How to convert more Applicants into enrolled Students

    The State of Student Email 2023 – a report by UCAS

    Explore some key findings from The State of Student Email 2023 report and learn how to make emails work for your university
    Last updated:
    September 27, 2023

    “Go to the average youth marketing conference and there are sessions on TikTok, creators and how to spend more than your competitor on Google ads, but email marketing? It’s become a footnote, the butt of a joke at student panels,” explains Kyle Campbell, Founder of Education Marketer, in the foreword to UCAS’ new report titled The State of Student Email 2023.

    Whether you’re a seasoned pro at email marketing or not, UCAS’ report will make for an enlightening read. It makes the case for email marketing and shares some very valuable top tips for leveraging all the medium has to offer.

    It’s also full of research supporting the argument that email is here to stay. For example, according to the Keystone Education Group and QS, email is the top way that students want to hear from universities, and Enrollify’s report reveals that student marketers recognise email as the top channel for reaching their marketing goals. Let’s take a closer look at some of the report’s key findings.

    The case for email marketing

    1. Email cuts through the noise

    When used well, email has the power to cut through the noise in an overcrowded social media marketplace. It is more direct and personal than social media marketing, and as such, is often considered a more trustworthy content source.

    A global survey by GWI reveals the average time spent on social media has plateaued since 2020; in other words, “‘time’ has been maxed out” for the last few years. Information overload often overwhelms, which is why, says the report, platforms like Substack (the world’s biggest email newsletter provider) are growing, and newsletters like Morning Brew have become popular education resources.

    2. You have more control

    UCAS has conducted its own surveys into email engagement too. When it asked its prospective student audience to describe how big of a deal email is as a tool for managing university research, email was selected as “very important” or “extremely important” for 65% of students.

    Today’s influencers and content creators rely on social media to cultivate an audience. But – as UCAS reveals – websites and email come in second place. This is because the medium enables them to glean a first-party insight into audience behaviour. Instead of relying on third party information from social media, they have control over who they speak to and when.

    3. It’s more direct

    The UCAS report often alludes to the notion that email is more direct and trustworthy, therefore has more of an impact. This is particularly relevant at times when students are anxious and require fast responses, such as during Clearing. You might expect students to prefer phone communication during the Clearing process, however research shows that nearly half (49.9%) actually prefer emails.

    Email has also been found as an effective medium for universities when they want to elicit an action. According to qualitative student interviews with Kyle Campbell, 67% of students ‘agree’ that they frequently take action (like attending an event or signing up for a service) based on the content of the email they receive. With this in mind, it’s important to get the content right! (Skip to the next section for advice.)

    4. Students are actively engaging with email

    While statistics into the efficacy of email are useful, one of the most interesting parts of the UCAS report is the first-hand feedback from students. Here’s what one post-16 student, Chloe Kedem, said about their relationship with email:

    “I receive around 7 emails a day – maybe one of them is for my job, and then the rest of them are just from a variety of universities emailing me. My most recent [email] was from the University of Derby, telling me about the undergraduate open day which I’m going to tomorrow, so it’s useful to have updated information.”

    “I like to hear about what to do in cities – it’s really useful because one of my main focuses in choosing a university isn’t just what goes on inside the University, but what goes on outside. I don’t want to be miserable for three years!”


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    5. It’s more likely to convert

    Often, students who are subscribed to a mailing list or more likely to convert. Email marketing revenue is estimated to reach nearly $11 billion by the end of 2023. The UCAS report also shares insights from university marketing leaders. For instance, here’s what Kris Achten, marketing lead for KdG University, says about email:

    “It ends up being a place of trust, a place to return to…We noticed that our conversion emails are opened up to four times by each student. The secret to our emails is that we use them as an executive summary of our website. We treat those emails like a key to a specific topic that students care about.”

    KdG University has an impressive 73% email open rate.

    Email marketing: tips for success

    1. Personalization is critical

    According to the UCAS report, one of the top reasons for unsubscribing – after too many emails and no opt-in policy – is that the content isn’t relevant or personalised. If you don’t already, you may want to consider “having conversations with students over email, rather than always directing students back to your website.”

    One university that Kyle Campbell spoke to does this by including CTAs in automated emails that direct the reader to reply to start a conversation with a representative from the institution. This option immediately gives what could otherwise come across as a somewhat detached email a more personal aspect.

    2. Focus on user-generated content

    While a lot of the hype over the last few years has been around influencer generated content, don’t underestimate the significant impact user-generated content (UGC) has – especially when it comes to things that require a huge time and financial investment (like higher education). Miami University uses UGC and in doing so has achieved email open rates as high as 90%.

    Here are a few UGC statistics contained in the UCAS report, courtesy of Entribe’s State of UserGenerated Content report:

    • 86% of consumers trust a brand using UGC over influencers
    • 90% prefer content from actual customers
    • 90% prefer content from actual customers
    • 29% find influencer posts untrustworthy

    3. Consider these top tips

    For the report, Campbell spoke to higher education and marketing specialists to find out what strategies they’d recommend for creating really concise and engaging emails. Here’s a summary of the top tips they gleaned:

    • Stay focused: Hone in on one topic per email, make content scannable, and always include a CTA.
    • Know your audience: Find out what your most frequent enquiries are and answer these, concisely, in the copy, as well as critical information.
    • Lead with personalisation: Personalise preview text and the subject line, and encourage personal exchanges (like Miami University).
    • Be strategic with sales: Establish a sales/nurture strategy, prioritise sales messages for the first couple of weeks, and have a final conversion push a couple of weeks before key deadlines.
    • Integrate with other channels: Using email as part of a wider content strategy and alongside other channels will make students more likely to engage with your content and remember your message.
    • Be responsive: To ensure higher conversion rates and garner trust, respond to queries quickly and in a personal way.

    4. AI can support your efforts

    AI developments are speeding up processes across a range of sectors, not least of all higher education. As detailed in the report, Swansea University is just one of the many higher education institutions making the most of AI. Speaking with Campbell, Steve Minney, Head of Undergraduate Recruitment at Swansea University, explains:

    “We use AI to send emails at times individuals are most likely to open them. Just by doing that, our open rates went up to 70%.”

    Your higher education CRM can play a significant role in the success of your email campaigns. Take Full Fabric, for instance. You can use our Campaigns module to design, build and customise engaging email templates, send personalised mass communications, segment your audience for maximum efficacy – and much more.

    If you’d like to find out more about how to use email to drive enrollments and retention rates, explore our further reading or book a demo today.

    Further reading from Full Fabric:

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