Secret Shopper Results

Fall 2023

In our 7th season of running this program, the “Secret Shopper Project” measures the timeliness, frequency, and quality of responses from colleges and universities to student information requests.

To measure this, we create Canadian and international student personas:

SAMANTHA

a grade 12 Canadian student going into undergrad in 2024

SAMANTHA

a 22-year-old Canadian undergrad going into MBA / masters in 2024

SANJAY

a grade 12 international student from India looking for undergraduate studies in Canada

SANJAY

22-year-old Indian student going into MBA / masters in 2024 in Canada

Our personas requested information from 114 schools on SchoolFinder.com (Canadian students) and StudyinCanada.com (international students), from November 22-26, 2023. We tracked the responses over the next two months

We wanted to know how (and if) student inquiries are being managed.

The overall scores are calculated based on 7 criteria, including response time, relevance, layout, frequency, content, mobile layout, and CTA/preheader/subject line. Each criterion is ranked out of 5, with content and relevance weighted higher (based on the feedback from 1,400+ current prospective students).

Note: Where “SF” is referenced, it indicates a SchoolFinder profile (Canadian students) and where “SIC” is referenced it indicates a StudyinCanada (international students) profile.

You’ll find the full report below, but here are the top line results:

  • 22 schools responded within 24 hours

  • The average response time was 10 days

  • 38 schools DID NOT respond at all

  • 18 schools only responded once

  • Average number of responses was 5 emails

  • The top performers sent 8-29 emails

wdt_ID School Segment Number of Schools Number of Schools Responded Percent Responded Average Number of Emails Average Response Time (Days) Average Score
1 Canadian Universities 52 39 75 6 11 20.0
2 US 12 9 75 3 9 16.7
3 All 114 76 67 5 10 19.0
4 Canadian Recruiting International 20 13 65 5 10 19.0
5 Canadian Colleges 15 9 60 5 8 17.3
6 Graduate 20 8 40 3 12 19.3
7 UK 10 4 40 2 13 20.0

The top performers by first email score were

Lakehead

  • Use of personalization
  • Bulleted list with relevant hyperlinks
  • Addresses top-of-mind topics
  • Building clear expectations: “Over the next several months…”

91%

first email score

Laurier

  • Use of personalization
  • Clear branding
  • GIF header image
  • Minimal text with clear CTA to “find my perfect program”

85.5%

first email score

Secret Shopper Results

We requested information from a total of 114 schools

  • SchoolFinder.com (Canadian Students) — 94 schools
  • StudyinCanada.com (International Students) — 20 schools

 

Overall, 67% of schools responded

  • SchoolFinder.com (Canadian Students) — 67%
  • StudyinCanada.com (International Students) — 65%


Universities were more likely to respond (68 %) than colleges (62.5 %).

Days to Respond

67% of schools that responded did so within a week

22 schools responded within 24 hours; 44 schools responded within 3 days; 51 schools responded within 7 days. And 38 schools did not respond at all!

The average response time was 10 days.

Number of days  Number of schools
Under 24 hours 22
1 day 11
2 days 7
3 days 4
4 days 3
5-8 days 5
9-14 days 8
15+ days 16
No response 38
Total  114

Response Frequency

The top performers sent 8-29 emails

Of the 76 schools who did respond, 18 schools (or 23%) sent just one email. The average number of emails sent was 5 emails. The most emails sent was 29.

Top Performers Emails Sent
Ontario Tech University 29
Wilfrid Laurier University (SIC) 24
Visual College of Art and Design – VAN Campus 23
Carleton University 16
Vancouver Island University 12
Redeemer University 11
IU International University of Applied Sciences 10
Conestoga College (SIC) 10
Lakehead University 9
Huron University College 9

Top Schools by First Email Score

Those whose first email was the best overall

These schools had an initial email that ranked strongly in content, desktop/mobile layout, relevance, CTA placement, preheader and subject line, and timeliness.

School Total Score
University of Calgary (School of Creative Arts) – Graduate 24.2
University of Sussex 24.2
Western University (SF) 24.2
Western University (SIC) 24.2
Capilano University 23.7
Huron University College 23.4
University of Calgary (Dept. of Art + Art History) 23.3
Durham College 22.7
Concordia University 22.1
Concordia University (SIC) 22.1
Lakehead University 22.0
Algoma University 21.7
OCAD University 21.0
George Brown College – Graduate 20.9
Wilfrid Laurier University (SIC) 20.7
Trent University (SF) 20.6
University of New Brunswick Saint John 20.5
IU International University of Applied Sciences 20.3
Redeemer University 20.3
University of Cambridge 20.1

Top Schools by Content Score

Those who had the most accurate, useful email content

These schools consistently sent emails with engaging content that was relevant to the student’s profile, with useful hyperlinks, providing valuable and personalized information. The top 20 tied for a perfect score.

  • Alberta University of the Arts (SIC)
  • Capilano University
  • Concordia University (SIC)
  • Concordia University
  • Huron University College
  • Lakehead University
  • Liberty University
  • NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology)
  • OCAD University
  • Ohio Northern University
  • Ontario Tech University (SIC)
  • Redeemer University
  • Trent University (SF)
  • University Canada West
  • University of Calgary (Dept. of Art + Art History)
  • University of Calgary (School of Creative Arts) – Graduate
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of New Brunswick Saint John
  • University of Sussex
  • Western University (SIC)

Top Schools by Desktop Layout Score

These schools sent emails that were very well-structured, easy to read, and included relevant information that was highlighted and hyperlinked. These emails were visually appealing using creative graphics (logos, videos, images etc.) They tied for a perfect score.

