graduation cap in a university email campaign envelope

University Email Campaigns: Tips for College Marketing

Universities in the United States and the United Kingdom have a bit of an enrollment problem on their hands. However, it’s an issue that strategic university email campaigns may be able to help remedy.

In the US, college student enrollment is down significantly. According to The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, there are around 1-million fewer students enrolled now than before the pandemic began. Thanks to the labor shortage, wages for jobs that don’t require a degree are up. So, it seems young people are reconsidering the value of an expensive college education.

It’s a different problem in the UK where universities are feeling the pain of Brexit. Applications from European Union (EU) students were down 56% in 2021. One result of Brexit is that higher education in Great Britain is more expensive for EU students. Meantime, international student enrollment at US colleges is also down 15% year-over-year.

All this means a competitive recruitment strategy is needed to attract new students. Let’s explore the ways email supports a strong college marketing strategy.

How to use email marketing for college recruitment

While email is just one channel in the marketing mix, it’s a crucial one. The inboxes of prospective students represent a direct connection to college recruits and their families. 

Forget buying your first car or home, choosing which college to attend is one of the biggest (and potentially costliest) life decisions people ever make. Email can support college marketing from the beginning to the end of a student’s journey towards the school of their choice.

Going to college animated gif

Acquiring student email subscribers

Before you can communicate with anyone, you need to convince them to subscribe to your emails in the first place. Typically, that means getting prospective students to visit your website as they begin to research their options.

While SEO and content strategy may not be your responsibility as an email marketer, you can work with these teams to find the right places on the website to embed email subscription forms.

Find out which pages and articles get the most traffic and engagement on your school’s website. Think about how these pages and content relate to prospective students. Is it content that reflects what someone would look for when choosing where to go to college?

Once you’ve identified the right places to add an email subscription form, start split testing different versions of the form to see what’s most effective. Try different CTAs, form fields, headlines, and value propositions.

Gating college content for subscriber acquisition

If you have downloadable content on your college website, consider gating certain pieces so you can collect the email addresses of potential students.

This could include brochures or PDFs that would be of interest to students considering a specific field of study. Perhaps you could gate videos from high-profile professors or coaches. You could also create guides to the city in which your college is located. That’s an important selling point for many schools.

College email newsletters

You probably have email newsletters for university alumni as well as current students and staff. But what about prospective students who are considering your college?

The best and brightest students may start their search for the right school years before they’re ready to enroll. An email newsletter helps you establish a relationship with these young people while giving you the chance to highlight campus life, educational opportunities, and more.

A newsletter for applicants allows you to curate and deliver content that they’ll care about. They don’t need to know the days final exams will take place. But they may be interested in seeing photos of updates to student facilities. They aren’t going to make any donations just yet. But they may need help finding financial assistance or choosing a major.

Get tips on how to create an email newsletter from our friends at Sinch Mailjet.

Landing pages for college recruitment

Besides considering search traffic, use paid digital ads that target students and drive them to landing pages on the website where they can subscribe to your emails.

If possible, make acquiring new email subscribers the sole purpose of the landing page. Explain the benefits of subscribing by telling visitors what you plan to send them and how it will help them in their search for the right place to attend college.

Segmenting college email subscribers

Once you’ve built a list of college recruits, look for ways to split contacts up into segments. This allows you to craft your message as well as email design to fit different audiences.

In the email below, Texas Lutheran University sends an email to a segment of future nursing students.

Use the information you collect on the email subscription form to guide your segmentation strategy. For example, the form could ask what the prospective student plans to study or what extracurricular activities interest them. You can have a segment for student-athletes, scholarship recipients, military veterans using the GI bill, international students, or any number of programs and majors.

Don’t forget that parents and grandparents are often closely involved with helping students make decisions about higher education. If they’re the ones covering the cost of college, you may have to convince them of your school’s value as well. So, this is an important subscriber segment to consider.

The pages where subscribers convert and sign up for emails can also inform segmentation. If they subscribed from a page about athletics or the school of medicine, that’s a strong signal about what content will be relevant to them.

Start curating website content to send to your different lists. All this segmentation will make it much easier to nurture college recruits, which we’ll talk about later.

Personalizing university email campaigns

If your college email marketing efforts make potential students feel as if they already belong at your school, you’ll have a clear advantage over the competition. Some basic email personalization is one way to make that happen.

This personalized college email from Arizona State University celebrates the arrival of summer as well as the start of a new journey for high school graduates.

The simple act of addressing recruits by their first name in subject lines and greetings creates the feeling of a more personal connection. Add that familiarity to other automated emails and personalize messages marking their birthdays and high school graduations.

Personalized emails to college recruits add a human touch to the process of choosing and applying to a school, which is a stressful but exciting time for many young people.

Another way to make university email campaigns feel more personal is modifying the sender name to something other than <>. So-called "friendly-froms" present the opportunity to have emails come from high-profile professors, coaches, the university president, or even notable alumni.

Nurturing college recruits with emails

An effective email strategy for universities takes each step of a student's journey into account. If your school’s marketing or recruitment teams took the time to create personas for different types of students, these can be helpful tools.

Ultimately, however, your list segmentation will be the biggest factor in determining how to nurture potential college applicants. Nurture tracks represent a series of emails written and designed for a specific segment, and they can be personalized for the individual subscriber.

This is where the real email marketing strategy begins. Automated nurture emails can be triggered to send by set time periods, defined dates (graduation day, application deadlines, etc.)  certain actions on a website (downloading course descriptions), as well as engaging with a previous university email campaign.

The key to an effective nurture track is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of the subscriber. Ask yourself:

  • What are their questions, concerns, or objections at this point? 
  • What would inspire them? 
  • How can the contents of an email help them take the next step?

College email marketing never ends

Once enrolled in a program, there are multiple opportunities to continue marketing to your community of students.

College clubs, social occasions, and sporting events provide excellent content for student newsletters and help build community amongst the student body and wider faculty. Those newsletters can also highlight the availability of financial aid or employment opportunities. This is increasingly important when classes are attended online, and students may initially struggle to build genuine relationships.

Even after graduation, the marketing opportunity still exists.

College alumni are a perfect resource for future marketing content and are often more than happy to act as ambassadors for their schools.

Are your college email campaigns up to the test?

Email is an excellent channel for college recruitment because it is low-cost, direct, and can be highly targeted. No matter the industry – the ROI of email marketing is high.

However, once your university email campaigns are written, designed, and developed, you need to be 100% confident they’re ready to hit the inboxes of future students. 

Email clients such as Gmail, Apple Mail, and Outlook may display campaigns differently. These inconsistencies can ruin the email experience and make it difficult for subscribers to engage with what you send them. If people can’t read your copy or click on your CTAs, your emails could erode trust rather than build it.

Sinch Email on Acid is a pre-deployment platform that’s designed to address these problems by simplifying the complexities of email marketing.

Our Campaign Precheck solution is an automated email checklist that features everything from filters for accidental profanities to inbox display, deliverability, and email accessibility. You’ll also be able to preview university email campaigns on dozens of popular email clients and devices. Get unlimited email testing from Email on Acid so you can optimize as much as needed.

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