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How You Say It Matters: A Toolkit for Improving Communications About Academic Standing

  • Job DurationedX
  • Job Duration3 weeks long, 1-2 hours a week
  • Job DurationFree Online Course (Audit)

Project detail


When students struggle academically, schools often try to help them. One of the ways in which they do this is to have an academic standing process, which often includes placing them on academic probation or a similar status. The challenge lies in how to inform students of this status in a way that helps students to feel motivated and supported, rather than crushed and ashamed.

Through years of research with students and administrators across the country and world, we have found that it is possible to write a probation notification letter in a way that is sensitive to the psychological experience of students. These “psychologically attuned” letters intentionally address the worries and concerns students often have when being placed on probation and can shift students’ psychological experience in a way that is less shame-inducing and makes them more likely to engage in productive behaviors, like seeking tutoring or talking with a professor.

We created this course to share this approach to writing psychologically attuned notification letters with college administrators. This course will walk you through the psychology and evidence behind this approach, how to write a psychologically attuned letter, how to get feedback on your letter from students and colleagues, and how to implement and evaluate your letter. Administrators who have used this Toolkit often go on to apply this approach to other communications and policies. If you are not a college administrator, you are still welcome to take this course and apply its insights to other communications.

This course has been created in collaboration with the College Transition Collaborative (CTC), a non-profit research center based at Stanford University. CTC bridges research and practice to help colleges create learning environments that foster equitable student engagement and success. Our work helps schools understand how their students experience moments of transition or difficulty, and how psychologically attuned practices–messages, policies, behaviors, and programs–can convey to all students they are valued, respected, and can excel.

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