Millennials might be the hottest topic of discussion shaping many product discussions, but not when it comes to going off to college. No, for college admissions, the hottest topic is Generation Z–and with good reason. Gen Z is headed to college, but they’re determined not to make the same mistakes as their predecessors–and as a result, they’re using their smarts and savvy to redefine the way they approach that time at school.
A Means to an End
For members of Generation Z, college isn’t just about four years of experience–though they’re certainly interested in what it has to offer. Instead, they consider college a means to an end: the gateway to their future careers and a process that they must follow in order to meet future goals. As a result, Generation Z tends to be very practical about their college choices–but that doesn’t mean that they’re willing to miss out on the other things they want most from the process, either. Members of Gen Z are genuinely worried about maintaining financial stability throughout their adult lives. As such, they’re willing to dig in hard in order to accomplish their educational goals. They’ve seen the effects of financial difficulties on the generations before them, and like the millennials who came before, they’re willing to work hard in order to ensure that they don’t have to face those struggles head-on.
The Search for Immersive Educational Experiences
51% of the members of Generation Z admit that they prefer active, immersive learning experiences to passive learning. They don’t want to sit at a desk, listening to someone else lecture them about the topics they’re passionate about. Instead, they want to get hands-on–and it’s shaping the way they approach college. Generation Z students want colleges where they can:
- Get their hands dirty as they dive in with research
- Find new ways to engage their bodies and their minds through sports, clubs, and organizations
- Volunteer their time and energy through community connections and volunteer opportunities
- Engage in active learning opportunities
Savvy schools are offering Generation Z students more opportunities to engage with their studies and discover more about the topics that matter to them. Not only that, there’s a shift from lecture-format classes to classes that allow these passionate students to take a closer look at things in their own way: hands-on science classes, online modules that allow them to explore deeper, and research-based assessments that allow them to delve deeper into the topics that fascinate them.
Generation Z has also learned that learning doesn’t have to be a solo proposition. In many cases, they’re looking to embrace collaborative learning opportunities, working together to better themselves and achieve the results they’re after. This generation doesn’t shy away from group work; instead, they enjoy the opportunity to share the learning experience with their peers, both giving and receiving help in the effort to complete projects, reach their goals, and achieve those important milestones. That doesn’t mean, however, that these students are stuck sitting in the library for hours every evening! Instead, they’re embracing learning through technology: connecting through Skype, using shared Google Docs to take notes while they’re in class together, and completing projects during online chat sessions. On the other hand, it’s important that teachers not write off face-to-face communication altogether: even these digital natives prefer face-to-face communication, choosing it as their #1 form of communication when asked.
All professors claim to care about their students, but it doesn’t take long for students to see right through the ones who care more about their subjects and their tenured positions than they do about the students sitting in their classrooms. Generation Z students are looking for authenticity: professors and campus staff who will be real with them, teach them what they need to know, and genuinely care about their educational progress. They’ll take the professors who have high knowledge in their subjects for what they’re worth, but they’d rather have professors who are willing to get to know them in order to improve their ability to reach their educational goals.
The Importance of Technology
Millennials were one of the first generations to fully embrace technology, but members of Generation Z have grown up as digital natives. They’re perfectly comfortable with technology, have been using it all their lives, and have a specific set of expectations when it comes to how colleges and universities will use the technology that powers their educational experience. Savvy colleges will quickly discover that members of Generation Z are picky about the way technology is used, both throughout the recruiting process and once they head off to college.
College websites matter. Generation Z’s college search may well start and end online–and yes, they’re judging college and university websites! A bad experience with a website can turn students off of the college altogether. They want responsive pages that are easy to access and use from mobile devices, intuitive designs, and quick responses when they have questions about what they’ve seen. Just like a store’s website is the first vehicle for communicating with customers, a college’s website is its first opportunity to connect with students–and websites that fail to make the cut won’t draw in interested students as effectively.
Classroom tools must include technology. Generation Z is comfortable with technology in the classroom–in fact, they expect it, and they have a pretty good idea of how using that technology can help make their lives easier. Colleges who hope to appeal to members of Generation Z must go beyond allowing technology to embracing it and using those vital tools to add to the college experience for these students.
Professors need to be comfortable with the technology they’re using. While Generation Z may show some sympathy for that kindly old professor who struggles to use the latest grading app, they don’t have a lot of patience for that struggle, either. They want to attend universities where their professors are proficient in the technology that makes their lives easier and more convenient.
E-Learning Steps to the Stage
Many members of Generation Z may bypass the college campus structure altogether. Some of them have already attended online high schools. Others have done the research and, as great as the full college opportunity sounds, they see the advantages of attending college online–often in a way that never requires them to set foot on a campus. They’re looking for online learning opportunities that will allow them to get the same immersive experience they would receive inside the classroom, but without the frustration of scheduling classes around the rest of their lives. E-learning also provides students with the change to pursue their dream careers in spite of life requirements and expectations–many of which may make it difficult for students to attend classes on a traditional schedule.
Generation Z students are self-motivated enough to take on those e-learning challenges, too. 85% of them admit that they’ve watched an online video to learn how to do something new in just the past week. They’re ready to dig in and get to know what they need to know in order to achieve their educational goals whether there’s a professor standing in front of the room or not.
Skipping College Altogether: The Gen Z Trend
Of course, the prevalence of new learning opportunities like those offered by an online education aren’t enough to convince every member of Generation Z to go the college route. Many members of Generation Z have observed the massive amounts of student debt accumulated by the generations before them–particularly by millennials, who will find themselves struggling to pay off their student loans for many years to come. As a result, members of Generation Z are carefully evaluating whether or not college is really for them–and in many cases, college isn’t making the cut. Instead, they’re aiming for job experience, certifications gained through self-study, workshops, and vocational professions that don’t require a four-year degree–many of which will allow them to jump into their preferred professions faster than if they went the traditional college route. This highly effective tactic will reduce the amount of debt that Gen Z will carry into their adult lives–and it means that colleges have to have enough of an appeal to convince students that it’s worth carrying that debt. For students who are seeking vocational professions, college has little appeal. Those who want into career fields that require a degree, on the other hand, understand the competition that goes along with it, and they’re approaching that competition with a deep desire to learn and a hefty dose of fire.
Generation Z is redefining the way they view college–and the way the generations after them will approach this critical post-high school period of education. They’re looking for an experience that will take them the extra mile: schools that will provide them with the high quality of education they need in order to excel in their chosen fields, yes, but also schools that are willing to work side-by-side with them to provide immersive experiences. They’ll work hard, play hard, and embrace as many opportunities as possible that are offered by their school of choice, and they’ll do it with their technology firmly in hand.