How do you reach the generation that lives life through the lens of their phones?
Gen Z students, born after 1995, want information from schools, but that info has to be delivered in the right tone and through the proper channels in order to reach them. Communicating with Generation Z is a challenge made easier when you relate to their needs.
1. Be authentic
If the current generation of college students is more cynical, it’s hard to blame them. The number of channels for communication have exploded in the last decade, and there are few places a human being can go without being bombarded with messaging. Students receive texts, push notifications, messages, and emails from everywhere - doctors offices, department stores, fitness centers, etc.
Jake Joseph, the Associate Director of Admissions Saint Michael’s College, says that students have to be thick-skinned when it comes to filtering the steady stream of noise that travels to their smartphones.
“They’re getting overloaded with a lot of messaging. I think it’s easy to ignore. It’s really easy to see and believe when something’s not authentic or worth their time. I always talk about the importance of being genuine and authentic, so when you do send out those messages, they understand that they are going to get a response back.” - Jake Joseph
How do you cut through the clutter? Be authentic and helpful. Gen Z students want quick answers to their questions.
Before you send a text or email, ask yourself whether or not the person receiving the message will be grateful for it. When you send fewer messages, you’ll increase the reach and impact of your communications. Students don’t want to know it’s Arbor Day, they want to know if they are missing forms or if deadlines are approaching.
2. Build relationships with stakeholders
Ten years ago, a high school student trying to decide which school to go to would receive emails and maybe a few phone calls. Today, the college search is more personalized. Students are more likely to know their Admissions counselor.
In the search for the right university, Gen Z students will lean on people they trust for information and advice. An admissions staff needs to seek out stakeholders and build relationships. When speaking with guidance counselors and college counselors, it’s important to let them know everything your school has to offer so they can communicate with their students and find the best fit.
In most cases, there’s no greater influence to a student than their parents or guardians. It’s likely that parents are going to be the ones paying for college. So focus in on important topics like financial aid and opportunity. Demonstrate value in your institution and show potential for what is ultimately an investment in their children.
3. Don't underestimate Generation Z
Because of factors such as helicopter parents, stealth fighter parents, and students who stay at home longer, there’s a common misconception that Generation Z is lazy and overly dependent on their guardians. The truth is, schools are finding that Gen Z craves choice, control, activism, and leadership.
“There is an increasing number of students who are more independent and interested in finding things out on their own. We see more students come in who actually want to make an impact. Not only are they helping out, but they want to be leaders.” - Jake Joseph
Give students an opportunity to create something on their own. If they’re involved in their community, let them tell you how they feel they can make a difference. Jake Joseph points to an example of a Saint Michael’s College student who took advantage of the opportunities to enact real change.
“We had an athlete a few years ago who created a ‘Hope Happens Here’ mental health initiative focused around athletes specifically. They got an award for it at the end of the year and got to throw out the first pitch at Fenway Park. We loved to see that students are involved in something, but the fact that they took the next step and were able to lead and be a mentor for someone, I think that is something that really stands out.” - Jake Joseph
4. Keep up appearances
If your staff isn’t doing the work on all digital channels, you’re going to be starting from behind when trying to reach students. Your college’s website is an integral part of the communication process, so audit and update it often. Keeping social media channels updated is also important. 36% of high school seniors visit a school’s Instagram channel to get information.1
5. Use memes, if you usually use memes
Memes have become mainstream for every generation. But there’s still a question of whether or not they should be used in formal communication. That, of course, depends on the school, the situation, and the individual person crafting the message. There’s no hard and fast rule on meme usage, but schools are using them effectively.
“It’s absolutely okay to have fun. There is that professional level of fun. Memes, emojis, things of that nature, if that’s something you would do, I would say that you should do it. If it’s something you wouldn’t normally do, and it’s clear in your delivery and how it’s coming across, and you’re trying to be edgy or cool, it comes off that way.”
- Jake Joseph
If you’re authentic to who you are, that helps create an atmosphere that students want to be a part of.
6. Create value
This is an entire generation that has watched the generation before it struggle with student loan debt. If you’re trying to recruit someone from Generation Z, make them aware of every resource your college has to help them succeed. Career-prep resources and post-graduation job placement rates should be easy to find in your content.
7. Concentrate on what you CAN control
Sometimes the reasons why a student selects a school are completely out of your control. You can’t change your school’s geographic location. You can’t stem the tide of students following the popular kid in class to a different institution. You can, however, make yourself available for opportunities to connect with the students who would be a great fit for your school.
Having good relationships with stakeholders like guidance counselors is a great first step. It’s also crucial to capitalize on important touch points with the right approach. Use your messaging to offer guidance and help. Give students confidence that they’re choosing the right school.