10 steps to student success: Where technology makes an impact

Kelly Hughes
Kelly Hughes

November 17, 2023

You know first-hand the challenges of supporting students at scale. From getting prospects in the door, to ensuring they complete financial aid forms, all the way to cheering them across the graduation stage — it’s a journey filled with hurdles.

Limited resources and evolving learner needs makes providing the right guidance at the right time seem like an ever-moving target. Simply sending reminder emails just doesn’t cut it anymore. Today’s students only read 20% of the emails they receive, yet 97% of them read every text message. Students also respond to text messages 4X more frequently than email.

Mainstay has spent nearly a decade working with researchers, studying millions of student interactions, and getting real-time feedback  to uncover how to drive action that improves success rates. We’ve applied those insights to provide personalized and proactive nudges proven to propel students forward at each critical milestone. 

We’ve identified 10 key milestones that are make or break for students. Let’s explore how we support the journey through those stages, and how you can leverage technology to do the same at your institution.

Step 1 — Choosing the right school

With so many options to research and criteria to compare, finding the right college fit can be overwhelming. Without personal guidance, learners often struggle to identify schools that truly align with their needs. This is where Mainstay comes in. Our chatbots act as 24/7 virtual advisors that simplify the process. 

Through text conversations, students get real-time answers to their questions about applications, deadlines, and campus life around the clock. We can even provide access to college essay writing assistance, SAT and ACT tutoring, and more. 

This reduces burden on counselors by providing instant, accurate assistance that simplifies the journey for students while freeing up staff time and resources. The result is learners who feel guided and supported in choosing colleges primed for their success.

We’ve helped college access networks support more than 600k students throughout their higher education journeys — saving college access counselors 17,618 hours and counting.

Step 2 — Completing applications

Mainstay started with a simple question: What if learners could text message their way to and through college? Since our beginnings, we’ve used conversational messages to nudge learners to complete key tasks like requesting transcripts, submitting test scores, and completing college essays.

Throughout the application process, our technology provides 24/7 support so at any hour, students can text questions and instantly connect with answers. And we do it through something they do all day, everyday — texting.

Our approach reduces application stress while increasing access and equity with proactive reminders and tips that actually reach students at scale. This in turn gives counselors the time they need to focus on the complex, one-on-one student interactions they excel at. The end result is more high-quality applications submitted on time and more enrolled students ready to learn.

Step 3 — Securing financial aid

Financial aid. Just reading those words can make students and families tense up. Between unfamiliar acronyms, complicated processes, and looming deadlines, it’s no wonder the financial aid experience can feel downright scary for many learners.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. At Mainstay, we’re on a mission to take the pain out of financial aid. And it’s all about framing and timing. In an experiment with Irrational Labs, we discovered that students who received targeted texts from Mainstay were 3X more likely to apply for FAFSA than those who didn’t. 

We simplify each step by answering questions, explaining unfamiliar terms in plain language, and nudging learners to complete key tasks on time. Think of it like a GPS for navigating financial aid…but even better. 

Step 4 — Avoiding summer melt

After all your recruiting efforts, there’s still one major hurdle standing between those students and their first day on campus — summer melt.

That phenomenon where promising prospects mysteriously disappear over the summer is all too familiar for higher ed institutions. But what if melt didn’t have to be inevitable? 

At Mainstay, we help our partners transform summer melt from predictable to preventable by identifying at-risk students early and guiding through every step. A landmark RCT with GSU showed that our timely, empathetic messages reduced summer melt by 21.4% by helping more students navigate the admissions process and access the resources they needed to complete enrollment. By 2023, GSU reduced summer melt by 50% since using proactive, targeted text messages to keep students on track.

It starts by using two-way conversations to identify student needs, concerns, and goals. Our chatbots ask the right questions upfront to determine who may be wavering so you can step in and provide extra support. From there, AI nudges encourage enrollment actions like scheduling orientation, registering for housing, and submitting deposits. The long-term result? More students are crossing the graduation stage who otherwise may never have never even made it to campus.

Step 5 — Registering for courses

It’s time for registration, but many students fall behind or have unresolved holds on their accounts. Without a nudge, they miss deadlines and struggle to enroll in needed courses. This frustrating scenario is what Mainstay helps schools avoid. Our messages provide the timely personalized prompts that get students to register now, not later.

How does it work? First, our chatbots remind individuals of registration deadlines and required steps based on their specific situations. If a student misses the mark, we provide personalized interventions to get them back on track. For example, after targeted outreach, one school saw registration hold resolutions spike nearly 22% along with a 40% increase in resolved outstanding balances.

