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Subject lines that work

Nudges are simple outreach messages you can send to encourage students to take action now to improve persistence outcomes.

These messages are small pushes in the right direction that do not require specific actions, but encourage certain behaviors. When students are presented with a nudge sent from a trusted person at your institution, they have the freedom to make their own choices with information about behaviors we know are more strongly associated with positive persistence and graduation outcomes.

To ensure that a nudge is effective, it must be opened and read. We’ve gathered research on effective email strategies across industries and one thing stands out: subject lines matter. The message preview must give the student enough information to decide whether or not it is worth opening. A good subject line leaves out enough detail for our brains to start craving the information that is excluded. But, an overwhelming 80% of people prefer headlines that actually reveal what the email will be about to help them decide if they want to read the rest of the content. 

Striking the right balance between revealing the purpose of the email and excluding specifics may seem difficult. Review the tips and examples in this guide to understand how to optimize the subject lines of your nudges to encourage students to open the message and take action. These messages are leading to real outcomes at our partner institutions and we’re excited to see how they will positively impact students at your institution.


The best subject lines are:

  1. Personal: People respond favorably to seeing their name in the subject line of an email. If it’s not possible to add the recipient’s name, add “you” to make it feel individualized.

  2. From a familiar sender: If the sender looks like a generic account (such as Enrollment Services or Student Affairs), it will be ignored. Ideally, the sender should be an individual who the recipient knows, such as an advisor or student success coach.

  3. Open ended and urgent: Make the subject time sensitive or ask a question that the recipient would like answered. The content of your email can contain details that answer the question posed in the subject line.

  4. Short: 40% of emails are opened on mobile first. Subject lines need to be under 50 characters to be visible on mobile devices and the best-performing subject lines have fewer than 40 characters.

  5. Eye-catching: The best subject lines contain eye-catching details that create urgency or inspire the recipient’s curiosity. Start with an action-oriented verb, include a number in digit form to preview the content, or include trigger words like “why,” “how,” and “what.”

  6. Specific: The email should contain one single call to action and the subject line should clearly reflect that content to show the recipient why it should matter to them.

  7. Branded: Create an emotional connection with your institution by alluding to your mascot or other campus traditions in the subject line. When students are reminded that there is a greater purpose and community at the institution, they are more likely to stay enrolled and engaged.

Combine a compelling subject line with a short nudge using growth mindset messaging. Use these examples to get you started.

Registration reminder:

Sample Subject Lines
We're ready for next semester. Are you?
3 Steps to Take Before Registering
Registering is easier than you think 
Details for registration inside! 

Dear <name>,

It may feel overwhelming to think about next term when this term is wrapping up. Focusing on your classwork now is important, so keep up the hard work! But registration is about to open, and registering early is the best way to secure the classes you need to make sure you’re on the right path to graduate or transfer. Here are three easy steps you can take to make sure you’re ready to register:

  1. Schedule an appointment with me here for tips on classes to take.
  2. Review the course schedule here to find the times that work in your schedule.
  3. When you’re ready to enroll, click here to register and cross it off your to-do list!

I know you can finish this semester and I’m excited to see you back on campus in the Spring!


High GPA, low persistence likelihood:

Sample Subject Lines
You’re doing great - how can I support you?
What are your keys to success?
Here’s how other students with high GPAs kept it up

Hi <name>,

I’m so proud of your success at <institution name>! I wanted to share some resources others students have found helpful as they work to maintain strong GPAs like yours:

  • Writing Center: You can take advantage of essay writing services or you can offer your talents and get paid to help students improve their writing skills.
  • Math Tutoring: If you’re finding it difficult to keep up in your math courses, here is a free tutoring option.

Please share your thoughts on the campus services or other resources that are helping you. I would love to connect you with other students or staff on campus who can help you reach your goals.


Finish the semester strong:

Sample Subject Lines
Finish strong with these tips
Feeling stressed? Read this
You have everything you need within yourself
4 tips to finish strong this semester

Dear <name>,

You’re so close to the finish line for this semester! You’re here at <institution name> because we believe you can do the hard work required to finish your courses well. I know you may have faced challenges this semester, but you came here because you are equipped to accomplish your academic goals. If you’re feeling stressed, read these tips from other students who have been where you are and made it through:

  • Attend review sessions offered before final exams
  • Make flashcards of important key terms and equations, sites like Quizlet might be helpful
  • Sign up for peer tutoring sessions to get help with specific coursework
  • Visit your professors’ office hours to ask questions about exam format or content

Feel free to contact me with any questions you have or if you need ideas for more tips to finish strong this semester!


Win back students after summer break:

Sample Subject Lines
See yourself walking across the stage…
We can’t wait for you to be back!
What are your plans next semester?

Dear <name>,

We know that Summer can be a busy time with many commitments. We hope that you’ve found some time to relax so you can come back to <institution name> ready to hit the ground running!

It looks like you haven’t registered for next semester yet. Here is the link to register. The sooner you register, the more likely you are to get the classes you want! You came to <institution name> for a reason. Talk with me about that reason and let’s make a plan together to help you get back on track for next term. 

If you have concerns about registration or returning to <institution name> in the Fall, I’m here for you. Feel free to reply to this email directly or call me at <phone number> with any questions you have.

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