In May, we analyzed 250,000 messages from students and mapped 137,000 unique conversation topics through data gleaned from our Covid-19 chatbots, all in an effort to develop Oli: An AI chatbot solution dedicated to helping new and current college students through this summer’s pandemic.

Oli’s knowledge base, also referred to as the chatbot’s “brain,” was built to answer students’ frequently asked questions and provide this assistance through text message. If students need campus reopening information, questions answered about online learning logistics, or basic FAFSA completion help, Oli can handle it, sending correct answers quickly right to students’ phones.

“Oli is encouraging and doesn’t judge me if I don’t know something,” remarked one rising college freshman. The student also rated Oli a “10/10,” reporting the chatbot to be “very helpful.”

We’re still helping thousands of students with Oli, but as the summer closes and the virtual school year begins, we’re starting to develop insights from the chatbot’s work to support this cohort of first-year and continuing learners. Read on for a sneak peek of what we’ve learned through this project so you can put it into practice at your institution this fall:

Coronavirus Heavily Impacts Continuing Students’ Intent to Enroll Compared to New Students

Most colleges’ extended intent to enroll deadlines have passed, but institution leaders are still cautious when it comes to predicted class numbers.

One college president reported not relying on data-driven enrollment projections, saying “we won’t count our students until we see the whites of their eyes,” a Forbes article observed.

Many students are confused—some are even scared— and as a result, hesitant to commit to attending classes in-person or otherwise. Our data from Oli suggests these hesitations are more prevalent in rising college sophomore, junior, and senior populations.

Oli polled focus groups of new and returning students on Covid-19’s impact on their intent to enroll in fall classes, and analysis suggests the pandemic has a greater effect on continuing students. 56.3% of the current students surveyed reported the pandemic “very much” affected their intent to enroll, compared to only 22.1% of new students.

These responses suggest that continuing college students appreciate routine and robust coronavirus updates from their schools. In your student-facing communication strategy, highlight:

  • The safety measures your campus is taking to ensure students’ well-being
  • How your school is working to provide learners with the best college experience possible despite the pandemic
  • Infection updates on campus and in the surrounding area
  • And mental health resources available to students.

Catering messages to address anxieties can help your current students feel comfortable enough to enroll in courses and persist through them, too.

These first-year student sentiments could mean less of a need for coronavirus-related support. If this is the case on your campus, it’s okay to push students to complete more critical action-oriented steps. Help this new cohort of students by:

  • Reminding them to pay outstanding bills
  • Communicating how to plan a course schedule for the spring semester
  • Relaying opportunities to meet with advisers virtually
  • And messaging clear online exam instructions.

If you’re a beginner at nudging students through text, our How to Text Students guide teaches readers how to create effective and engaging SMS campaigns user-proven by 150+ colleges and universities.

Students Show Strong Desire for Career Readiness Help

When students were introduced to Oli’s texts, they were given the option to receive messages related to four categories: “College Life and Success,” “Financial Aid,” “Health and Wellness,” and “Career Readiness.” Of these topics, students were most receptive to career readiness information, with over 85% of users opting in to receive networking, internship, and resume tips.

“The current graduating class has no real access to resources when it comes to navigating jobs during this pandemic. We’re basically just hunting and scattering our resumes for anything,” one student confided in Oli.

The dream for most college students is to find a job that aligns with their studies and interests after graduation. This path to post-grad employment is already difficult to navigate in normal circumstances, but with the pandemic, available entry-level positions popular with new college grads have decreased by 73% and internships by 83%, NPR reported.

Despite a troubling economy, companies continue to hire, and Oli shows that students are eager to learn more about the ways they can jump start their careers. Take these interests into account and point students to career center resources, resume templates, opportunities for mock interviews, and routine nudges for job board postings.

Learners Need Continued Financial Aid Support

Financial aid is the #1 topic students ask AdmitHub’s chatbots for help with, and Oli’s experience assisting students through coronavirus shows this same interest.

“When will I know if I will receive financial aid,” “do I pay for classes myself if I’m paying with financial aid,” and “I am having trouble making a payment” provide micro examples of the type of support required from Oli this summer.

Oli’s “Bill Payment Reminder” and “Reading and Understanding Financial Aid” nudges also elicited massive engagement rates from students, aka, students texted Oli back with follow-up questions or thanked Oli for the advice.

Financial aid will always remain top-of-mind for students, pandemic or no-pandemic. Make sure your team is responding to financial aid questions promptly and in easy-to-understand terms, and catch issues before they become larger problems by nudging students to complete critical outstanding tasks like the FAFSA.

Providing students with personalized support for financial aid can take up valuable human hours and staff experience greater shortages of time due to the unique responsibilities the pandemic brings. With chatbots like Oli, students’ questions can be answered within a matter of seconds by the technology’s AI, saving your team time to focus on larger, more pressing difficulties.

What’s Next

The insights and data-informed recommendations listed here show a preview of the intel we’ll be sharing throughout the fall and spring to help your institution better serve students. Subscribe to AdmitHub’s newsletter for more information on Oli’s work with new and current students this summer and receive additional analysis from our initiative with Common App and College Advising Corps as it extends into the academic year.

If you’re interested in capturing data specific to your school’s new and current student populations, schedule a demo with our nudging experts to take the first step. And make sure to ask about our Student Inquiry Package: a tool that’s free for the first 10,000 prospective students proven to help schools increase completed application numbers.