Step 6 — Accessing academic support

When students struggle with coursework, it can be difficult for professors and advisors to identify issues early enough to help. Many learners also don’t take advantage of available academic resources, even when they need them. In a 2023 report shared on Inside Higher Ed, “60 percent of students were unaware of the full scope of services offered to them at their college or university, creating gaps in student-facing offices that could negatively impact student retention and success.”

Mainstay prevents students from slipping through the cracks by detecting emerging issues, reminding students of upcoming deadlines, and even working through practice tests with them. We also promote tutoring, advising, writing centers, and other available academic supports tailored to each individual’s needs.

After relevant nudges from Mainstay, Georgia Perimeter saw a 66% increase in academic support “Comeback Camp” attendance. And an RCT conducted with GSU showed that students who received messages from Mainstay also experienced a 16% boost in letter grade — with first-generation students earning final grades 11 points higher than those not receiving messages. This kind of support is transformative, and can mean the difference between passing and failing a required course.

Step 7 — Renewing financial aid

When renewal time comes around, students often overlook this essential step and miss out on available aid. Our approach helps schools avoid this. At Winston-Salem State University, Mainstay’s nudges drove a 74% increase in on-time payments. And at Georgia State University Perimeter College, our messaging reduced the likelihood of being dropped for nonpayment by 36%.

Tailored, proactive outreach combined with 24/7 responsive guidance ensures students complete renewal so they can secure all possible funding needed to persist in their higher education journey.

Step 8 — Overcoming challenges

Starting college is exhilarating, but many students struggle to plant roots and make those critical connections as they settle in. Without a strong sense of belonging, it’s easy for students to feel overwhelmed when challenges arise. Solving this can be the key to driving persistence.

Keeping students engaged requires ongoing personalized support, especially during tough times. Personalized nudges promote student organizations, events, and opportunities to help individuals feel welcomed and included. When Allegheny College partnered with Mainstay to improve engagement, event sign-ups doubled. They also tapped Mainstay to boost student action. And it worked! They received 72 housing form submissions within 72 hours, and students submitted more evaluations than ever before. 

Mainstay is able to identify at-risk learners and intervene with tailored messaging campaigns that guide students back on track. Our targeted outreach has increased term-to-term retention up to 6.7% and boosted engagement rates to 50% at partner schools.  

Step 9 — Crossing the graduation stage

Graduation day. It’s the finish line seniors have been grinding towards for years. But before seniors get to toss their caps on graduation day, they must complete some important final steps. 

Paying graduation fees, scheduling advising meetings, and settling any final holds are just a few of the final hurdles students face before the big day. And it’s easy for these details to slip through the cracks, leaving seniors at risk of not crossing the stage. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. With  the right approach and technology, universities like Wayne State have partnered with Mainstay to nearly double their graduation rates. By engaging students with proactive messages right on their phones, you can nudge them to complete tasks while also giving them all-hours answers and support they need to ensure no box is left unchecked before the big day.

Step 10 — Succeeding in the workforce

As big a milestone as graduation is, it’s just the beginning. The true measure of higher ed’s impact is how graduates transition into rewarding careers. But the bridge between college and employment is rarely straightforward. Many struggle to translate degrees into jobs, lacking connections and clarity around next steps.

Mainstay builds that bridge, partnering with schools to guide alumni into the workforce. Our personalized outreach levels the playing field by sharing networking events to build professional circles, development opportunities to gain marketable skills, and job openings tailored to each graduate’s interests. We provide interview tips, resume reviews, career counseling and more so no resource is left untapped. 

With relevant guidance delivered when they need it most, students realize the lifelong returns of their education through financial stability and fulfilling work.

Supporting students with a strategic communications strategy

Guiding today’s students to success requires personalized guidance delivered at scale. By using conversational AI messages tailored to each individual, schools can drive action and success at every step of the way. It isn’t easy, but it’s achievable. It’s important that your outreach is designed to motivate and encourage the next step in the journey, and that all of your proactive communications coordinate with one another to drive persistence 

Let’s connect to discuss how we can use technology to help you drive the right actions at each critical milestone. Our team is ready to partner with you and provide a blueprint tailored to your institution’s specific needs and goals.

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Mainstay’s Engagement Platform uses Behavioral Intelligence to help schools and businesses build meaningful relationships, optimize insights, and drive action.

Sign up for your personalized demo to find out how Mainstay makes it easy to spark conversations with your students or employees and guide them toward positive results.


Instant support — anytime, anywhere

Mainstay’s behaviorally intelligent chatbots make it easy to engage with students and employees on the channels they prefer to use:

SMS text messaging
Live chat
Web chat
Social media

Let's talk