UD Listens to Students’ Wants to Achieve High Email Open Rates

February 23, 2024 | By Kevin Gray

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TAGS: best practices, career development, nace insights, operations, student attitudes,

In 2019, the University of Dallas Office of Personal Career Development (UD OPCD) conducted a Student Satisfaction Inventory that yielded both positive and negative feedback.

“We paid attention to the negative feedback, and to get a clearer picture of how we could better serve students, our office sent out an informal follow-up survey on a variety of topics,” says Christina Nguyen, associate director of the UD OPCD.

One of the key findings showed that 92% of students wanted career information sent via email compared to 4.9% of students who wanted text messaging as their first choice.

The UD OPCD team of four had been using a free text messaging platform to push out information to students. But, based on its students’ self-reported preferences, it pivoted to sending messages via email. The results have been impressive.

“We are proud of our average open rate of 60 to 80%,” Nguyen says.

“Depending on the topic or target audience, emails could receive a higher open rate, especially with our upperclassmen or specialized groups. Our goal was to increase engagement with our students and awareness of our office. We know students receive lots of emails from a variety of people daily, and it can be difficult to cut through the noise.

“Our university hosts class meetings each year during which we have the opportunity to tell students that we send them emails that are important and are curated for them by us with information they need to know.”

Outside of the open rate, UD OPCD staff look to see if its call to action in its emails is engaging using a variety of measures: click rate, event RSVPs, event attendance, appointment requests, or emails to the office.  

“We often know when an email is sent out because we see an influx of student advising requests or an uptick in event RSVPs. Those are all intentional strategies though,” Nguyen explains.   

Nguyen highlights other elements of the UD OPCD messaging program that are keys to its effectiveness, including adding clickable links and creating multiple and different groups of recipients to better target messaging.

Staff generally send emails to three main groups: Undergraduates; Graduates; or Jobs to Pay the Bills, a self-created group to alert students to part-time job leads like babysitting, after-school care, and more.  

One of the UD OPCD’s primary messaging strategies is giving students a reason to read its emails. Nguyen says that if students don’t immediately know the “who, what, where, and why” right away, they will immediately ignore or delete the email.

“We place emphasis on what we think the student will care about and use it as a hook in the subject line and the first part of the email,” she says.

“For example, ‘Free Wingstop if you RSVP for our workshop...’ The rest of the content in the email, even if unrelated to the workshop, will still get read because we have the student's attention.” 

Another key strategy is making students feel that the email is for them. UD OPCD staff tailors subject lines and content to the population it is trying to reach.

“Even if you’re sending the same content to everyone, sometimes a ‘Hello Freshmen!’ will get a better open rate than if you sent a generic salutation,” Nguyen says.

She offers several more tips for running an effective messaging program:

  • Be concise and to the point.  
  • Add headings and dividers to help separate the material.  
  • Send emails at a consistent time so that students know when to expect it—The UD OPCD sends emails every Sunday night. It experimented to find out the best day and time to send its emails and still sends one-off emails as needed, but its main one goes out every Sunday. Nguyen says the office doesn’t want to spam students.  
  • Be specific in your subject lines—In the past, the UD OPCD tried to get students to open its emails by putting catchy subject lines or ‘being punny,’ which Nguyen says, “didn’t always land.” Here is what it does now:
    • Uses emojis when appropriate; 
    • Advertises FREE food if a career event offers it; and  
    • Is clear and specific. Student feedback indicated that they want to know what is in the email before they open it.  
  • Most importantly, listen to your students.

Nguyen says it can feel disheartening to hear from students that they don’t read your emails or when your open rates are low.

“It’s okay to feel that way, but use that as constructive feedback and an opportunity to experiment and figure out what works best for your students,” she advises.

“Don’t be afraid to ask them what they like and test it to see if it works. The reason for our success is that we are open to trying new things. Once we found the right formula, we tried to stay consistent so that the students know to expect a weekly email from us. It’s okay to try something new and it fails. It’s about being open to criticism and letting that fuel you to be better.”

blank default headshot of a user Kevin Gray is an associate editor at NACE. He can be reached at kgray@naceweb.org.

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