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What Gen Z wants from a higher education website: a marketing manager’s guide

Tanya Threlfall

It can be difficult to market higher education to Generation Z. They are digital natives who have grown up with technology at their fingertips; they don’t remember life without smartphones, and have been using touch screens since they were toddlers. Additionally, they are coming of age in a time of economic uncertainty. They are also the most diverse and educated generation yet. They are sophisticated about technology. 

As such, it’s no surprise that this generation has different expectations when it comes to higher education. So, how do you reach them? How do you market to Generation Z in a way that resonates? 

The first step is understanding what they want from higher education. Here are four key things that Generation Z is looking for when choosing a college or university:

  1. Affordable tuition
  2. A collaborative learning environment
  3. Technology-enabled learning
  4. Flexible learning options 

So how can your college/university website support them in their efforts? Let’s address these one by one.

  1. Affordable tuition: The cost of higher education is a major concern for Generation Z. They are more likely to research the net price of attendance before applying to schools. Highlight any financial aid or scholarship opportunities that your school offers. Outline all the costs: textbooks, meal plans, any additional fees, etc. Lay it all out. The more transparent, the better. This is a great place to consider statistics or infographics as visual content.
  2. A collaborative learning environment: Generation Z wants to be able to collaborate with their peers and professors, even if only online. They are used to working in teams and they crave social interaction. When marketing your higher education website to Gen Z, be sure to emphasize any opportunities for collaboration, such as group projects, study abroad programs, or study groups on campus in cool locations.
  3. Technology-enabled learning: This generation has grown up with technology, so it’s no surprise that they want their learning experiences to be technology-enabled. Highlight any tech-savvy features, such as online classes or mobile apps. 
  4. Flexible learning options: Generation Z values flexibility and they want their higher education experiences to reflect that. They are more likely than any other generation to take classes online or pursue an alternative educational path, such as a gap year or MOOCs. In fact, according to eLearning Industry, 43% of Gen Zers say they would take an online course if it were offered by their dream school. So find a way on your website to market and highlight any flexible learning options that your school offers. 

Keep in mind there are other needs that this generation has as well, and your website can support these efforts: 

  1. Personalization: Gen Zers are accustomed to being able to customize their experiences, whether it’s the music they listen to or the news they read. This need for customization extends to their education as well. Find ways to make the website customized to them, which could be as simple as giving them skin options they can choose for their interface, branded video backgrounds, or what widgets they can have on the school website once they log in (like weather reports or lunch menus). With third-party cookie tracking going away, building a 1:1 relationship-based personalization strategy will benefit you in the long run. 
  2. Social Media Presence: Since social media is such a huge part of Gen Zers’ lives, it’s no surprise that they want colleges and universities to have a strong social media presence. In fact, 78% of prospective students say that a school’s social media presence would influence their decision about whether or not to apply there. Platforms like TikTok and Instagram offer an excellent way for colleges and universities to give Gen Zers a behind-the-scenes look at life on campus and show them what makes their school unique. Think about how to best incorporate social media into your website presence in order to achieve your goals, whether they are for general brand recognition or campaigns around a particular event.
  3. Mobile-first is critical: this should be very obvious, but it’s so important we’ll state it again. The mobile version of your site has to be very user-friendly and highly performant (don’t let any page take more than 3 seconds to load). When making any tweaks or improvements to your site, always check it on mobile devices. Use PageSpeed to check the load time on all heavily-trafficked pages. . 

Make sure you know what your users want from your website.

Marketing teams in higher education need to be aware of these key differences in order to appeal to this demographic. By understanding what Generation Z wants from their college experience, you can craft a marketing strategy for your website that will attract the best and brightest students from this tech-savvy generation.