Preparing for Fall Rush: Tips to Increase Online Photo Submissions

Posted By: Rosie Ashley Positive IDentity Blog,
Preparing for Fall Rush: Tips to Increase Online Photo Submissions

Contributed by Rosie Ashley, Director, Cougar Card Services at the University of Houston

In addition to taking photos in the office, the Cougar Card Office at the University of Houston has offered an online photo upload option for several years. However, in March 2020, the card office solely relied on students uploading photos online due to the pandemic. Our office continues to operate this way as of June 2023 because of the efficiency the online photo upload option provides to our staff and campus community.

Although online photo upload was available pre-pandemic, our submission rates were consistently low. In preparing for the campus to reopen in Fall 2021 to most students, faculty, and staff, we pushed our new online photo upload-only policy throughout the summer by posting on our website and direct emails to incoming students. We continued to see low submission rates, which resulted in longer wait times for students to get their Cougar Card during housing move-in and the first two weeks of the semester. Our office learned some major lessons that semester that helped us prepare for the following year. We knew we had to rethink how we communicated to the campus community to encourage them to upload their photos and pick up their cards before the fall rush. Our new strategy was to over-communicate through as many channels and on-campus partnerships as possible!


Although we know students tend not to read every email from the university, we continue to send direct messages to all incoming freshmen, transfer, and on-campus residential students. Along with instructions on how to submit a photo online and the process to pick up their card, we also include an incentive in the email. The incentive we provide is the opportunity to win some flexible spending dollars if they submit their photo by a specific date. We did see an increase in our submissions once we offered that incentive.

We may not capture every student’s attention with an email, but we can capture some students, as evident by the open rates and the incoming submissions after we send an email. We don’t recommend that you rely exclusively on email communication, but we recommend that you continue sending direct emails.

Social Media

We have a small but mighty campus card office team that supports a campus community population of more than 46,000! Our team includes three full-time staff and four student workers. We certainly don’t have the capacity to manage a social media account, but we know that’s where students get much of their information. Although we don’t have our own social media, several on-campus partners support us by sharing important information about the Cougar Card Office. Our partners at the M.D. Anderson Library, which requires that you swipe or tap your Cougar Card to enter, shared our message on their social media accounts.

Another group that we reached out to is the Coog Moms. Coog Moms is a campus organization where any mothers or guardians of current or former UH students are eligible to join. They have their own private social media pages, so we asked them to share our information with their members, hoping parents would nudge their students to submit their photos promptly. If you know any groups like this, consider collaborating with them. We found this partnership to be very helpful in increasing our photo submissions.


Although we have a small team, we needed to attend every New Student Orientation Resource Fair, which included 19 in-person sessions in Summer 2022. The same students attending these resource fairs also received a direct email from us, but we know some students do better with in-person interactions to understand what they need to do. We also attended the Parent Reception held during each orientation session. Again, the thought behind this is that if we can’t get through to the student, perhaps their parent or guardian can help us!

Print Media

We went “old school” by investing in print media by purchasing advertising space in the Transition and First Roar magazines, which The Cougar publishes. The Cougar is the official student-run news organization of the University of Houston. These publications target incoming students and have been worth the small investment to reach our target audience. We will continue to seek other opportunities to advertise in other publications.

Get to the Parents!

I may sound like a broken record, but I must repeat this. If you can't get to the student, do your best to reach them through their parent or guardian. In addition to our outreach to parents through social media and in-person events, we went "old school" again by sending postcards to the students' home addresses. Again, if the student ignores the postcard, we hope to catch the attention of their parent or guardian. We will continue to reach out to parents and guardians this summer because we received a lot of feedback from parents in response to the various methods we used to reach them.

Looking Ahead

Our photo submission rate in Fall 2022 reached 76%, an increase of 26% over the prior year. It isn’t easy to pinpoint what parts of our plan helped increase photo submissions, but it is clear that something did work. Although we saw a significant increase in online photo submissions, there is still room to increase the submission rate. This summer, we plan to build on our strategy by leveraging even more on-campus partnerships.