Higher Education Email Marketing Strategies for Modern Students

Marketing departments at colleges and universities are all in the same boat.

You are searching for new ways to improve academic quality of your student body while also increasing admission yields and enrollment rates.

But you have to keep budget in mind and make sure you work with enrollment and admissions.

With students submitting as many as eight college applications each, competition is also on the rise.

How can higher education institutions attract new students to accept admission and enroll?

Implementing the right email marketing strategies can be extremely useful and powerful for both traditional and non-traditional institutions who are facing the challenges of connecting with prospective students in a highly-competitive environment.

In this guide, we uncover some of the most common mistakes made in higher education email marketing and the proper steps to building an effective strategy.

Common Higher Education Email Marketing Mistakes

We all make mistakes.

That’s what some would say college is all about.

Learning from mistakes and growing to become better.

The same can be said for the email automation campaigns you run today.

Understanding the most common higher education email marketing mistakes is imperative in order to help craft emails and convey messages that truly resonate with students.

Decentralized Communication

If a school has their own department that sticks to one schedule without streamlined content production or input from outside sources, it can become dull and unattractive to prospective and current students.

Getting flexible with content creation and schedules that work best for students is key to building interest in emails and newsletters.

Inconsistent Branding Across Departments

With many educational institutions using the same marketing department for branding and design, it is highly unlikely that emails are well-received.

Without proper branding, logos, and colors used in each newsletter, it can become increasingly difficult to read incoming messages (as prospective students may get them confused with other colleges and universities).

No Personalization or Segmentation

While it is important to collect data with email marketing campaigns, if there is a lack of personalization in each message it becomes extremely difficult to do this, regardless of the number of students you have within an email list.

Segmentation is also vital to ensure you are able to send the right messages at ideal times for various groups of potential and current students.

Poor Deliverability

Sending emails to all prospective students and those currently enrolled can quickly backfire if the individuals on your email list have not “opted-in” to receive your messages.

When this happens, many students are unable to read your incoming emails as they are sent directly into their spam folders.

Informing students to opt-in is highly advisable to avoid missing out on sharing news and updates.

No List Hygiene

Keeping your email list data up in quality is a primary factor in deliverability for any marketing campaign you have in mind.

Without ridding old and invalid email addresses, universities run the risk of increasing their odds of poor deliverability, or even getting blacklisted (where all emails are considered “spam”).

Inadequate Testing

When you are not using proper A/B testing, it is next to impossible to know which subject lines and copy work best with your recipients.

Without a systematic email testing approach, schools are unable to determine factors that drive email campaign success and improve engagement.

Creating a Modern Higher Education Email Marketing Strategy

Crafting the right modern email marketing strategy for higher education institutions is possible with a bit of planning, creativity, and the right tools to execute your campaigns.

Following goals you have in place helps to properly organize and develop winning strategies for any segmented group you want to reach.

Defining Your School’s Goals

Setting the right goals for your school may greatly vary from other universities and colleges.

It is important to review some example goals to determine the best route to take when cultivating new email marketing campaigns and messages.

Example Goals

Some example goals may include increasing admission yield rates or the overall academic quality of your student body.

You may also be interested in increasing both profitability along with ethnic diversity.

Additionally, you may be looking to increase the engagement you receive from various types of email campaigns you send to both prospective and current students along with alumni.

Create a list of your top goals and priorities to get a better idea of the type of content and messages you want to share with all segmented groups of your email list.

Maintain a Balanced Approach of All Goals in Your Marketing Strategy

Whenever you are setting goals for your marketing strategy it is important to maintain a balanced approach at all times.

Avoiding spending too much time focusing on one email’s template and format and instead, ensure there is a flow with every message you intend to send.

Once you have goals in mind, consider your recruitment funnel and which lists require tweaking, updates, new subject lines, and fresh copy to convey.

Understanding the Recruitment Funnel

higher education email marketing funnel

Understanding the recruitment funnel when developing higher education email marketing campaigns and strategies is necessary.

A clean funnel helps create working segmented audiences while having unique approaches to reaching all individuals in your lists.

At the top of your recruitment funnel sits your prospective students.

Grabbing the attention of prospective students along with those who have inquired about your school and showed interest is necessary to increase the number of applicants you receive each year while keeping the attention of those who are interested in attending in the future.

Current applicants who have already submitted an application are also vital to any successful college or university.

Send appealing and relevant material to applicants who are interested in attending your university to keep them intrigued so they are more likely to choose your college if they are accepted into others.

Along with applicants, admitted students are equally just as important at any school.

Developing engaging emails and newsletters for students who are already enrolled helps to spread the word of your message and convey your thoughts throughout campus.

