Recruitment Method

Recruitment Method

Institutions rely on one or more recruitment methods for contacting students to participate in NSSE:

  • Email recruitment with NSSE or the participating college/university managing the delivery of five standard messages
  • Posting unique survey links to learning management systems or student portals
  • Sending text messages (paired with email recruitment)

By default, five recruitment messages are emailed directly to students by NSSE or your institution. Institutions have the opportunity to significantly customize message content using NSSE’s IRB-approved message templates, thereby ensuring that message content and signatory best reflect campus culture.

The individualized survey links sent to students are embedded with unique identifiers for each student in your NSSE population. This allows students to simply click on the link and access the survey directly without supplying additional login information. Manual log in information is also supplied in the message footer so that students can still complete the survey even if they do not feel comfortable clicking on the link in the email.

Share technical information with your IT specialists to ensure delivery of NSSE recruitment emails. To address various challenges associated with third-party email service providers (e.g., Gmail, Outlook), NSSE complements its email recruitment service in a variety of ways.

Institutions may send up to eight direct messages using NSSE’s IRB-approved message template. If NSSE is sending five recruitment messages, institutions may send up to three additional messages from their own campus.

Messages sent by campuses can include the unique survey links provided through the Institution Interface; alternatively, students can visit where they can receive their unique link using an easy, one-step verification process by clicking "Don't know your login ID?" and then providing their email address. Institutions that send additional messages are responsible for all aspects of the mailing (i.e., deciding when to send messages, determining their purpose, etc.). Some reasons an institution may choose to send an additional message(s) include:

  • Pre-survey announcement email: A pre-survey announcement can introduce students to NSSE, provide rationale for why student participation is important, and establish NSSE’s legitimacy in advance of data collection. Since NSSE’s emails will be sent from an external email address, a pre-survey announcement can specify details students should expect, such as the sending “from” name (NSSE), the sending email address (, and the expected dates of delivery. This could be especially helpful on campuses with anti-phishing campaigns that warn students to be wary of communications from external senders.
  • Pre-survey announcement on LMS or student portal: A pre-survey announcement also can be added to your LMS or student portal. Posting a generic pre-survey message (without a unique link and/or student name) to your LMS or portal would not be counted as one of the three additional messages allowed from your campus. Ideally, the message would be posted one week before survey administration begins for your campus. A sample LMS announcement might read:

[inst short name] wants to improve the student experience, and you are invited to participate. Watch for an email from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) on (start date) with additional details. Visit for more information about the survey. We hope you will agree to participate in this effort.

  • Boosting response rates: Institutions that experience lower response rates than desired may choose to send additional messages to increase the number of total respondents. Messages may be sent at any time prior to the May closing of the online survey.
  • Targeting special populations: Additional messages could also be sent to all non-respondents, or to only those that are currently underrepresented in respondent count. For example, if your senior response rate is satisfactory but first-year student response rate lags, additional messages may be sent to only first-year non-respondents.

NSSE’s Institution Interface, the password-protected online portal used to manage the NSSE administration by campus contacts, provides downloads of student population files, along with survey dispositions. Campus contacts can use this file to prepare their mailing lists for additional messages.

To supplement email recruitment, institutions can post unique survey links to their student portal and/or learning management systems, such as Canvas, Blackboard, and Moodle.

How does it work?

NSSE provides individualized survey links for each student in your population, which are then posted on the individual page for distinct students within the portal by IT staff on your campus. Various institutions have graciously shared examples of how survey links have been posted.

Because portal applications are typically customized when adopted by campuses, and because there are so many applications in use, NSSE staff cannot provide technical support for how to post links. It is therefore critically important that campus contacts managing NSSE connect with colleagues in IT on your campus several months before the survey launch to determine feasibility for posting links. Since NSSE cannot consult on technical specifications, we annually solicit information from institutional contacts who successfully post these links: view technical advice for several commonly used platforms.

NSSE staff may also be able to identify willing institutions to provide general and/or technical advice directly to another institution in need of additional assistance.

To supplement email recruitment, institutions can text unique survey links to their students. NSSE provides a file for individualized text survey links for each student in your population, or institutions may send the general survey link in text.

An IRB-approved sample message might read:

Take the NSSE survey to help make [school nick name] become the best it can be. [incentive details]. Check your email starting [date] for a link to the survey. Alternatively, go to and provide your email address to access NSSE.

This text message has been sent by [institution formal name], not NSSE.

The final sentence above is required by IU Legal. Institutions must also submit messages that deviate in substantive ways from this IRB-approved language. We ask that all institutions who plan to contact their students using text messages (SMS) to contact their legal staff beforehand.  

Finally, institutions can also direct students to where they can receive their unique link using an easy, one-step verification process by clicking "Don't know your login ID?" and then providing their email address. This direction can be used in the additional messages sent by campuses and can also be used in promotional materials advertising NSSE around campus. The assigned unique identifier, or login id, can be located on the Interface and is not the same as the student id number your institution provided.

This QR code can be added to promotional material for quick survey access.


Per NSSE’s IRB protocol, institutions can send up to 8 direct recruitment messages, including emails and text messages. By definition, any direct message uses either the student’s name and/or includes a unique survey link. Emails or text messages that do not include either of these two components are considered indirect messages; thus, they would not be counted towards the 8 allowable direct messages.