The complete guide to segmentation best practices for universities

Universities face the unusual marketing challenge of reaching a complex audience. 

Colleges must create email campaigns for prospects, current students, and alumni. Each of these audiences has unique needs for customized messaging. 

The key to a successful email campaign is email list segmentation. Identify your audience and categorize them by their unique characteristics. Then, create messaging that relates to each recipient. 

There are many resources available to help you develop custom, quality emails. In this article, we’ll explore why segmentation is valuable to universities, and then determine the best ways to create effective contact lists.

Why is segmentation valuable for universities? 

A university’s contact list spans across past, present, and future constituents. Schools must be strategic in who they aim to reach and how. Email is a great tool for reaching a target group. For a successful email campaign, information must be useful, relevant, and actionable.

Segmentation provides the details necessary to write emails that resonate with recipients. By creating subgroups, you’re able to gain a better understanding of their unique needs. This information allows you to create personalized messaging that readers find meaningful. 

Studies show that personalized emails deliver six times higher transaction rates. Tailor messaging and provide relevant information for a more personalized audience journey. In this way, you can build a trusted and loyal relationship. 

Follow these segmentation best practices

Email list segmentation is critical to reaching your various target audiences effectively. Successful segmentation efforts need a thoughtful, structured approach. For a more impactful email campaign, audience segmentation should be:

  • Classifiable: You must be able to identify individuals in each group. Measure their behaviors, location, mindset, or their position in the university selection process. 

  • Significant: Small segment groups are rarely worth the marketing cost. 

  • Accessible: Confirm contact list information is accurate. 

  • Stable: It’s difficult to develop a marketing strategy for ever-evolving subsets. 

  • Distinguishable: Be sure characteristics distinguish group needs from each other.  

These factors will help you create beneficial and timely information.

Here’s how to get started

Audience segmentation can seem daunting at first. But it’s a simple process. When you’re ready, follow these steps to segment your audience.

Identify your goals 

Before you begin, determine your goals. Identify what you’re hoping to gain from the segmentation process. Determine what variables you’ll need to consider. Decide what sort of subgroups might benefit you. 

Determine your audience 

Gain an understanding of your audience’s needs by identifying who the audience is. Then, rank them. Are you trying to reach alumni, current attendees, or prospective students? Once you’ve determined a broad category, examine needs for even more segmentation. 

Uncover audience needs 

Now that you know who you want to reach, it’s time to understand their specific needs. Review your contact lists. Identify any patterns you’ve noticed in information requests. Gather data to determine characteristics like:

  • Demographics: Age, gender, nationality, and income. 

  • Geographics: Zip code, community type, city, and climate.

  • Psychographics: Lifestyle, values, beliefs, and pain points. 

  • Behaviors: Habits, hobbies, and media consumption.

These details help you understand who your contact groups should be.

Develop personas

Clear identities can help create a solid representation of your segment groups. Create a persona that builds on the identified segments. Assign relevant names to each persona to help you locate segments. Stay in touch with your audience. Continue to gather information to keep up with relevant identifying characteristics. 

Assess segments 

Now that you’ve created personas, it’s time to determine whether they capture a sizable audience. Your capabilities will determine how many individuals you can cater to. These factors will dictate whether your segments are useful for your marketing strategy.

Target individual personas

Finally, apply the specific needs of each individual persona into your customized messaging. Each subgroup will have its own requirements. You’ll need to be sure you’re sending the right message to the right people. This helps increase engagement, connectivity, and brand loyalty. 

Already familiar with segmentation? Try these advanced tips

Traditional segmentation efforts can affect your university’s marketing strategy. Dive even deeper into the process. Create emails that provide more effective messaging, design, and positioning. Enhance your email marketing campaign with these advanced tips for segmentation:

  • Reassess your goal: Make sure your campaign goals are clear. Use analysis to identify further marketing opportunities. 

  • Integrate your research: Use literature and other relevant materials to expand your knowledge. Assess variables and create a research plan to explore them.

  • Conduct qualitative audience research: Use focus groups and workshops. Investigate audience needs, mindsets, and behaviors. Then you’ll know what challenges and motivators could help you meet your goals. 

  • Develop hypothesis segments: Use data to hypothesize your target subgroups. Determine significant characteristics that set them apart. Values and preferences are more likely to influence a person’s decision – so those are more useful in segmentation.

  • Conduct quantitative audience research: Test your predictions. Examine variables like demographics, attitudes, and behaviors. See how your hypotheses measure up.  

