One of the top priorities for any college or university is student recruitment. This is something that is well-known across the industry as schools compete for the attention of prospective students. What’s not well-known is the best ways to go about recruiting new students.

With so many new inbound channels to explore, the options for reaching students have become more plentiful but also more confusing. Which channels are most effective? Where is the college audience most likely to be? Are all inbound channels the same?

Most inbound marketing tactics have proven effective, but not all get the attention they deserve. Email marketing, for instance, is often overlooked and not treated with the same level of importance, but it is definitely a channel worth exploring Let’s take a look at the facts.

Why Email Marketing is Worth Your Time

Some marketers consider email marketing to be outdated or less important than other marketing strategies, but you’re missing out if you agree with them. Consider that email marketing yields an average 4,300% return on investment for U.S. businesses. ExactTarget reports that for every $1 spent on email marketing, the average return is $44.25. These are just a few of the statistics that display the financial value of email marketing.

A strong email marketing strategy also creates more engagement and interaction. People using mobile devices open 48% of the emails they receive when they are on their phones or tablets. Ninety-one percent of consumers visit their email at least once a day. Considering that the majority of college students have a mobile device and spend a lot of time on it, reaching this demographic on this channel is both smart and resourceful.

Let’s take a look at ways you can dust off your old email marketing strategy and turn it into an efficient lead generation tool for your higher institution.

Define Your Audience

Think about who you are trying to reach when you market to prospective college students. Think beyond the typical college freshman that has just graduated high school and is pursuing a degree. What type of student does your school serve best?

Some higher institutions have programs for certain groups of students such as transfer students, older students with careers or families or international students. The better you define your niche audience, the more targeted you can be in your email messages.

You can also survey students already enrolled in your school. Ask questions about age, home life, motivations for enrolling in school, economic bracket and more. Compile this information to create a persona for your average college student. This will help you determine what tone and messaging is best.

Set Your Benchmarks

The nice thing about email marketing is that you can communicate with students at various stages of the admissions funnel. Think of them as benchmarks. These points allow you to touch base with students, answer common questions and keep your college or university at the forefront of their search. Some of the most commonly used benchmarks are:

  • Initial Contact: This first point of contact involves a student making an inquiry about your program. They have yet to set up an interview or send in an application, so this stage is purely about introductions. An email message at this point can encourage the student to take the next step.

  • Interview: The next step is some type of interview or campus tour done in person, over the phone or online. Email messages at this milestone should help the student prepare for an interview such as with a list of sample questions or experiences from former students.

  • Application: When a student has sent in their application, the time waiting for a response can be daunting. A follow up email is a nice gesture that lets the student know you have received their application and are reviewing it. You may even include helpful content like 10 Ways to Pass the Time When You’re Waiting for an Acceptance Letter.

  • Paid Courses: Some students enroll in a program but don’t pay for their courses right away. Email messages are helpful here and avoid the need for your finances department to call. A polite email requesting payment and suggestions for ways to pay is a gentler way to handle financial concerns.

Deliver Great Content

An email marketing strategy can only be as strong as the content it delivers. What does this mean? The content you send in your email messages should be high in quality, speak directly to your audience, align with your college’s goals and provide value. The content should match the type of email being sent out, too.

For instance, if you’re making initial contact with a prospect, the content should include tips for choosing a college major or program. If the email is in regards to the application process, the content should focus on how to apply and what mistakes to avoid.

Ideas for great content include:

  • Blog Posts: If your school has a blog, you can pull posts directly from your blog and share them in your emails. This will also drive traffic to your site and establish your higher institution as a thought leader.

  • Help Guides: College students need a lot of help when it comes to selecting, touring and applying for a school. Provide detailed how-to or help guides for students at the various stages of their academic career: starting school, choosing a major, receiving financial assistance, finding work after graduation and so on.

  • Checklists: Checklists are great for college prospects because they’re able to scan the lists, know what is expected from them and make progress in completing their tasks. Include checklists in your emails that are related to the college experience.

  • Testimonials: What better way for prospects to get a glimpse of your school than from current students themselves? Invite students to share their experiences in a blog post. You may even host a webinar where new students can chat with current students.

Analytics & Technology

The only way for you to know how successful your email marketing strategy is involves running an analytics report. Google Analytics is the most recognized way to do this, and it’s fairly straightforward so you shouldn’t feel confused or overwhelmed with the information. The only thing is that Analytics doesn’t start doing its job until someone follows a link. Once this takes place – magic happens.

Analytics will tell you how much of your site’s traffic is coming from your email campaigns, including how many people clicked from the email and completed the goal. Analytics can be used with marketing automation software. This type of software allows you to automate your email delivery and track data on how many emails were delivered, received and opened. When you compare the numbers, you can see which emails were most effective.

Social Media & College Websites

Your email marketing strategy can be strengthened with social media and your college website. Social media allows you to interact with students, build positive relationships and share content that leads to better brand awareness. It’s also no secret that high school and college students are frequently on social media, so your audience can be easily found on this channel.

Your college website is the place where prospective students visit when they want to learn more about your programs. Your website should include an engaging home page, a list of majors and degree programs, an outlined application process and information about campus life. Since many things change from year to year, it’s important to look over your website regularly to ensure it represents the current culture of your school.


There are many ways to reach your audience, but don’t underestimate the potential of email marketing. It’s an excellent channel that allows you to deliver the right content at the right time and have a positive impact on a student’s academic journey.