Skip Navigation

Effective Email Marketing Strategies and Tactics for Higher Ed Admissions

Two women looking at the laptop screen

Emma is a platform that makes email marketing work for you. With tools for collaborating across departments and locations, Emma helps its customers deliver seamless brand experiences that increase engagement, drive revenue, and deepen audience relationships with email. Emma’s team-oriented product design, powerful integrations, and award-winning professional services make it easier than ever for marketers to do their very best work. For more information about Emma, or to request a demo, visit

This article has been contributed by Emma, email marketing platform. 

When it comes to marketing to prospective students, Admissions teams across the country have effectively become more agile and strategic than ever before. From the pandemic to quick pivots in campus plans and increased Summer Melt, our world in higher ed looks a little differently every day. 

That’s why it’s especially critical to utilize the right strategies and tools in the right ways to reach, attract, and engage students. Such as prospecting software and email marketing, for example. 

Email marketing works, and here’s why.

Email marketing is not only one of the more affordable marketing methods a university can take advantage of, but it’s also one of the most effective when it comes to seeing a return on investment (ROI). For every single dollar that a marketing team spends on email marketing, they can expect to see an average return of $44.

Email is also near 40x’s more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined when it comes to attracting new customers. Considering the way Gen Z uses social media, this can apply to recruiting students, too.

When executed correctly, email marketing can significantly bolster a university’s enrollment and retention, while actively engaging your current student body and alumni. When you couple this together with products like Unibuddy, you’re well on your way to helping power students’ decisions through peer-to-peer connections and nurturing those relationships.  

Tips for creating effective email campaigns in higher ed

Optimizing emails for engagement is the ultimate goal for any email marketing strategy, and it should be a top priority for colleges and universities who have to reach and engage a wide variety of readers.

All email campaigns should include:

  • Scannable content for quick, easy reading
  • Incorporate a variety of different mediums, such as event invites, videos, and blog posts
  • A compelling call to action
  • Responsive design so displays properly on mobile devices, as well as desktops and tablets (and don’t forget accessibility

While creating or updating an email marketing strategy may seem intimidating at first, these four tips will help you start on the right foot.

1. Personalize the subject line.

Personalized emails are powerful in email marketing, especially when a massive (or more difficult) audience is involved. Plus, personalized messages can improve click-through rates by an average of 14% and increase conversions by 10%.

A university campus may range in size, but no matter how big or small, a student or faculty member wants to feel apart of the community. An easy way to do this is to personalize your email subject line. An even better approach is to use your data on hand to craft content more specific to their interests, location, or degree of interest.

Takeaway: Craft your emails as if you were sending each one individually, rather than to an extensive list.

2. List segmentation is your best friend.

List segmentation is vital, especially if a university has more than one department that oversees their email campaigns. This feature also goes hand-in-hand with personalization, as you can segment specific lists (think, curious prospective students vs. students who’ve applied) in order to craft more custom and relevant content. 

List segmentation ensures that emails get to the audience that will find them most useful and relevant. Sending an email from the English Department to a prospective student interested in Graphic Design is not only irrelevant but a waste of time and resources. (Plus, may not be a great look.)

Takeaway: Know your department’s targeted audience and cater to their needs.

3. Always include captivating copy.

Captivating content is how you’ll keep readers interested in what you have to say. Not only does it have to be interesting, but it must also be relevant to the reader.

Source: Really Good Emails

This email is an excellent example of relevant copy for a college student and their family. The newsletter covers a variety of must-know topics that any student, especially a freshman, may need to know how to be prepared for life on campus.

Readers may be instantly drawn in thanks to the title, “The money issue—everything you need to know.” University students are known to struggle in the financial department, so having a newsletter to address must-know topics dealing with money is relevant to all students.

Takeaway: Captivate the reader but keep the information relevant.

4. Always be testing.

This last step, which is sometimes forgotten, is essential. How else will you know if your emails are working or helping you achieve your goals? As marketers and higher ed professionals, you should always be testing.

Various forms of testing will allow you to not only understand who is opening your emails and how often, but it will also give you insight into what readers are clicking on (and what they aren’t), what’s engaging and what’s inspiring them to act. 

You may choose to A/B test the content of your subject line—does your prospective student audience prefer a subject line that appeals to them emotionally, or something short and direct? You can also A/B test imagery or other singular aspects within your email. 

This topic loops back to proper email list segmentation and personalization, as well as having compelling copy in the body of the email. All aspects of your email will benefit from being thoroughly tested to see which will garner the best results.