  • Algoma University
  • Capilano University
  • Care Hope College
  • Concordia University (SIC)
  • Concordia University
  • Durham College
  • George Brown College
  • Huron University College
  • International University of Health Sciences (IUHS)
  • OCAD University
  • Ohio Northern University
  • Ontario Tech University (SIC)
  • Redeemer University
  • Trent University (SF)
  • University of Calgary (Dept. of Art + Art History)
  • University of New Brunswick
  • Vancouver Island University
  • Waterloo University (SIC)
  • Western University

Top Schools by Mobile Layout Score

These schools sent emails that were mobile friendly with seamless navigation and readability. They tied for a perfect score.

  • Algoma University
  • Algonquin College
  • Capilano University
  • Concordia University (SIC)
  • Concordia University
  • Durham College
  • George Brown College – Graduate
  • George Brown College
  • Huron University College
  • Ontario Tech University (SIC)
  • Trent University (SF)
  • University of Calgary (Dept. of Art + Art History)
  • University of Calgary (School of Creative Arts) – Graduate
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of New Brunswick Saint John
  • University of Notre Dame – Graduate
  • University of Sussex
  • Vancouver Island University – Graduate
  • Western University
  • York University

Top Schools by CTA Score

Those who had the most engaging call-to-action button

These schools sent emails with strong subject lines, preheaders, and an engaging CTA. They tied for a perfect score.

  • Care Hope College
  • Concordia University
  • Concordia University (SIC)
  • George Brown College
  • George Brown College – Graduate
  • Huron University College
  • IE University – Graduate
  • IU International University of Applied Sciences
  • OCAD University
  • Ohio Northern University
  • University of Calgary (Dept. of Art + Art History)
  • University of Calgary (School of Creative Arts) – Graduate
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of New Brunswick Saint John
  • University of Notre Dame – Graduate
  • University of Sussex
  • Vancouver Island University
  • Waterloo University (SIC)
  • Western University
  • Western University (SIC)

Top Schools by Relevance Score

Those who had the most relevant emails

These schools used personalization and sent the most relevant content. They tied for a perfect score.

  • Brock – Goodman School of Business
  • Cambrian College
  • Capilano University
  • Care Hope College
  • Concordia University
  • Concordia University (SIC)
  • Durham College
  • Huron University College
  • International University of Health Sciences (IUHS)
  • Lakehead University
  • Liberty University
  • OCAD University
  • Ohio Northern University
  • Olds College
  • Ontario Tech University (SIC)
  • Toronto Metropolitan University (SIC)
  • University Canada West
  • University of Calgary (School of Creative Arts) – Graduate
  • University of New Brunswick Saint John
  • University of Notre Dame – Graduate

Top Schools by Total Emails Sent

These schools sent the highest number of emails on different topics of interest to maintain consistent communication with students.

Top 20 Schools Total Emails
Ontario Tech University 29
Wilfrid Laurier University (SIC) 24
Visual College of Art and Design – VAN Campus 23
Carleton University 16
Vancouver Island University 12
Redeemer University 11
Conestoga College (SIC) 10
IU International University of Applied Sciences 10
Carleton University (SIC) 9
Huron University College 9
Lakehead University 9
Cambrian College 8
CDi College – Calgary North Campus 8
OCAD University 8
Western University (SF) 8
Western University (SIC) 8
Wilfrid Laurier University 8
Trent University (SF) 7
University of Notre Dame – Graduate 7
University Canada West 6

The Top 20 Overall

These schools scored the best overall on all components.

Here are the top 20 schools. Kudos to Wilfrid Laurier University (SIC) and Western University who came out on top!

School Total Score
Wilfrid Laurier University (SIC)

32.2

Western University (SF) 27.7
Western University (SIC) 27.7
Huron University College 27.4
Ontario Tech University 27.2
University of Sussex 26.2
Lakehead University 26.0
Vancouver Island University 25.8
Capilano University 25.7
Redeemer University 25.3
IU International University of Applied Sciences 24.8
OCAD University 24.5
Durham College 24.2
University of Calgary (School of Creative Arts) – Graduate 24.2
Trent University (SF) 23.6
University of Calgary (Dept. of Art + Art History) 23.3
Concordia University 23.1
Concordia University (SIC) 22.6
University of Notre Dame – Graduate 22.6
University of New Brunswick Saint John 22.0

Some Outstanding Examples

These were some outstanding email examples

 

Lakehead University, Wilfrid Laurier University, Capilano University, and Western University scored high when it came to content, layout, CTA, and relevance.

Recommendations

Didn’t get the score you hoped for? Here are 3 tips:

  1. Use personalization. Students love seeing their names in emails, and their program of interest reflected.
  2. Respond. Students expect a response within 5 days (70%+ in a recent survey) and they want more than one email (once a week or whenever you have something important to say).
  3. Focus on one topic per email. Rather than sending one email with all important info (campus life, scholarships, programs!), send multiple emails focused on one topic. Don’t jam everything in one email!
  4. Combine email formats. Use a combination of branded HTML and plain text emails. While branded HTML builds brand recognition, plain text emails help build trust and feel more genuine.

Next Steps

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