Best Back-to-School Subject Lines That Actually Work

Best Back-to-School Subject Lines That Actually Work
18 August, 2023 • ... • 989 views
Daria Zhuravleva
by Daria Zhuravleva

It’s *that* time of the year again — time to start a back-to-school email marketing campaign. And this means that you have to come up with a catchy subject line to make your emails visible. To make it easier for you, we’re sharing best tips and practices for back-to-school email subject lines.

The importance of back-to-school email subject lines

When you run an email campaign, your competitors aren’t the only fellow players in the industry — you also compete with all the brands in the inbox of each subscriber. According to Statista, by April 2023, 9.8 billion emails were sent daily in the United States alone.

Daily emails by April 2023 by country: the US — 9.8 billion, the UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Japan, India, and Germany — 8.3 billion each, Israel, Ireland, and Austria — 8.2 billion each
Source: Statista

If you take that into account, you’ll understand that the competition is insane. But a good email subject line will help you stand out. So, think of a subject line as a profile picture on a dating app. It’s the first thing users see, it makes the first impression and affects the decision to swipe left or right.

Of course a perfect subject line won’t guarantee you a high open rate — it depends on many factors. But if you’re able to make your subscribers interested enough to open the email, you have more chances to achieve the goals of your campaign — just like a good profile picture makes more matches.

Back-to-school email subject line examples to use in your next campaign

There are many reasons to run a back-to-school email campaign — and different types of emails will have different subject lines. Let’s take a look at back-to-school email types and which email subjects are commonly used for them.

General newsletters

Back-to-school newsletters offer valuable content related to this stressful time. The most popular type of content is tips and checklists.

From: Scholastic

Subject: Your favourite authors pick the best books for starting school

Back-to-school newsletter from Scholastic where kids’ book writers and illustrators share their favorite children’s books
Source: Milled

We like this subject line because it shows the expertise — since well-known writers give you book recommendations, they must be good! It instantly grabs attention. But that’s not the only tactic — take a look at these examples:

  • 22 Things Every Kid Needs to Hear This School Year (Tinybeans)
  • 10 tips for back-to-school stress relief 😊 (GNC)
  • How to Pack Vegan Lunches for Work or School 💚🎒 (Doshi FCSA)
  • we asked moms for their top college move-in tips (Dormify)
  • Balancing back-to-school stress with a therapeutic routine (Cerebral)

Sales & discounts

The start of a new academic year is a great time to offer discounts — especially for anything that helps with getting ready for school.

From: Kidpik

Subject: 🚌 Get Ready For Back-2-School With 25% Off

Back-to-school sales email from Kidpik that offers 25% off for purchasing 5 and more items
Source: MailCharts

This email from Kidpik is an example of a basic back-to-school sales email. This type of email is not very inventive when it comes to subject lines. In this case, the best strategy is getting straight to the point:

  • Back to School Is Back: Save 20% Sitewide (Frenchtoast School Uniforms)
  • Back-to-School Prep Just Got 20% Easier! (My Magic Carpet)
  • Get 55% Off Grammarly Premium for Back to School (Grammarly)
  • Back-to-School Bonanza: Get up to 60% off our best-selling school supplies! (Office Depot)
  • Don’t Miss Our Back to School Sale – 15% Off! (mDesign)

These subject lines already offer something valuable — and your customer is already enticed to open this email and learn how to accept that offer.

Special offer emails

Special offer emails are a subtype of sales emails that are focused on limited editions, rare deals, free items, new seasonal collections, and other outstanding events. 

From: Armani Exchange

Subject: The Back to School Shop is Open

Back to school email from Armani Exchange that promotes a new collection that never goes out of style and is perfect for refreshing the wardrobe
Source: Milled

For example, this email from Armani Exchange promotes this year’s collection of back-to-school wardrobe staples.

From: Tribesigns

Subject: Win a Computer Desk in Tribesigns Back to School Giveaway

ack to school email from Tribesigns that promotes a giveaway where you can win one of three large computer desks
Source: Milled

And this email from Tribesigns promotes a giveaway with a prize that would be helpful for customers preparing for the new school year. When it comes to subject lines about giveaways and sweepstakes, the best thing you can do is voicing the prize right away — customers should understand what exactly they might get out of this.

And here are more ideas for back-to-school special offer subject lines:

  • NEW DROPS 💜 Back-to-School Edition(Kinflyte)
  • Alert! We Found the Ideal Combo for Your Preschooler (Mabel’s Labels)
  • Leather Essentials: 🔙 To School Edition (The Jacket Makerr)
  • Get 5 FREE Minis for Back to School (Dr. Jart)
  • Just in: New styles from SmileyWorld® (H&M)

Stationery-themed

When you think of back-to-school shopping, the first thing that comes to your mind is school supplies. 

