Gen Z: How today’s prospective
college students choose a school

In an increasingly global and competitive higher ed climate, understanding how current high school students are researching and choosing an institution is vital – because it has major implications for your marketing efforts. These young men and women of “Generation Z” know exactly what they want. Here are some things you must do if you want them to consider attending your institution.

  1. Emphasize practical skills and post-graduation success statistics. Current high school students have heard horror stories about their predecessors’ massive student loan debt and their struggle to find good entry-level jobs after graduation. More and more of these students are questioning whether going to college will even provide them with a better future. Those that are choosing to pursue a degree are increasingly doing so with a very pragmatic goal in mind: the pursuit of a specific, well-paying career. Students may once have sought “intellectual enrichment” or an overall well-rounded education, an enjoyable learning environment, and “the college experience.” However, as a recent analysis in the Washington Post noted, more and more high school students now believe college is only worth the money if it will guarantee them a well-paying job in the field of their choice. It’s therefore vital that your marketing efforts accentuate and validate your graduates’ career successes.
  2. Deliver learning the way students expect it. Today’s students are also more independent as learners, and more likely to embrace social learning. Having grown up on YouTube DIY videos and online learning platforms like Skillshare and Udemy, as well as peer-to-peer learning, they expect 24/7 access to online tutorials in their areas of interest. This gives for-profit online learning institutions a built-in advantage, and brick-and-mortar schools are scrambling to catch up – with strategies like “flipped classrooms” in which students watch lectures online and attend class for practical exercises, reinforcement, and tutoring. Since students may perceive that colleges and universities are failing to offer these flexible learning options, it’s important to emphasize such capabilities in your institution’s marketing efforts.
  3. Market to students in the places where they’re looking. This same inclination towards independent exploration also shapes how prospective college students are researching their college choices today. According to a Target X report, 75% look for admissions information online, and 80% look for scholarship information online. And what sources do they rely on most when conducting this research?
    • 77% find colleges’ home pages useful.
    • 69% find college review sites useful.
    • 63% have used social media to research a college.
    • 60% have “liked” or “followed” a college that they’re considering.
    • 2 in 5 use social media to help them decide where to enroll – particularly:
      • YouTube – 68%
      • Instagram – 67%
      • Facebook – 63%
      • Snapchat – 42%

    So, it’s important to pay attention to all of these channels in your marketing efforts, and ensure that your brand messaging is being successfully and consistently reinforced.

  4. Pay attention to the mobile experience. Students’ research on colleges is increasingly being performed on smartphones and other mobile devices. Again according to Target X, half of new prospective students access college sites at least weekly from a mobile device, and 1/3 use a mobile device as their primary device for researching colleges. It therefore behooves you to make sure your website is responsive, and easy to scan and navigate.
  5. Deliver prompt and personalized attention. When submitting an inquiry on a college’s website, 60% of prospective students expect a response within a day of contacting a college rep, and 92% would like to see that response tailored to their specific inquiry. So, no matter how accessible, informative, and on-target your online presence may be, it’s equally necessary to back it up with rapid and personalized responses.

We’ve just reviewed the strategies you must employ to capture the attention of today’s prospective students. Our next post will look at the power of first impressions in articulating your brand positioning.

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