  • Define audience segments: Question whether your identified segments align with your predictions. Apply this information to your marketing campaign. Develop relevant and useful information for your contact lists.

Make sure your segmentation creates contacts that will help you reach your objectives. 

Here are tactics used by various departments

Segments help you deliver impactful, quality emails across a variety of constituents. Here are examples of how different university departments use segmentation to succeed. 

1. Admissions

Reaching out to prospective students is an essential step in the admissions process. Creating excitement and brand loyalty early on can help solidify a lucrative relationship. Segmentation is critical in reaching high schoolers in their college selection process. 

Arizona State University (ASU) uses segmentation to identify interested high school seniors. They assess age, grade level, time of year, and recipient’s frame of mind to develop a targeted message. This email reached high school students the summer before their senior year. This is a prime time in the college selection process. ASU provided resources for college application prep, nudging prospects to choose their university.

Arizona State University (ASU) uses segmentation to identify interested high school seniors.

Source: Really Good Emails


Takeaway: Conduct more in-depth research on your audience demographics. This gives insight into valuable information for well-timed, effective admissions communications.

2. Financial aid

About 25% of college students will transfer during their college careers. This is often due to financial reasons. Segmentation alerts financial aid departments to students who may need financial help.

Charles Sturt University (CSU) uses segmentation effectively. They contact students who have received an offer from the school but have yet to commit. CSU sends information about available scholarships. Through segmentation, they know who may need financial aid. They also know when to contact them for the greatest impact and how best to reach them.

Charles Sturt uses segmentation to determine who may need financial aid. They email students who have received an offer from the school but have yet to commit and send information about available scholarships.

Source: Charles Sturt University


Takeaway: Categorize prospective students by socioeconomic background. This allows you to contact prospects who might commit to your school with financial aid.

3. Alumni

A student’s journey doesn’t end at graduation. Alumni are a key aspect of a college’s success. They provide volunteerism and financial support. They also contribute to future enrollment via word of mouth. Maintaining contact is critical.

The Australian Writers’ Centre sends targeted emails to new graduates. Segmentation helps them know when to reach out and what kind of messaging they should send. Research has told them that alumni could feel disconnected after graduation. Their email invites new alumni to join a social network. This helps alumni maintain involvement with the school and with their fellow grads.

The Australian Writers’ Centre sends targeted emails to new graduates. List segmentation helps them know when to reach out and what kind of messaging they should send.

Source: Australian Writers’ Centre

Takeaway: Create an alumni subgroup of new graduates. Then your school can reach former students who have not yet connected with other alumni.

4. Student life

The need to connect with prospective and graduated students is obvious. Maintaining communication with current students is also essential. Segmentation alerts students to what’s happening on campus. It builds camaraderie, school spirit, and helps deliver messaging that recipients will find interesting.

East Carolina University used segmentation to spread the word about a campus play. They targeted students who showed interest in campus activities and performing arts. With segmentation, they could be sure to reach students who want to attend events like these. Relevant messaging boosts open rates and increases the likelihood of participation.

Source: East Carolina University


Takeaway: Segmentation can reveal student behaviors and habits. This helps student life departments identify who likes to attend campus events. Targeting these people streamlines your campaign and improves participation and attendance rates.

5. Athletics

Another department that benefits from the use of segmentation is athletics. They can focus efforts on contacts who have attended events or purchased tickets. This helps solidify fan loyalty and increase school spirit. 

The University of Arkansas’ athletics department used segmentation for this email. They know which of their contacts are football fans. They know who attends the games, and who wants to support the Razorbacks.

 The University of Arkansas’ athletics department uses email segmentation to contact past football game attendees to boost future ticket sales and fan loyalty.

Source: University of Arkansas


Takeaway: Campus athletics can appeal to the right fan base with segmentation. Know which sports people follow and boost ticket sales for your school’s sporting events. 

Wrap up

Segmentation is a valuable tool for university email campaign strategies. Success comes from key best practices, like ensuring segments are:

  • Identifiable 

  • Significant 

  • Accessible 

  • Stable

  • Distinguishable 

Getting started is easy. Advanced tips help you create personalized, relevant messages across various university departments. Segmented emails allow you to create quality messages that encourage connectivity and engagement. They help build trust and loyalty. This leads to a long-term relationship that benefits students and universities alike. 

We can help your university develop effective email list segmentation that drives the results you want – contact us today.

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