The *New Who, What, Where, When and Why for Engaging Gen Z

Their dances may be confusing, and their “fits” may just be every 90s trend re-purposed, but Gen Z is smart. Their preferences are changing how the world communicates and that holds true for higher ed. Gen Z students crave a personalized connection to their institution.  

From choosing a school to enrolling to finishing their degree, Gen Z-ers look for three things in communications: simplicity, consistency and authenticity.  

You may be thinking, “So, how do I make communications with students about missing documents sound authentic?” or, "Completing enrollment steps is anything but simple; how do I overcome that?” The solution to clear communications is not a complicated one. Better communications begin the same way we started writing essays in high school; identifying the who, what, when, where and why.  

Who 

Gen Z students have the most exposure to education of any generation. 78% complete high school, and 57% pursue post-secondary schooling. As thousands of students searched, applied and now attend college, higher ed has been watching. An emerging realization is that the ‘average’ Gen Z student isn’t much different than the Gen Z consumer. Mobile browsing experiences with personalized touches and language make a big impact. The tech-savvy generation also values and seeks out authenticity in brands. Awareness of identity and supporting all student types in communications is an important step higher ed professionals can take to have more meaningful engagement with both prospective and enrolled students.  

What 

Today’s students are eager to visualize themselves at your institutions. Platforms like YouTube and TikTok are wildly popular among Gen Z because they foster simple yet powerful methods of connection. Students want to feel connected to their institution, and that connection can be built early on. Also early in the enrollment stage, Gen Z students are hyper-aware of cost. Enrollment leaders are aware, too, with 73% citing price sensitivity as a reason for lost enrollment. Rising costs of tuition and fees cast a shadow of doubt on many students’ higher ed dreams, but they don’t need to. When discussing the cost of education, it’s equally as important to highlight the value of your institution. Doing so honestly and clearly, especially  around finances and funding opportunities, helps build trust and allows students to visualize a realistic picture of their experience.  

Where 

Gen Z spends 10+ hours a day online. While we’re used to connecting with friends and coworkers via email and Facebook, this isn’t where you’ll find today’s students. Look to high-quality digital platforms. This is where Gen Z spends their time connecting with brands, their peers, and now – your school. Companies like Snapchat might be doing the hard work for you with geotags on your campus and student-led accounts.  

If diving into the world of TikTok and Snapchat isn’t your style, there’s another critical communication platform that Gen Z lives by: Their mobile devices.  

Your financial aid and enrollment teams can connect with students via text with important resources and deadlines. CampusLogic’s partner institutions have seen engagement success in creative campaigns around FAFSA completion and award acceptance. One component of these campaigns is utilizing non-text content like GIFs and emojis. Renowned Gen Z expert Ryan Jenkins spoke to the power of visual communication in his recent webinar on attracting, leading and retaining Gen Z. Check out his talk for more tips on where to meet students in your communications. 

When 

When communicating with Gen Z, timing is everything. With access to their entire life on a phone and after more than a year of virtual learning, Gen Z students expect speediness and consistency. 47% say they expect the ability to get answers via online chat services. But the biggest challenge for institutions is that there likely isn’t a team providing personalized student answers 24/7. This is where a virtual assistant or chatbot comes in handy.  

Expanding your communications outside of the traditional nine-to-five provides a student experience that parallels some of the best customer service teams in the corporate world. The average student is opening your award and financial information at around 10 p.m. It’s critical to have that virtual assistant ready to advise students with personalized answers.   

Why 

Not only is Gen Z the most digital and educated generation, but they are also extremely diverse. Students are passionate about more than just their education. They’re looking to improve their communities, begin their careers early and become financially stable. For first-generation, low-income and other historically excluded students, the way you engage with them will be their path to a degree.  

It’s time to shift to clear, personalized communications.  

As your team builds a student engagement strategy, always come back to the “why.” Learn more about your role in driving Student Financial Success through clear communications. 

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