Example Email Content for Each Recruitment Funnel Stage

Top of the Funnel – Prospects

Sending emails to prospective students require catchy subject lines and enticing content in order to grab the right attention.

Give each group of potential prospects a reason to strongly consider your school.

If your college has an SAT requirement, create an independent segment from your list to congratulate those with high PSAT scores (personalizing your message even more).

While you may need to create multiple campaigns to reach prospective enrollees, you also share more personalized messages, increasing the odds of getting recipients to pay attention to your university and what you have to say.

Inquiries Showing Interest

For students who show an interest in attending your college, they often require a bit of encouragement and nurturing to really maintain their attention.

If a student has shown interest in a particular department, send triggered emails from the dean persuading them to attend (or from leaders of various departments individually based on their preferences).

Consider all of the reasons why your students chose your university to take advantage of catchy subject lines and meaningful messages you can offer them.


For students who have already applied to attend your school, use segmentation to send specific messages based on college and department needs of each individual student.

Share information regarding placement rates, intramural sports, and internship opportunities to relevant students (to keep their interest in your university).

Use browser tracking to help view what information students are viewing in their browsers to trigger related emails to the right addresses.

With details from browser information, learn more about what potential future students are truly interested in (whether they are seeking extracurriculars, AP courses, or future internships from your university).

Admitted Students

Sending emails to admitted students should include more information surrounding “what to expect” with each new school year, changes, and necessary updates.

Share move-in dates, sign up reminders for classes, and even dates for upcoming home football games or gatherings on campus.

Always include relevant content that matches your subject lines to avoid having students mark your incoming emails as “spam” or “junk”.

6 Keys to An Effective University Email Marketing Campaign

A Personalized, Engaging Subject Line

Keep character counts in mind, typically using 50 or less for subject lines and email headers.

Always verify that your subject line matches the copy and content within the email you are sending out.

Avoid spam trigger words such as “free” or “loan” to steer clear of potential blacklisting.

It is also important to avoid using “ALL CAPS” within emails, as this may flag your message as spam.

» Recommended Reading: How personalization increases email conversion rates and authenticity

Including a Relevant CTA

Use clear objectives when crafting emails for both prospective and current students.

Examples like “attend a campus tour” or “learn more about student housing”.

Implement both anchor text links and buttons within email copy to provide students with multiple options to continue on with the content or information you are sharing.

Avoid using more than one action within the email itself, such as “Sign Up” and “Talk to Admissions”, as this may cause confusion and stop students from interacting with your email altogether with no action taken.

» Recommended Reading: We tested our own email calls-to-action … Here’s how we increased clicks.

Captivating Body Copy

While subject lines are extremely important, content is still king, even if it is within the body of an email.

Focus on the main purpose of your email and determine the best method to convey your message quick and efficiently.

Check for grammatical errors before sending a marketing campaign and ensure your message does not get lost in an overwhelming layout or email with too many flashy photos and graphics.

» Recommended Reading: Tips to make your email content more conversational for conversions.

A Mobile Responsive Template

Because mobile devices are used to open nearly half of all emails today, a mobile responsive email template is a must have.

Newer generations of students are much more familiar with mobile browsing and checking email using their smartphones.

By implementing a mobile responsive template for your email campaigns, students are more apt to read your messages without the risk of them being skimmed over or deleted entirely.

» Recommended Reading: 5 ways to increase open and click-through rates of your mobile emails.

Utilize List Segmentation

List segmentation is key when sending targeted and personalized messages to incoming and current students.

Segmented lists allow you to group your audience leads to specific emails with appropriate actions that are most relevant to them, leading to higher conversions.

Some segment examples for universities include:

  • Undergraduate programs
  • College of interest
  • Out-of-state enrollees
  • Adult learners
  • Graduate programs
  • Active military enrollees

The more you are able to segment your email list, the easier it is to cater to everyone who receives a message from the university.

» Recommended Reading: Learn how to lower your unsubscribe rates with proper list segmentation.

Performing A/B Testing

A/B testing is essential to truly understand what types of emails and messages work best for your email lists.

When using one email without A/B testing, it is impossible to gauge what is working and what’s not.

Testing the CTA design, copy, subject lines, images, layout, and various email signatures is all possible with A/B testing and tracking in place.

» Recommended Reading: 27 ideas to test in your next email campaign.

Using Delivra to Achieve Higher Education Email Marketing Success

Making the most out of email marketing campaigns for your university can be done with a bit of preparation and a true understanding of the audience you want to captivate.

With the right segmented lists, message copy, attractive subject lines, and layouts, draw in as many students as possible while remaining personal and relevant.

Check out our on-demand email marketing software video tour and see how simple it is to engage more students and increase enrollment rates with Delivra.


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