From: Skip Hop

Subject: Pop Quiz! What’s on your back-to-school checklist? 🎒 📚✏️

Back-to-school email from Skip Hop with a tagline “Checklists made easy with 1-click bundles”
Source: Email Competitors

This sales email from Skip Hop suggests buying back-to-school bundles. Pay attention to the email subject — Skip Hop added emojis so subscribers could understand that the email is about school supplies. Here are more ideas for similar email subjects:

  • Back-to-School Checklist: √ Backpacks √ Supplies √ POINTS (ShopYourWay)
  • Ready for school? Get your essentials today 📚✏️ (Pottery Barn Kids)
  • Still short on school supplies? ✏️ Get ready with these classroom classics! (Smiggle)
  • Express Yourself with Personalized Notepads 🖊 Up to 30% Off (The Stationery Studio)
  • 15% off back-to-school essentials by personality (Minted)
  • Back to School Supplies for Students ✏️ (Kikkerland)

Fashion

If you’re promoting an apparel business, you have many opportunities for boosting sales at the end of summer. The choice of an email subject depends on your audience. Moms looking for a new uniform for their kid and college students who want a trendier look this autumn need different approaches. Let’s take a look at these two examples.

From: H&M

Subject: Keep it laid-back for back to school

Back to school email from H&M that promotes a new collection with a tagline “A chill start”
Source: Milled

This email from H&M promotes a back-to-school collection of neutral basic pieces that are both comfortable and fitting in dress code requirements. Their “Chill start” tagline in the email copy and the use of the word “laid-back” in the email subject allude to the “relaxed” and casual styles and the relaxed attitude. That way, customers create the association between this collection and a stressless beginning of the school year. But relieving the anxiety of preparing for the new season is not the only selling point you can use. 

From: Journeys

Subject: Ahead of the [back] PACK 🎒

Email from Journeys promoting backpacks that make you “ahead of the pack” and features a GIF showcasing a variety of backpacks from Kanken, The North Face, Converse, Vans, and more
Source: Milled

This email from Journeys specifically appeals to middle and high school students. Teenagers tend to worry about their group identity and their place in the social hierarchy. The shop uses these worries as a selling point — just buy our backpacks and you’ll be popular, ahead of the rest of your class. 

  • A+ Style for Back to School (Blowfish Shoes)
  • Polos: Your Back-2-School Solution (Big Dogs)
  • Back to School Outfit ✔️: do your kids have this? (The Children’s Place US)
  • Our A to Z of back-to-school looks (Stella McCartney Online)
  • Back(pack) to School 🎒 (Wordans UK)
  • Head Back To School In Style! ✏️ (Two Blind Brothers)
  • Walk into class with style (Renfro Socks)
  • Fresh for Fall! 🍂📚🧥 (Citi Trends)

For teachers

Teachers are a more niche customer group for back-to-school emails — but they need to get ready too. 

From: MeMoi Fashion

Subject: Smart Savings for Educators 🍎

Email from MeMoi Fashion that promotes a teachers’ collection of clothes, fun socks, tights, and accessories like water bottles
Source: Milled

This email from MeMoi Fashion targets a broad group of teachers and its main selling point, as you can see in the subject line, is a good deal that allows you to save money. However, keep in mind that teachers work in different niches, and each group has their own needs.Here are more ideas for subject lines that target school employees:

  • Foster Creativity in Your Classroom with Knop Knop! (US Toy)
  • {Name}, Get Classroom-Ready for Less! (Dollar Tree)
  • Discover why guitar teachers love Spark 🎸 (Positive Grid)
  • 🍎 Celebrate teachers with gourmet back-to-school gifts (1-800-BASKETS)
  • Classroom decor is on sale! (Really Good Stuff)
  • Exclusive Back-to-School Savings for Teachers (LiveStrongFitness.com)
  • 📣 Calling All Preschool Teachers & Parents! (Melissa & Doug)
  • Powerup for class with the latest gear (SanDisk)

Tips and best practices to keep in mind

Why do these subject lines we’ve mentioned work? They use certain tips and tricks — read this short guide and learn how to make your back-to-school subject line effective.

Start your campaign in advance

The Deloitte study showed that this year, 59% of back-to-school season spendings were expected to occur by the end of July. The main reason for that is inflation — parents start looking for the best deals earlier so they can save money, compared to 2022. But even if you didn’t start your campaign in the middle of summer, you still have a chance.

There is a certain category of back-to-school shoppers — procrastinators. For example, if your campaign is based on scarcity and last-minute offers, starting in August would be the best strategy. We’ve mentioned that many times: there’s no universal success recipe.

Keep it short

Since your customers are likely to open your email on a mobile device, the general advice has always been to keep it short. However, the latest GetResponse campaign benchmark report showed that longer subject lines with 61–70 characters have the best average open rates of 32.1%. 

Of course, the length alone won’t guarantee you good email campaign performance. The finding suggests that we can be more relaxed about the subject line length now and stop obsessively counting characters. But this also means that we should pay more attention to the subject line content instead. If you give a relevant offer and don’t waste subscribers’ time dancing around the topic, you’ll get your opens even if mobile email clients cut a couple symbols from your subject line. Also, we still suggest keeping it not longer than 70 characters — otherwise, your subscribers will only see half of your email subject.

