Grad Schools Must Change in Pursuit of Gen Z Students
What You Need to Know About Gen Z Graduate Students Now
60% of Gen Z graduate students are the first in their families to attend graduate school, and it stands to reason that many schools have yet to create a game plan for connecting with their younger student audiences.
LaneTerralever partnered with the Convince and Convert team to produce the Grad Student Insights Report: Gen Z in the Driver’s Seat 2022 and uncovered several key themes that help us better understand Gen Z and their student experience. The research seeks to uncover why the up-and-coming generation of potential post-grad students is exploring graduate school differently from their previous generational counterparts.
In this post-pandemic (or nearly post-pandemic) world we’re living in, we’re seeing people from all walks of life show a greater interest in attending grad school. Knowing the pandemic sparked a lot of introspection, it doesn’t come as a surprise that people would be interested in pursuing a way to better themselves through education. However, we’re not just talking about the career students of the past.
This new generation of graduate students has a different perspective on the graduate experience. While they remain engaged and motivated to attend like other generations, the research found that 45% of them would prefer to be fully in-person for their education. This iscompared to 80% of multi-generational respondents that chose an online or hybrid model.
Cross-Generational Motivations and Barriers
Across the generations, we see that motivations and barriers to graduate school are very similar.
According to the research, career advancement is the #1 motivator across all generations, but Gen Z is less interested in earning potential than other generations before them. We also see that Gen Z has chosen to favor “helping careers” such as medical or health programs while other generations find themselves drawn to business or computer science.
It is not unique for Gen Z to be concerned about how to pay for their schooling. However, unlike other generations, 90% of Gen Zers stated that they would need to rely on some sort of financial assistance in order to attend the graduate school program they are interested in. This leaves an open opportunity for higher education institutions to be very clear about the types of financial support that are available as a gateway to enrollment for this generation.
In addition to financial considerations, the access and delivery of education have garnered increased importance post-pandemic. 47% of respondents said that program delivery is much more important to them for their graduate experience than it was in undergrad. Also, 39% of students say that they care about a school’s location and proximity to home more now than they did in undergrad. This is important when creating messages for these audiences about your institution. Providing clarity for students on what they can expect from the experience as a whole will be essential to capturing today’s higher education students.
Reaching the Gen Z Graduate Student
First and foremost, remember these students are real people, and they want to know what their experience will actually be like if they choose your institution to continue their education.
We found that size of the school was less important to potential students than your brand itself, with 79% saying prestige is a somewhat to a very important factor in selecting a school. The message you are sending is incredibly important, but where and how you’re engaging these students is critical, too.
Most Millenial and Gen Z respondents said alumni networks are important in getting messages out about furthering education. However, this similarity does not carry over to other communication channels. While Millennials felt that social media was integral to their decision-making, Gen Z found that while fun, most higher ed social lacks the authenticity they are looking for, choosing to favor strategic influencer communication to help them make a decision. Leaning into real stories from faculty and students can help bridge the authenticity gap and provide valuable informative content to all potential students, especially Gen Z.
In addition to communication considerations, the decision window is also shrinking with newer generations. 71% of students said they spent between one month and up to one year researching before making a program decision – but Gen Z’s decision window is much tighter with 47% saying they would decide in 3 months or less.
This condensed window means the expectation of communication has changed. In fact, 60% of students expect a response the same day they reach out to an institution. Then, only 64% say that a school’s communication has met their expectations. This leaves open opportunities for higher ed to improve on their interactions with prospective students.
The Next Generation of Graduate Students Awaits
Knowing these up-and-coming generations and their specific needs is essential to take them from prospective students to enrolled and engaged. We know that their needs differ from generations before them, but many of their needs echo what we’ve seen before. As we wade through what future generations will require, one fundamental perspective remains–there is no universal truth when it comes to graduate students. Being able to redesign your recruitment strategies to align with new generations and various life stages will be the driver of success.
There are great opportunities for improvement identified in the report, so take a look and see how to improve the student experience.