Creating a Gen Z-Friendly College Experience (and Website)

Generation “Z”, born between 1997 and 2012, spent their formative years with a world of information at their fingertips. As a result, their awareness of global issues, the realities of life after college, and the importance of a balanced education is more prominent than that of their predecessors. They tend to be harsher critics of the colleges they consider—valuing authenticity, inclusivity, and digital fluency.

Instead of merely chasing the ‘classic college experience,’ they are seeking an environment that offers genuine personal and professional growth, reflects their social and environmental values, provides a supportive and inclusive environment, and is worthy of their investment (or potential long-term debt).

Though the earliest Gen Z students may have graduated college 5 years ago, there are many more to come, with the youngest set to graduate college in the class of 2034. Point being, the trends we’ve observed in college programming and marketing are likely to not only stick around but evolve as Gen Z’s priorities and instincts become more deeply embedded in the culture of higher education. It’s not too late to advance your offerings and website to keep up with (and get ahead of) these shifting viewpoints.

It’s likely your college has already taken some steps toward appealing to this generation of students. Perhaps you’ve upped your social media presence, opened new gathering spaces to foster inclusivity and diversity, or rounded out your programs of accommodation for students facing challenges. While these are noble efforts all, they’re just a few items on the rubric Gen Z prospects evaluate against when vetting their ideal college. Let’s explore a few.

1. Digital Integration

For a generation that has never known a world without the internet, digital integration into their learning experience is non-negotiable. It’s status-quo for Gen Z students to expect seamless access to online learning platforms, resources, and technology that support their educational experience.

They’ve also experienced several years of online education during COVID, becoming acquainted with the benefits and drawbacks of remote learning, which stunted the educational progress of many. So, while they value the flexibility and accessibility that comes with digital learning environments, they understand the importance of proper integration with in-person support and group learning.

Your website and the platforms you use to market and deploy your educational experience should respect this careful balance. In terms of digital marketing tools, you can integrate interactive experiences, 360° campus tours, and detailed information about tech facilities and digital libraries to demonstrate a commitment to integrating technology into the educational experience.

2. Career Preparation and Opportunities

More than any generation before, Gen Z is highly career-focused and practical about their education. In fact, almost a third of Gen Z college students have either delayed their enrollment or taken a gap year, indicating their more measured approach toward higher education.

When they’re ready to enroll, they seek colleges that offer clear paths to employment, including robust career services, internships, co-op programs, and partnerships with industries. In fact, in a study by ECMC Group, less than one-quarter of respondents said a four-year college is the only path to a decent job and many more are open to alternative educational paths like apprenticeships. This generation wants to graduate not just with a degree, but with real-world skills and experiences that will make them competitive in the job market, offering a clear path to erasing their debt (which for 75% of Gen Z is a top concern) or recouping their investment.

It’s likely you already offer these opportunities (if not, now’s a great time to start)—the question is, are you properly communicating them through your website? Dedicated pages for the career services department, industry partnerships, and apprenticeship programs are must-haves. It also helps to show success stories of students who transitioned from earning their degree to their dream career and salary.

3. Mental Health and Well-Being

A recent study highlighted that 42% of Gen Z in America are dealing with a mental health condition such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, or PTSD. Due to their mass interconnectivity and generally more emotionally-aware upbringing, Gen Z students tend to be open about mental health issues and expect their colleges to provide comprehensive support systems. This includes counseling services, stress management programs, and a campus culture that prioritizes mental well-being. Colleges that demonstrate a commitment to supporting the holistic well-being of their students stand out to Gen Z applicants.

Again, your website is an excellent place to establish your dedication to student wellbeing—in your values statements, your resource pages, and your student stories.

4. Sustainability and Social Responsibility

Raised amidst global climate change discussions and social justice movements, many Gen Z students are deeply invested in sustainability and social responsibility. They are drawn to institutions that not only educate on these issues but also actively participate in solutions. This includes sustainability initiatives on campus (such as green buildings, recycling programs, and renewable energy projects), curriculum that integrates social and environmental issues, and opportunities for students to engage in meaningful social impact projects.

On your website, you can keep a regularly updated News section that covers the events of student political action groups, internal initiatives toward equity, inclusion, and sustainability, and even highlights of professors or faculty that are making an impact.

5. Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are more than buzzwords for Gen Z. Instead, they are essential criteria for their college choice. Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation yet, with 48% identifying as non-white​. This generation values diverse perspectives and seeks out institutions that offer a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students, regardless of their background, identity, or beliefs. They look for evidence of this commitment through diverse faculty, inclusive policies, support networks, and a student body comprised of various backgrounds.

Of course, you can rely on drawing from the classic college playbook of highlighting ‘diversity’ on the front page of your brochure—a tactic many consider cliché—or you can ensure that your marketing materials and website accurately reflect the experience you offer to students and the diversity you attract to campus.

Conclusion

By ensuring that your website and on-campus experience reflect the priorities and values of Gen Z, you’ll build a reputation for offering an enriching, supportive, and forward-thinking college experience and create a community that resonates with their aspirations, concerns, and worldview.

As always, we encourage engaging with Gen Z students for feedback on your digital presence, and continually evolving your website to meet their changing needs. In doing so, you not only enhance your institution’s appeal to prospective students but also contribute to their success and well-being during their college years and beyond.

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