Be careful with emojis

According to the latest data from GetResponse, NOT using emojis is a better tactic:

Emails with emojis in subjects have a 26.42% open rate, 1.95% CTR, 7.38% CTOR, and 0.11% unsubscribe rate, when emails with emojiless subject lines have a 28.26% OR, 2.4% CTR, 8.51% CTOR, and 0.09% unsubscribe rate
Source: GetResponse

As you can see, subject lines with emojis have lower open rates, give you fewer clicks, and they have a higher unsubscribe rate. Should you quit emojis in emails forever then? Not really. The difference is not that large, and you may have an audience that reacts to emojis in subject lines better. To find out what works best for your subscribers, run A/B tests on subject lines with and without emojis.

Know your target audience

An effective subject line suggests a valuable solution to your customers’ problem right away. But different customers have different pain points. That’s why it’s important to know who you’re targeting, what these people’s frustrations are, and how your offer can resolve them. 

Which groups of people are interested in back-to-school campaigns? Parents, students, and teachers. Here’s an example of possible pain points and good subject lines for different customer groups:

Customer group 🧑 Pain points😭 Subject line inspo📝
Parents Forgetting to get something for their child

No time for shopping

Pricing

✅ Get everything at once and save 50% off school supplies

Coming back-to-school? We’ve got you covered!

Students Peer validation

Looking for a fresh start as a “ritual”

Saving money (college students)

Back-to-Cool 😎

For the coolest kids on the block

30% off our new drop for a fresh start this school year

Teachers Getting back to stressful work after a long vacation You’re ready for school, what about your classroom?

Best dresses for the strictest school dress codes

No worries with our exclusive discounts for teachers

Keep in mind that this spreadsheet is only an example. There are more possible pain points, and parents, students, and teachers vary a lot in demographics and other characteristics. The secret of success is knowing the exact profile of your customer — and hitting where it hurts.

Make sure your subject line is attention-grabbing

As we mentioned earlier, you compete with fellow players on the market and the entire inbox of subject lines, personal or promotional. That’s why it’s so important to grab your customer’s attention right away with a catchy subject line. Here are some tricks that will help you get noticed:

  • Personalize with caution. Personalized subject lines perform worse compared to non-personalized once — but it doesn’t mean you should quit personalization. The solution is personalizing subject lines only when you personalize the email content too. Emails with a personalized body have higher open rates.
  • Use humor. If your tone of voice allows it, puns and jokes are a good way to grab attention.
  • Relate to customers. The back-to-school season is stressful — regardless of your audience, all the customer groups we’ve mentioned before have their pain points and frustration. Relating to these struggles will make your marketing email appear more human and stimulate subscribers to open it. Use subject lines like “Scared to go back-to-school? Me too” or “Back-to-School deals for Tired Moms” — and your customers will fall for that compassion.
  • Be intriguing. Don’t reveal the entire email content in a subject line. Instead, keep your customers enticed to know more. The easiest way to do it is turning a subject line into a question — and hide the answer in the email.

These are the most popular tactics to increase your email visibility. But we know nothing about your business and your target audience. That’s why we suggest testing these tips out to see what works for you.

Use the sense of urgency

If you know how to write a sales email, you’ve heard a thing or two about urgency in email marketing. We already mentioned that the back-to-school season is stressful. That’s why using urgent language in your subject line might work especially well for your back-to-school email campaign. Here are some tips to get your customers to the edge of their seats:

  • Setting a deadline — “Ends today”, “Expires tomorrow”
  • Using active verbs — “Hurry up”, “Act now”
  • Adding scarcity — “Limited offer”, “Buy before the stockout”

From: Mac Sales | Other World Computing

Subject: 🔔Saved by the bell! 📚Last chance back to school savings ends Monday…

Back to school email from Mac Sales that offers discounts on Apple computers with a sense of urgency created with a subject line, prices highlighted in red, and phrases “hurry, only a few left!” and “last chance for back to school savings”

This email from Other World Computing is a great example of using urgency in subject lines. They used a lot of urgency markers both in the subject and in the email itself, with phrases like “hurry, only a few left”. To our taste, this subject line is a little too long and might not display correctly on mobile devices, and it has too many emojis — but you can still use ideas like this as a starting point.

Wrapping up

Subject lines are important in email campaigns because they allow you to stand out and increase your campaign’s visibility. The choice of back-to-school subject lines heavily depends on:

  • Your target audience — parents, teachers or students.
  • The type of email you’re sending — newsletters and special offers will have different email subjects.
  • Your industry — use different tactics to promote different items.

But regardless of your campaign, here are best practices to help you come out with an email subject that begs to be clicked on:

  • Start your campaign early — mid-July is preferable but August yields great results too.
  • Keep it short — many people read emails on mobile devices.
  • Use emojis with caution — test if they work with your audience first.
  • Know your target audience — and hit them where it hurts.
  • Use the sense of urgency — especially in sales emails.

This article was originally published in August 2022 and was updated in August 2023 to make it more relevant and comprehensive.

Article by
Daria Zhuravleva
I'm a writer with 3 years of experience, knowledge and interest in all things IT and marketing, and a passion for the English language. As a staff author at Selzy, I see my mission as an educator who makes your life easier by explaining complex topics in a digestible and somewhat entertaining way. Hobbies include birdwatching, all things music and art, writing freeform poetry, and hiding in the woods.
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