Takeaway: Test every piece of your campaign by sending it to small sample groups. This will guide you as to what works and what doesn’t with your readers.

When working on effective email marketing in higher ed, there are several things you should keep in mind.

  • Personalization is key—Go beyond using their first name.
  • Subject lines can make or break an email—Make a great first impression.
  • Copy matters—Always be personal and relevant. 
  • Testing is vital—You should always be testing.

Having the right tools can not only simplify your email marketing but give you the option to create large-scale campaigns, while also allowing you to focus on specific goals that your admissions team may have.

How to increase your email open rate and engagement by harnessing your student voice

Your emails are a powerful tool for conversion and yield: but they only work if students open and engage with them. And with more and more competition for student’s attention, creating a compelling email that will get opened is increasingly difficult. 

At Unibuddy, our mission is to connect prospective students with your best advocates – current students. That’s because the authentic, student voice is the most powerful tool for attracting and recruiting students – your emails are no exception. 

Featuring your students front and center in those emails will boost open rate, affinity to your school, and promote student engagement, which can ultimately contribute to improving your yield and reducing your melt. 

Humanize your institution with your student creators

User-Generated Content is significantly impactful on decision making and brand recognition. Check out these stats from

  • 86% of millennials say that User Generated Content is a good indicator of the quality of a brand.
  • 70% of consumers trust online peer reviews and recommendations more than professional content and copy.

Using the authenticity that comes from user-generated content is a great way to boost brand trust, and also engage your prospective students

Universities around the world are effectively engaging their prospective students by utilizing their students as content creators. They’re digital natives, and it is easy for them to create impressive and creative content in a range of mediums. 

So feature them in your emails! We’ve seen universities have success with marketing emails that are presented as personal messages from a current student, inviting the prospective student to chat or read a blog.

When Middlesex University sent an email highlighting a current student studying the same program that a prospective student was interested in, they found the email open rate increased by 20%. 

You can use the content students are creating in your emails by embedding vlogs into the email or highlighting a recent blog or social post that one of your students created. 

Make sure that the fact your content is student-created is prominent in the subject line of the email. That subject line is your chance to grab attention, so use the words wisely and shout about what they’ll gain from opening the email! 

Some subject line ideas could be: 

  • “A personal message from your program ambassador”
  • “Check out Britt’s vlog about life on campus ” 
  • “Your questions answered by current students” 
  • “I’m a third-year student at USC, Ask Me Anything!” 

Give a compelling call to action

In the Netherlands, Erasmus School of Economics found that when :Chat to a Student: was used as the call-to-action across email, social, and the website it increased their clickthrough rate by 150%! 

What is it about chatting to a student that makes it such a valuable resource for your applicants?

The authentic student perspective, the value of speaking to a peer, the desire for someone who has “been there, done that.”

But in a word: it’s about honesty.

In a peer-to-peer study by Intead, one applicant chatted with a current student via Unibuddy. That current student ambassador was able to address the applicant’s concerns and share experiences. The applicant said: “The Unibuddy student really told me what she thought about the study. And the admission representatives usually only tell you about the good things.”

In that study, respondents overwhelmingly suggested that the information they got from student ambassadors was more honest than the information they would have got from an admissions representative.

And for almost half of the students, that honest perspective was the best part of the conversation. It’s just more proof that your students want honesty and authenticity – and if you can deliver that to their inbox you’ll stand out from the crowd. 

Research suggests that young people are becoming less trusting of universities. And so students will reach out to their peers—who they do trust—for their views and opinions. So, in your emails and in your marketing and recruitment strategy, embrace it and put those peers front and center. 

And here’s the good news for you: peer interactions and student generated content improve yield.

At USC Viterbi School of Engineering, 67% of students that chatted on Unibuddy went on to deposit. 

Bentley University found that an incredible 63% of admitted students that used Unibuddy went on to enroll. 

Harness your best advocates 

Your prospective students want to hear from current students. They are messaging current students through LinkedIn, they are watching vlogs on YouTube, your alumni are giving recommendations to their network.

You can harness those current students, who are your best advocates, to enhance your email marketing. Feature their content and profiles in your emails to boost open rates. And give applicants the chance to directly connect with them to boost clickthrough rate and engagement. 

The secret behind successful higher ed marketing?

Community marketing! Explore how 33+ universities have leveraged key strategies to stand out among the crowd.


Sign up for the latest news and events

Don’t miss a thing

Subscribe to our newsletter