How to Market to Gen Z Prospective Students

Written by Heather Mueller on June 11, 2019

Posted in Education

There’s nothing new about fine-tuning strategies for the next wave of prospective college students. Higher education institutions are certainly used to adapting their approaches to meet the needs of new generations.

But still, this is different. For the first time, you’re talking to students whose expectations have been shaped almost entirely by digital experiences. On the one hand, Generation Z is incredibly connected. On the other, these young adults want to hear from universities on their terms.

This dichotomy is creating all kinds of challenges for college admissions, as everyone from directors to deans are attempting to navigate a new world of automation and personalization.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach—every student is an individual, of course, and each one is shaped by his or her own unique experiences—there are commonalities that can influence what you do to meet the needs of Gen Z students.

To help, we’ve identified three mission-critical strategies you’ll need when marketing to prospective students in 2019 and beyond.

Customize Student Outreach

First and foremost, today’s prospective students expect to be treated as individuals. They’ve been raised in the age of artificial intelligence and micro moments, where previous purchases and past activities dictate what they’ll see next from marketers.

They’re accustomed to sharing personal information and expect it to be used. Netflix recommends shows, Amazon personalizes product pages, and Instagram suggests posts.

Your prospective Gen Z students have no reason to think universities will be any different. As one expert described it in The New York Times, this is the generation that’s been “sold a lot of stuff” and is wise to both tone and intention. That means it’s not just what you say that’s important, but how you say it.

When a high schooler hears from a college today, there’s an expectation that those social posts, emails, and other forms of communication will be intended for them alone.

Focus on Mobile-First Experiences

Remember when Apple first introduced the iPhone? Around the time you or your colleagues were lining up to buy one, members of Gen Z were still learning how to read and write. In other words, these digital natives have always had the help of smartphones. And they’re going to be using them to research, explore, and navigate your institution as well.

According to Google research, today’s teens rely on their smartphones more than any other device. One survey found that most Generation Z students consider getting their first mobile phone to be a top milestone in life, right next to getting a driver’s license and graduating from high school.

The more you can optimize for smartphones, the better. From mobile-friendly course catalogues and campus maps to specialized smartphone apps for self-guided tours, your prospects are going to be looking for convenient, easy ways to interact with your institution.

Read Next: What’s in Your Higher Ed Recruiting Tech Stack?

Communicate on Their Terms

Last but far from least, study up. There’s only so much that can be gleaned from industry reports and surveys. If you’re going to market effectively to prospective Gen Z students, you’re going to have to use their language. To do that, you’ll need to get to know them.

One of the easiest ways to do that? Be social on social media, and take note of the tone and temperament used by your prospects until you feel comfortable enough to chime in.

Interacting with students on the channels where they’re already active can be a great way to connect with Gen Zers who may tune out emails and other official communication.

Looking for more ways to connect with the next wave of prospective students? Click the link below for expert tips and best practices in a special webinar with admissions directors and marketing pros.


Get the top 2019 higher education admissions marketing trends in our latest on-demand webinar.