Engaging Apps Part I: Exploring the Features and Benefits

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With over 90% of college students using smartphones, it’s no surprise that mobile platforms for higher education have risen to a new level. Administrators, recruiters and marketers are using apps in creative, unexpected ways to broaden and deepen engagement across all user groups – from prospective and current students to alumni and the broader community.

Colleges and universities are challenged to develop and integrate the most relevant apps, while remaining open to new features via rapidly advancing technology. Solutions developed five years ago no longer meet the needs and expectations of students who want convenient features such as being able to access their meal card or the library directly from their phone.

Here’s our review of current app usage, by audience.


Apps can enhance campus life and the student experience. The best ones are intuitive, interactive and transactional—helping students to get the most out of their college experience. Students can also use apps to get things done more conveniently and enhance their productivity—whether it’s booking, planning, sharing or arranging. Apps for this audience fall into the following categories:

Core Features

  • Mobile directory provides contacts, maps and shuttle routes
  • Safety and emergency aid and alerts
  • Weather forecasts and warnings
  • Payments and reminders
  • Event schedules

Enhancing Student Life and Social Engagement
With a robust platform, students can create a customized calendar and set of notifications, helping them be more engaged in the campus community and active in creating a dialogue of feedback and innovation. Helpful lifestyle features include:

  • Events and happenings (dorms, sporting events, clubs)
  • Athletic events (scores and player news)
  • Library and bookstore services
  • Dining halls (pop-up daily menus)
  • Club and society membership interaction

Enhancing the Learning Experience
College apps can provide study aids, course listings and assignments. Blackboard’s Mobile Learn App can be integrated into mobile platforms at Blackboard-user schools. Students may be able to check grades, submit assignments or post comments (like they can with a laptop). Some colleges have developed apps to allow students to register, add and drop courses, and complete course evaluations.


Recruitment apps often feature a traditional “Viewbook” approach and types of information. However, the best apps recognize the importance of alumni advocacy and peer recommendations. Prospective students and alumni audiences are typically added as enhancements to the mobile platforms serving current students. Alums can connect with each other via the app, for social and networking purposes as well as staying current on college events and news.


With the “Campus Story” app, several colleges and universities have adopted Snapchat to engage and communicate with multiple audiences and quickly bring them a message or experience. Snapchat typically allows users to send photos or short videos that disappear after one to ten seconds. The “Campus Story” version creates a series of images and videos that can last for up to 24 hours. Snapchat monitors the live feeds to filter out inappropriate content.

“Campus Story” creates personalized engagement by allowing students to reply to the university snaps with snaps of their own. The experience can help create a deeper connection for the student, especially at large schools. For example, The University of Houston’s account may have numerous stories in play—like preparing for an upcoming football came or a Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt. It’s become so popular that some colleges say that Snapchat performs their Twitter and Instagram feeds.

Other Colleges and Universities using Campus Story include the University of Southern California, Penn State, University of Texas at Austin, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of Minnesota.


Our next blog post will focus on creating your app development strategy. Stay tuned!


Apps Move Up On Campus, By Sherrie Negrea, July 2014, University Business

3 Ways Colleges Use Snapchat (Yes, Snapchat), By Rebecca Koenig, September 2014
The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Wired Campus”

5 Colleges with Great Mobile Apps, By Loreal Lynch, August 2012

Snapchat’s New Feature Lets College Students Post Snaps to A Campus Live Feed, By Steven Tweedie, October 2014, Business Insider

Author Megan Devine

Megan is one of the founding partners of d.trio marketing group

More posts by Megan Devine

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