Field Notes: Tips for connecting with Generation Z

"Field Notes" is an occasional Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at 

by Arnold Arredondo, Ph.D., Dean of Enrollment Management and Christopher Cotton, M.S., Admissions Officer, Baptist College of Health Sciences

What can you do in eight seconds? Can you get dressed in eight seconds? Can you get your kids out of the house in eight seconds (if you can do this, please let me know)? Can you read a book in eight seconds? Eight seconds doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but that is the average attention span of Gen Z students.

Gen Z students communicate in bite sizes. But don’t misunderstand the eight second span as being easily distractible. They are able to process more information at faster speeds, including multitasking on five devices at one time.

They also use the internet as a way to gain access to information quickly and tend to favor visual images. This generation has grown up in a time when it is trendy to be in the public eye. By living and breathing social media, it has made them more conscious of marketing ploys and traditional advertisements.

Characteristics of Gen Z

  • They are applying to more colleges than previous generations. 50% of Gen Z will be college educated compared to 33% of Millennials.
  • Parents have a strong influence in making career-related decisions.
  • They are social media natives and would rather listen to an “influencer” than an expert.
  • Gen Z has seen previous generations take on excessive debt.  As a result, they are not as driven by brand names. Cost and value is a top concern.

Marketing to Gen Z

Are Gen Z students hearing your message?  They are turned off by traditional marketing methods and believe ads are disruptive.  Here are some tips:

  • A marketing plan for adult learners is not as effective for Gen Z prospects. Develop two marketing plans with one specifically designed for Gen Z.
  • Make your college website mobile-friendly. Don’t use stock photos. They equate them as fake.
  • Keep marketing pieces clean and to the point. They dislike clutter and lots of facts!
  • Have a social media strategy that includes moments for engagement and not just a flurry of advertisements.

Communicating with Gen Z

So how do you communicate with Gen Z students? Below are some examples that can be used as a part of your communication plan or tour.

What do they want to hear? (think students!)

  • Testimonies from influencers, i.e. your student ambassadors or alumni
  • Use your talking points as a guide, but allow moments for authentic conversation. They want a chance to share their own story.
  • Communicate in “snackable content.”  Lots of information and facts has the opposite effect on Gen Z. They will quickly lose interest!
  • Do not treat them like customers.

And what do they need to hear? (think parents!)

  • Parents are actively involved in the college search process. Talk about value first! They want to know what value/values set your college apart.
  • Talk about career outcomes second, i.e. job placements, internships, etc.
  • On a tour? Make it worth their time. Give them information that they cannot get from a brochure.  Sitting in on a class, meeting with a professor, or interacting with one of your student ambassadors are great ideas!

Don’t get too overwhelmed by all the technology and social media platforms. Technology is second nature to Gen Z, but the guiding factor is that they appreciate authentic interactions… which cost virtually nothing!