3 Ways Higher Ed Institutions Should Talk to Generation Z

October 26, 2017

At a recent high school college fair, I heard questions ranging from “What are your financial aid packages?” to “What types of accelerated programs do you offer for graduate school?”

I volunteer for undergraduate admissions for my alma mater, handing out dozens of information packets and talking about why they should consider applying.

You’d think these questions were from parents interested in their child’s future. But they were from the 16-year-old students themselves. They weren’t asking about the best fraternities and sororities, the types of athletic programs, or to rank the dining hall food—they were genuinely interested in academics, affordability, and accessibility.

Those hundreds of students represent the typical up-and-coming college student.

Generation Z—loosely defined as people born between 1995 and 2010—are more career-minded and more connected to what’s happening in the world (thanks, social media). They’re more likely to save money, be connected to their families, and to set high expectations for themselves. Not to mention, they’re the first mobile-native generation and don’t remember a time without Google.

When it comes to communicating with Gen Z college-bound students, they’re naturally tech savvy and constantly up to date on social media trends. But don’t rule out print communications, either.

So how do you talk to Gen Z students? Here are a few ways to connect.

1. Combine your print and digital marketing strategies.

Combining online and print elements to reach Gen Z is vital to having a strong integrated marketing and communications flow.

Gen Z recognizes the need to look up from their smartphones and engage with print communications like textbooks, newspaper, and mail. A recent survey found that 92 percent of college students would rather read paper-bound books over tablets.

Print provides a physical way to assess different brands—and they’re more likely than Millennials to check out brick and mortar stores for brand experience.

They’re constantly online—reading emails, Twitter, Instagram—and getting something in the mail excites them. Print has a longer shelf life, too. They scroll through digital ads in seconds and have an average 8-second attention span, but print is a way to capture their attention and to give them a different perspective. Plus, who doesn’t love getting something in the mail?

But don’t forget about what they’re comfortable with, too. Social media is a crucial part of Gen Z’s day-to-day routine. It’s important to pay attention to what social media platforms they’re flocking to. More and more younger generations are turning to Instagram and Snapchat, and using Facebook less. Does your college have an app? What social media platforms do you use? Meet prospective students where they are.

2. Focus on career.

Current high school students are extremely career-driven. They want good jobs and financial security after graduation.

Give examples of the kinds of companies your students have interned and worked for. NASA, Goldman Sachs, Walt Disney, Target—list what you can, wherever it makes sense (think: in nurture emails, perhaps a long-scroll landing page dedicated to careers, and your blog). What job titles did they have? What is that company’s culture? Is there room for advancement?

And get this: Gen Z is more focused on finding a job they enjoy than the money. So if you’re lacking in testimonials from alumni talking up how much they love their work, reach out to your grads and ask them to contribute.

3. Affordability is key.

Gen Z grew up during the Great Recession, and they’re realistic about what things cost and they’re interested in saving money. That includes their education.

Focus on what makes you stand out as a college. What financial aid packages do you have? What are the scholarship opportunities? Do students have debt when they graduate, and if so, how much? These are the things Gen Z students want to know.

Like these ideas and want to hear more? Get in touch!


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