Nearly 40% of students don't open emails from their advisors

Your suspicions are correct: It's likely that students aren't reading your emails.

A 2016 survey from Bowling Green State University found that 39% of students don't always open emails from their academic advisors. More than half said they don't always read emails from academic departments, and 72% said they treat emails from student organizations like spam.

In spite of these challenges, there aren't many better options for communicating with students.

"In many ways, email is still our best bet," according to Lindsay Miars, an EAB expert on advising and student success. Instead of giving up on email, she recommends reviewing your communication strategy to make your emails more effective.

Researchers at Royall & Company, a division of EAB, have found that student-centered language can make a big difference. The researchers helped one institution change its outreach copy to be more student-centered—and the institution saw a 50% increase to its response rate.

Here are some quick improvements you can make to your emails.

Speak in student-friendly language. No, this doesn't mean you need to brush up on your text message acronyms. Rather, choose common, everyday words and eliminate jargon terms your students may not know.

10 higher ed words I didn't know: Confessions of a first-generation student

Add oomph to your subject line. Research shows that starting your subject line with "How to…" can improve open rates by 7.5 percentage points. Keeping the entire subject line to less than 30 characters and including a question mark can also help boost open rates.

Don't be afraid of an exclamation point! Some campus leaders fear that using exclamation points in the subject line can cause their emails to go to spam filters. However, on its own, a subject line with an exclamation point is not enough for your email to be marked as spam. Internet service providers now focus on how readers interact with your email to determine whether it is spam. If recipients engage with your message, it will most likely deliver to their inboxes.

Make your message look relevant. One quick tip: use the word "you" where possible. It's also smart to think through how your message will add value to your student's experience and explain clearly what's in it for them.

Pay attention to timing. People are most likely to read messages that are immediately useful. If a student can't act on your message right away, consider whether now is really the best time to send it. If they should act on your message right away, include "action verbs that convey a sense of urgency." Research suggests that messages with next steps are much more effective for communicating with students and their families.


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