Texting students in a school district or even across the entire state has a measurable impact on student enrollment and college persistence. But can you achieve similar results with a national campaign, texting hundreds of thousands of students across a variety of schools and backgrounds? Kelli Bird, Benjamin Castleman, Joshua Goodman, and Cait Lamberton recently released a working paper to confirm that yes, you can.

 The study tested three types of interventions:
  1. a traditional campaign emphasizing the financial benefits of FAFSA completion
  2. a campaign of planning prompts that encouraged students to set aside time to work on applications and financial aid forms.
  3. a campaign to nudge students by identifying them as motivated students

The first two campaigns had no significant impact on students applying for college. But the third campaign – text nudges that prompted students to complete certain tasks – increased a typical student’s likelihood of enrolling in college by 1.1%. First generation students were about 2% more likely to enroll in college.

Study: Nudging at a National Scale

Research questions:Text nudges increase national enrollment of students

  • Are established nudging outcomes possible at a national scale?
  • What are the specific mechanisms underlying these outcomes?
  • Outcomes measured:
    • College application behavior of students through the common app.
    • Probability of enrolling in college.
    • Average quality of costs of the colleges in which students enrolled.

Tested 2 variations in content:

  • Concertizing the financial benefits of FAFSA completion.
  • Positive that activation (nudge students by identifying them with motivated/successful students).
  • Providing concrete planning prompts= significant increase in college enrollment (1.1% more likely to enroll, 1.7% of first-gen).


  • 1.1% of students were more likely to enroll in college.
  • Impact of nudges larger for first gen students (1.7%) increase in enrollment.
  • Method matters: concrete planning prompts are effective, while traditional human capital investments (emphasize financial benefits associated with FAFSA) are not.

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