It might also be worthwhile to make use of tools that can check the readability of your text. Keep your tone positive and upbeat, as this helps keep students engaged. Another thing to consider: Make communications as personalized as possible. The less generic and more personalized an email seems, the more likely a student is to read it.

3. Provide Clear Action-Oriented Instructions and Links

In addition to making your text concise, simple, and friendly, you want to send emails that are action oriented. When students anticipate that financial aid emails require action, they’ll be more likely to read the email and respond promptly.

Ensure that any information a student needs to fill out a form is included in the email and make any processes you outline easy to follow. Link to a student self-service portal and provide additional links to any forms a parent or guardian may need to fill out. Make it so students can easily forward your email to their support system.

4. Enforce Email Communications Across Multiple Channels

Email is the ideal place to send detailed information and instructions, but there are downsides to the medium. Once an email is read, for instance, it can be easy to forget. Students often access emails on their phones and can open a financial aid communication on their walk between classes. Unable to act in that moment, students might put off an impending task and then forget about it later.

For this reason, it’s important that financial aid offices use other means of reminding students to fill out forms or seek out information. Sending texts or reminder letters is a good way to duplicate information and alert students to an email or task they need to address.

5. Make Sure Your Financial Aid Office Has the Means to Communicate Effectively 

Financial aid offices are struggling to fill vacant positions. This means that these teams often need advanced communications software to ensure they are effectively communicating with students. Financial aid departments need a solution that can integrate with their financial aid systems to make information transfer and email automation easier.

Modern communications solutions can help financial aid offices by allowing them to send personalized messages to cohorts through multiple channels. This type of software can track communications and verify which type of outreach is most effective and which students have completed forms, enabling teams to follow up as needed. Given how important financial aid is to driving student enrollment and retention, investing in these systems is a smart idea.

While not a perfect channel, email seems to be one of the most effective ways for financial aid offices to reach out to students. If email is your team’s selected means of communication, be sure to optimize that platform to maximize student engagement.

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