4 min read


It’s the end of the summer. Students will return to campus soon, and the new class you have worked so hard to recruit throughout the cycle will be joining them. But next year’s recruitment efforts are about to commence, so it’s time to update your communication flow. 

This year, make sure to review and refresh an often-overlooked part of it: your email subject lines. 

At first glance, a subject line should be a piece of cake to write, right? “Wrong,” I can hear those of you with eyes buried in your CRM’s communication module sigh. It’s true, coming up with eye-grabbing, fancy-tickling, fully-informative-yet-not-boring subject lines is no easy feat. And to complicate things even further, we need to add one more characteristic to that list: non-spammy. 

We are all familiar with spam content filters. Email giants like Google and Yahoo are getting increasingly proficient at sorting out anything they don’t think you would like to or need to see into separate folders. They are also on the forefront of identifying words and phrases within subject lines that could indicate spam content. 

Generally, spam filters take into consideration more than just the subject line. If your domain has a high reputation score, combined with a good sender ID and delivery rate, your email is still likely to be allowed to proceed to a student’s Inbox. 

But this is not a gamble worth taking, especially for institutions that may not have the resources to track their domain reputation or provide a repair if the reputation score drops below a certain level. 

Imagine your acceptance emails never making it to a large group of students, or electronic financial aid packages being redirected to junk mail instead of inboxes. For GenZ and their parents, email is one of the most popular means of communication, which is why we need to do everything in our power to ensure they receive every single message we craft. 

So, let’s talk about spam words in subject lines. 

Search online for a list of spam words that might trip a content filter, and any result you find will already be outdated by the time you are done reading it. The list grows every day. As users, we know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we frequently judge emails by their subject line, intentionally ignoring or deleting them without opening them. The algorithms learn from our behavior and identify keywords as spam, leading to entire emails never being delivered to their intended audiences. 

Back to those of you frantically coming up with fresh and captivating ways to describe your campus to students from near and far: you will need to know the most frequently flagged spam words and how to avoid them. Don’t rely on anecdotal knowledge from four years ago; brush up on the newest information before diving deeper into creating for the fall. Or, simply read on—we have compiled for your reading pleasure some of the most common spam words that may appear in subject lines in the higher education industry. 

Numbers/Symbols: #1; 100%/50%

A: Acceptance; Act immediately; Act now; Adult; Affordable; Amazing; Apply here; Apply now; Apply online

B: Be amazed; Be surprised; Be your own boss 

C: Call me; Call now; Congratulations!; Cost 

D: Deal

E: Earn 

G: Great Offer; Great Opportunity; Guarantee

I: Information you requested; Investment 

L: Life; Loan

M: Make Money 

N: No Catch; No Fee

O: Once in a lifetime; Online Degree; Opportunity

P: Problem; Promise

R: Real Thing

S: Satisfied; Solution; Success

T: Take action

W: Winner; Winning

Y: You have been chosen; Your chance

It might be heart-wrenching to see how many staple words or phrases Higher Ed uses appear on the list above, but there is no need to despair. There is an easy fix: just think back to any creative writing class you ever took and come up with replacements for any bit of interest-snatching information you would like to include in the subject line. 

For instance, instead of “Congratulations!!!!”, tell the students that you have “Great news about [their] application.” Instead of “Apply now!” invite them to “Submit an application.” And instead of”‘amazing,” say… well, pretty much anything else! 

Your campus and community are as unique as you are, so when talking about them, use adjectives that are descriptive instead of qualifying: picturesque, cohesive, state-of-the-art, world-renowned, celebrated, cozy, urban, tranquil, happening.  

Other things to avoid include loud slogans written in ALL CAPS (nobody likes it when their email shouts at them), an overabundance of exclamation marks, and grandiose but baseless statements, like “You win!” You want students to open your emails and potentially find a path to their future home inside, but also to take your institution seriously. Additionally, as we mentioned in the beginning (and in this previous FUEL blog post), a large volume of unopened emails can be extremely harmful to your domain reputation score, which directly affects the deliverability of all future communication. 

So, grab a cup of coffee and a thesaurus and get creative! If it feels a bit lonely, contact a FUEL expert—we are happy to talk about your institution’s domain reputation, assist with communication flow creation or audit, or commiserate over the lack of a decent replacement for the word ‘vibrant’ any day.