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How higher education uses email marketing to deliver targeted messages to students and staff

Prospective students, applicants, enrolled students, staff, alumni—as a school you want to make it easy to communicate with everyone simultaneously. Ideally, you engage with prospects, nurture relationships with current students and keep in touch with alumni after they’ve headed off into the real world.

Email marketing can help you manage all these audiences so you can send tailored messages to each group.

In higher education, email marketing helps you to:

  • Show prospective students why your school is the best choice

  • Remind and inform students about school happenings

  • Build a stronger community

  • Keep alumni connected to the school

In this guide, you’ll learn how email marketing can streamline your student and staff communications. You’ll know exactly how to segment your subscribers, what types of email marketing campaigns to send to each target audience and how to create professional newsletters (no prior experience needed!).

Unlike Millennials, it might seem like all Gen Z communication live on social media like Instagram and TikTok. However, you'd be surprise to know 90% of the American internet users use email monthly in 2019. When it comes to college scouting, 76% of high school students ranked email as their preferred medium to find their future school!

Needless to say, email is the best digital marketing channel to communicate with students.

So why use email software and not just send messages via an email provider like Gmail or Yahoo? Here’s why:

1. Subscriber management

Having all your subscribers in one place gives you a good overview and makes it easy to keep your list updated. Subscribers can be segmented into groups, based on things like their program, role, interests or enrolled year.

2. Targeted messages

Groups can be used to send personalized school emails to each one of your subscribers. Much of this personalization can be automated with smart email marketing tools.

3. Consistent branding

Different departments can use pre-saved templates and easily add their own content using a drag & drop editor. This helps to keep a uniform look.

4. Team effort

Most email tools allow several teams to work on email marketing campaigns simultaneously. User permissions define what each person is allowed to see or do, so a student newsletter intern won’t be able to access any billing information.

5. Cost-effective

Most schools don't have huge higher education marketing budgets. Still today, email marketing is one of the most cost-effective marketing tools available.

As you can see, using email marketing in higher education is a no-brainer. Now let's get into the practical details!

When you’re starting with email marketing efforts for your university, you’ll have a bit of homework to do.

  1. Sign up for your preferred email software

  2. Create a signup form and implement this on the school website

  3. Build your school email list

  4. Segment subscribers into groups

  5. Send your first campaign

We’ll leave step one up to you to decide ;)

Building your school’s email list

When potential students and parents are browsing around for the most suitable university, it’s very unlikely they’ll make their decision on the spot. That’s why you want to collect emails to continue the student recruitment process after the initial contact.

To collect prospect emails, integrate (pop-up) signup forms on the school website. Create one for each one of your website visitor target groups. For example, use separate signup forms for prospects requesting information and students registering online. This way you segment them automatically.

Summer art school pop-up website

👉  Tip: Though for signup forms we recommend asking for as little information as possible, in this situation you want to be specific. Let subscribers choose what studies they’re interested in so you can directly send them the correct information.

Want to learn more about growing a high-quality email list? We tell you all in this guide here.

Signups don’t merely occur online. During your next open house, ask college explorers to sign up for your email list via an offline app for tablets.

When importing email addresses from current students and staff, make sure you have their consent to send newsletters.

Segmenting subscribers into groups

Your subscriber base has very different needs. To send valuable messages to each subscriber, you need to segment them into groups.

These groups could be:

  • Prospective students

  • Students that recently applied

  • Everyone that’s currently enrolled

  • Students with the same field of study

  • Students enrolled in a certain year

  • Students that speak another language than English

  • Students with a specific age range (e.g. adult learners)

  • Students with similar campus life interests

  • Military enrollees

  • Alumni

👉  Tip: When you use segments in MailerLite, your subscribers will always be up-to-date. Segments are updated automatically as soon as a subscriber complies or no longer complies with the created rule. You create the rules, the email tool takes care of the rest.

Elsewhere, we've also written a guide on how to optimally use segments for your education subscriber list.

Done? Let’s continue with some ideas for your first targeted educational email campaign.

How can you address the needs of each individual target group? Let’s have a look at what email campaigns are suitable for prospective students, new students, current students, alumni and staff.

Once prospective students show interest by leaving their email, it’s your task to make them feel excited about the idea of attending your college.

To stay top of mind, send an email a few days after the initial contact that sums up the benefits of the study they’re interested in. Email marketing tools can automate this welcome email process.

You can let current students and alumni do the talking, by incorporating testimonials and case studies. Paint a detailed picture of what life at your college will look like!

Base your email content on the student’s situation—are they still trying to explore their options? Or is the application deadline coming close and do they just need that final push for your school to be the lucky candidate?

👉  Tip: Provide a real reply-to address to make sure students can get in touch for any remaining questions.  

