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Study of College Transition Messaging in GEAR UP


  • Many high school seniors plan for college but do not enroll.
  • The study tested the effectiveness of text messages on college enrollment.
  • Text messages did not increase student enrollment or persistence in college.
The Challenge

Many high school seniors who plan to attend college do not enroll, and others enroll but do not return for a second year. Low-income students are more likely than their higher-income peers to fall off track after high school ends. Text message-based advising is a promising strategy to get students timely information and support.

The Approach

The study included approximately 4,800 college-intending seniors in low-income, high-need high schools that participate in the federal Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP). Students were randomly divided into two groups: one received regular GEAR UP supports in the summer before and during their first year of college, and the other group received these regular supports along with text messages customized to their college, along with the option to communicate with an advisor. The study compared the experiences and college enrollment patterns of these two groups to determine the effectiveness of the transition messaging.

The Results
  • Text message-based advising did not impact enrollment or persistence. Students who received messages were no more likely than other students to enroll in college immediately after high school, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in the year after high school, or persist into a second year of college.
  • Students may need more specific information. A heavy student caseload for each high school-based advisor may have made it difficult to provide college-specific guidance, which may have been a factor in the limited effectiveness of text messages.
  • Other supports may eclipse the benefits of the college transition messages. GEAR UP students may already receive more support than students in other texting studies that showed promise, making any change in GEAR UP students’ behavior less notable.

Study of College Transition Messaging in GEAR UP: Impacts on Enrolling and Staying in College (Full report)