Move over, Millennials. Generation Z is the next generation that colleges and universities should be focusing on for recruiting strategies. They make of 24.3% of the population – more than Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers – and have an estimated $3 trillion in purchasing power. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of Gen Z grew up with cell phones and can’t remember a time without the internet. Unlike millennials who were considered “digital pioneers”, Gen Z are digital natives, meaning they are the very first generation to grow up with social technology throughout their entire development.

Now that the first “class” of Gen Z has graduated college, many organizations have done studies and surveys to understand what makes Gen Z different from other generations. They communicate almost entirely through their screens and think it’s “acceptable” to use a smartphone anywhere (weddings, dinner, etc.). One study showed that their constant exposure to screens has led to shorter attention spans, stunted social skills, and a heightened ability to multitask.

Compared to their millennial counterparts, members of Gen Z are not as optimistic, having grown up during the recession and student debt crisis. In a national survey conducted every year, 55% of high school seniors in 2016 said they were willing to work overtime to do a good job—up from 44% of millennial teens in 2004. They are resistant to accruing any type of debt, especially student loan debt. In fact, 66% of Generation Z say that their top concern is college debt. Because of this, they plan to research and compare costs with a tool that is nearest and dearest to their hearts – the internet.

Gen Z doesn’t only expect transparency, they are transparent too. Compared to previous generations, they don’t mind sharing their personal information and prefer that brands and organizations use that information to tailor their communications to them. They don’t mind receiving texts or notifications if it’s personalized to them.

So what does it take to effectively recruit members of Gen Z for college? We compiled six recruitment strategies that relate directly to their behaviors, preferences, and perspectives. By employing the strategies below, you can ensure that your college or university is catching the eye of Gen Z.


  1. Stand out – on the smartphone.

Gen Z is much more mobile-focused than their millennial counterparts. Some even say that Gen Z isn’t mobile-first, they’re “mobile only”. Studies show they spend an average of 15.4 hours/week on their smartphone, compared to only 10.6 hours/week on their laptop. When it comes to social platforms, they prefer Snapchat and Instagram (more mobile-focused channels). Teens are doing everything on their smartphone – from watching videos to communicating through messaging apps to shopping.

If this tells us anything, it’s that designing content for mobile must be a part of your recruitment strategy. That means not just making your website mobile-friendly, but prioritizing the mobile experience over the desktop experience. Many institutions have created their own apps for recruitment content like viewbooks.

Since we know exactly where Gen Z is consuming content, it makes it easier to communicate with them. In fact, Gen Z is 22% more likely than millennials to prefer in-app notifications. In-app notifications can be utilized to set deadline reminders, notify prospective students when a new video was released, and even to alert them with events/happenings on campus to give them an idea of what they could experience in the future.

In a survey by Ellucian, 85% of students surveyed said that centralized mobile apps eased their transition into college. However, they still think there is more that universities and colleges can do on the mobile front. Members of Gen Z expect a personalized experience, and want colleges to tailor their experience based on personal information like career paths, financial aid, grade tracking, and student. For example, University of Notre Dame’s app, mobileND, which offers resources for maps, calendars, academics, and more, offers a targeted experience by including separate editions for guests, current students, alumni, and friends.


  1. Remember, peer approval is everything.

As proven with their strong connection to social media, peer “approval” is huge factor in decision-making for Gen Z.

Google recently released on study on Gen Z that took a look what they thought was “cool”.  The study showed that the number one reason a product is considered “cool” is if friends are talking about it (followed by whether they see an ad on it and if it’s personalized to them). For Gen Z, they don’t look to celebrities that are far from reality – they look to Instagram and YouTube influencers, many whom are their peers.

Peers also come into play when it comes to Gen Z learning styles. Gen Z embraces peer to peer learning – with 80% reporting they study with friends and classmates and enjoy to ability to get different perspectives, according to a recent report by Barnes and Noble.

