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A few months ago we explained why college newsletters were an essential part of any communications strategy and how to get started. They are a great way of informing about upcoming events, building loyalty and reinforcing the brand of your higher ed institution.

According to a 2012 E-Expectations study by Noel-Levitz, 93 percent of prospective high-school students remain willing to provide schools with their e-mail addresses. Nearly 70 percent will readily consume marketing e-mails even from schools with which they are not familiar.

           1.  Define your goals

Start by defining your goals. They must be integrated into your overall content strategy. Goals must be very specific: for instance, increase prospects by 12%.

Before developing a newsletter, it’s important to ask yourself what focus it will have and how that fits into your overall marketing strategy. Readers have short attention spans that are continuously getting shorter. If they don’t immediately see something relevant and interesting, your email gets deleted. Producing unique content by segment returns routinely justifiable results. The University of British Columbia features several newsletters to appeal to diverse audiences interested in its various programs. Dalhousie University provides email newsletter templates and consulting services to assist its various departments in developing campaigns consistent with its brand.

Dalhousie Newsletter

            2. Define your audience

Who do you want to reach and stay in touch with? Should you have one or several newsletters? This can be a matter of resources and commitment within each department, but the closer the content comes to meeting the reader’s specific interests, the better. Of course, recruiting future students is always a top priority and newsletters can be an effective tool in this regard.

Example: The University of Waterloo provides a very simple sign-up process, clearly showing a contact name, an example of a previous issue and the “unsubscribe” option.

U of Waterloo Newsletter

Many colleges and universities reach out to current students and the college community by letting them select which newsletter is most relevant to them.

Example: Capilano University encourages students to sign up for newsletters in one or many subjects.

Capilano Newsletter

Newsletters are a popular resource for connecting with alumni, particularly for fundraising efforts.

Example: The University of Toronto offers a newsletter specifically for their senior alumni (over 55), with PDF copies that are easily printable.

UofT Alumni

            3. Determine how often you will publish

Maintaining a regular schedule is great, but your priority should be on developing relevant content to share. If you send too frequently, you risk recipients unsubscribing from being perceived as a spammer. Some newsletters let new subscribers choose frequency-specific options (“weekly”, “monthly”, “bimonthly”, etc.). Testing which day of the week and times of year are most effective, along with the relative success of all other aspects of your publication, should be an ongoing process.


            4. Continuously develop your contact list

Generate awareness of your newsletter:

  • On your website
  • Ask students to sign up on social media
  • If it is a general newsletter, have a sign-up button at the end of all your outside communications
  • Communicate what they will receive and the benefits of signing up. For a prospective students’ newsletter, an effective call to action could be “Stay tuned to what is happening on campus!”

Remember that quality in a contact list is always more important than quantity. Review anti-spam regulations to make sure you comply with the law. Email subscribers are seeking more than just great content delivered to their inboxes. Some colleges may have the resources available to encourage a loyal reader base by offering special e-books, podcasts, study guides for standardized tests, or other exclusive knowledge that typically isn’t free.

Photo source:

Photo source:


            5. Create engaging, digestible content based on your audience

Busy readers are likely to browse a newsletter before deciding if any article is worth reading. Enhance your usability with punchy headlines, easily readable short stories and attractive visuals. Since people generally process information better in smaller chunks, be aware that in a newsletter with ten articles, most readers may perhaps only read two or three. Shorter, more frequent delivery might be preferable. Subject lines have to instantly engage, and by limiting what is displayed to an introductory paragraph, encouraging readers to click to see the full article on your website, browsing becomes easier and your website’s traffic is increased.

Be creative and fun with your content, using short paragraphs, sub-headings and bullet points to enhance readability. Be personable in your tone and encourage interactivity whenever possible. Is there a named contact with personal contact information? Even better – include a phone number and headshot. Let your audience tell you what they want with a reader poll, perhaps promoting engagement by offering prizes.


            6. Use Google Analytics to track your newsletter’s impact on your traffic

Studies analyzing online behaviour suggest email newsletters are the best way to drive users back to websites, where the real engagement takes place, so it is imperative that users are directed to an optimal student recruitment landing page. Feedback and your website’s analytics will allow you to constantly improve the effectiveness of your message and fully integrate the newsletter into your education marketing strategy. This video shows how Duke University’s Nasher Museum used analytics and reporting tools to adjust their focus and increase traffic.


YouTube video


How has your college or university’s newsletter helped you connect to your audiences?