School newsletter example - Charles Sturt University

Immediately start building relationships with students that applied to your college by sending them valuable information. The content can link to various landing pages at your school's website.

Create segments for each field of study and send content about placement rates, after-school activities, internship opportunities, extracurriculars, travel possibilities and more. This will keep potential future students interested.

The first day of school is the start of a new chapter.

Make it easy for students to onboard by sending them a warm welcome email. This could be a personal note from the head combined with all the resources they need to keep a clear head. You can also send content about move-in and sign-up dates, course material, contact information, a layout of the college building and other practical information.

School email example - University of Tennessee

To make new students feel at home, tell them in an educational email what fun things are happening in their new city. Or maybe the first football game is already planned! This helps in shaping the school’s image and reputation.

Registration dates? Deadlines? School trips? Parties? A newsletter can serve as a reminder to get your students to take action or mark things in their calendars.

University email example - performing arts

Your student newsletter can also help to make people familiar with each other. Highlight student initiatives and curricular activities, take interviews, show teacher fun facts, report sports results or announce mentor speed-dating and lunch roulette dates. This makes the students feel more connected and involved.

👉  Tip: Pictures or photo signatures make your emails feel more personal. Do double-check that if you’re using student photos, the people involved are okay with their faces being shown.

What happens after your students throw their hats in the air? As they’ll no longer be tied to a number in your system, it’ll be hard to keep them connected to the school. That’s too bad, as alumni play an important role in supporting the school.

Ask newly graduated students for their personal contact information.

An alumni newsletter to the student’s private email address makes sure you can still keep in touch after they’ve left.

Implement surveys to gather data on what fields and jobs students venture into or invite them to a school reunion. Maybe some of your alumni are even interested in mentoring freshly enrolled students. 

While fundraising is a critical role of alumni, make sure you are not just sending emails that ask for money. Create longer-term strategies that build relationships with alumni to keep them connected to the traditions and maintain the fond memories of attending the school.

Australian Writer's Center alumni newsletter example

Your staff might be relatively small, and therefore your communication happens directly via an email provider like Gmail or your in-house email system.

However, the main benefits of using email tools to send internal messages are that your subscriber list is always up-to-date and you can see who read your messages, especially important emails!

In your list, you can change subscribers statuses from active to inactive. This makes it easy to filter out ex-staff members and update your list.

You can also use segments to send emails to staff from a certain faculty.

Furthermore, email campaign reports provide popular stats such as email open rates and click-through rates. In particular, it can show you exactly who did and didn’t open your email. Now you can keep track of who might need a personal reminder, in case your message is urgent.

You want your newsletter to look visually attractive, but your organization probably doesn’t have teachers that are graphic designers by night. Luckily, you don’t need to!

We've summarized two main design principles to follow in designing emails that people will read. Learn more in this design guide.

For your newsletter design, follow these best practices for professional educational emails.

​Enhance your brand image with a professional layout

When you use an email marketing tool, you can often choose from pre-built templates. These just need some minor tweaks, like adding the school’s logo, matching the font and designing it with the respective school colors. This way, students immediately see that the newsletter comes from their university.

Once you’ve created the first school newsletter, you can use the template as a base for each following newsletter. Email tools will make sure your newsletter is showcased correctly on mobile devices, by automatically resizing the template.

Stand out in the inbox with a catchy subject line

Students juggle classes, homework, smartphone use, social outings and hangovers—you want to make sure your higher education email campaign grabs their attention. Be precise in your subject line and tell students what they can expect to read in the school newsletter. Want to remind them of a deadline? Mention the exact date and express urgency in your email subject line.

In our how to write email subject lines article, we’ll dive deeper into this topic.
Get to the point, and make it one good one

Your students have their homework, you have a pile of paperwork waiting to be reviewed. As effective as school newsletters are, no one has time to sit through another essay. Keep the content clear and don’t make your newsletter unnecessary long. Think of one call-to-action (CTA) for each educational newsletter and pick one (or a few) relevant topics that support this CTA.

Remember, you can always do A/B testing to find out which layout, design or subject line works best to engage with your higher education audience. How do you do this? We demystify A/B testing for you in the following guide.

With university email marketing, your school can efficiently manage its large and ever-changing subscriber list. It helps to streamline communication with (future) students and staff and deliver all audiences exactly the right message—resulting in many different relationships being nurtured at the same time.

You now have the power to create professional-looking newsletters. With a little help of prebuilt templates, your inner Basquiat will flourish by itself. This template can then be used to maintain consistent branding throughout all the future email campaigns send by diverse departments.

Does your school’s organization currently send newsletters? If not, we hope this guide motivates you to get started!

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