Colleges are taking notice of the large influence peers have on college decisions, especially for Gen Z. Some colleges of begun peer-to-peer recruiting, where prospective students have the chance to meet with current students during visits to campus, allowing them to ask questions about college life, academics, and the culture of the campus. Technology is also enabling this trend, allowing prospective students to connect with current students through a structured call on Skype or FaceTime.


  1. Ditch the boilerplate, be authentic.

Report after report will tell you that members of Gen Z hold authenticity in the highest regard. In fact, 67% of Gen Z said being true to their values and beliefs makes a person cool. When it comes to companies and organizations, they see right through the stock photos and generic messaging – they want to be a part of a mission they can believe in. They look for social responsibility, respect for the environment, and won’t go somewhere or buy something without reading reviews.

What does this mean for higher education? They want to see real students, and hear real stories that will give them insight into what it’s like to attend your college or university. Hearing from real students allows them to “see reviews” on your institution. Featuring stories of real students, whether it’s through a blog, a video, or on social media channels, is the key to telling an authentic story. For example, Tufts’ Admissions department has a blog, Jumbo Talk, that features current students where they address topics like developing their career identity, their current experience at Tufts, and even difficulties they’ve come across. To take it a step further and really cater to Gen Z, colleges can take this “student blog” format and turn each blog into a short video to feature on YouTube or Instagram.


  1. Instill a sense of identity.

For Gen Z, ideas of identity are extremely important to them. They are driven by purpose, justice-minded, and want the opportunity to make an impact. According to a recent report, 60% of Gen Z want to change the world, compared to just 39% of millennials. Gen Z is also more global-minded compared to previous generations, and is the most diverse generation to date.

Instagram is a great way to reach Gen Zs and tell your brand story. For Gen Z, Instagram captions are much more meaningful than the pictures themselves. Brands like NASA,, and the New York Public Library all utilize Instagram to tell meaningful stories that showcase their overall mission and impact on the community around them. Think about what your college’s values are and how you want to be portrayed, and then begin to brainstorm stories that support that image. For example, if your school is focused on research, then featuring stories of research projects that have had impactful results could be a great place to start. If you have unique programs at your school that involve entrepreneurship, global influence, or ways to make an impact, be sure to feature those on social media. Giving students ways to connect with your campus’ identity and mission is key to recruiting Gen Zs. They want to see themselves in the brand your college or university is portraying.


  1. Show, not tell.

Compared to the previous generation, Gen Z uses social videos to consume content. They are more heavily active on video channels such as YouTube, Snapchat, and Vine. In fact, YouTube was considered their favorite website, compared to Amazon for millennials, and 70% watch an average of 2 hours of YouTube videos each day.

If video is not already a part of your recruitment content strategy, it must be. Ideally, you can create short videos on a frequent basis to keep students engaged. While frequent videos may seem resource intensive, they don’t have to be. Remember, Gen Zs want authenticity, so while we don’t suggest a shaky, dim lit video, you can still record videos from your iPhone of campus tours, a quick in-classroom experience, or even capture a great view from your campus.

While it’s important to keep your video brief and to the point, it’s also important to be unique and speak to your audience. For example, the Cleveland Institute of Art does a great job at speaking to their audience in their admissions video and focusing in on a “unique, authentic, and diverse” brand.


  1. Get to the point, quickly.

Considering Gen Z has an average attention span of 8 seconds, you should try to deliver value with your content within the first 8 seconds. While it can be difficult to create an 8 second video, focus on capturing their attention in those first 8 seconds. For example, in a recruiting video for Forman School, a college preparatory school, they deliver the “punch line” within the first few seconds, starting the video with a student’s video saying “There’s a lot of things I love about Forman.” From that first sentence, you can tell the video is going to feature students explaining what they love about the school.

Since the internet has always been a part of Gen Zs’ lives, they’ve had instant access to information since they were born. This is a huge factor that colleges should consider when it comes to FAQ pages and answering student questions. If prospective students have questions, they want them answered fast – and they’ll quickly abandon your online chat if responses are too slow. By having a dynamic Q&A tool, like Discover Dynamic Q&A, you can ensure students get their questions answered when they want it, even if you’re short staffed.