Rethink college recruiting to speak to Gen Z on their terms
My son Will, a high school junior, is in the cross-hairs of every Admissions Director from Claremont, California to Waterville, Maine. Since he took the PSATs, he’s received a virtual avalanche of college recruiting communications including viewbooks, brochures, fact-sheets, emails, postcards, letters.
In many ways, he’s a dream prospect for colleges. He’s in the top 10% of his class and scored high on standardized tests. He also plays sports and is active in school clubs. He’s a smart, self-directed kid who will thrive in college and his family can afford to pay full price.
Naturally, he’s excited about college and wants to make the right choice.
He has a problem, though, and his problem will quickly become a nightmare for the colleges trying to inspire him to consider applying.
College Recruiting Communications Missing Their Mark
After looking at the first few emails and brochures that came to him, he now deletes or throws 99% of them away unread.
The first time I saw Will “sorting” his mail over our recycling bin, I asked him why he wasn’t reading what colleges were sending him.
“They’re all the same,” he said. “‘Our school this’ and ‘our school that.’ Everything looks perfect, nothing looks or sounds real. And there’s way too much to read.”
And this sentiment comes from a kid who likes to read books!
“I have enough reading to do every night, mom. I don’t need another homework assignment.”
When I took a look at some of the materials and agreed, he was right. They all felt the same. Good looking kids, stately buildings and lots of blah, blah, blah. When I went up to his room and asked what he wanted from schools, I got an earful.
7 Key Takeaways for Recruitment Communications
Here are 7 key takeaways for colleges and universities about how to make recruitment communications more appealing to Gen Z:
- “Show me what real students are like—better yet, let them do the talking.”
- “I want to look not read. Send me videos, pictures. I’ll read the headlines, but not much else; don’t bother with all that text.”
- “If you want to send me stuff in the mail, make it look and feel different. Put it in a box. Make it bigger. Have things fold out, or slide open.”
- “Laptops are for homework. Everything I care about comes through my phone. Send me a text. Have your website work like an app.”
- “Let me connect with real students through Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.”
- “I like video games, so design a game where I play and learn about your school.”
- “Virtual Reality is cool. But don’t take me on a boring campus tour—I want to see where kids are hanging out, catch an interesting class, and go to games.”
Institutions need to think very carefully about how they are investing their communications budgets. If dream students like Will are ignoring 99% of what you send, is the avalanche of brochures, viewbooks, etc., really the most effective way to inspire their interest?
Seeing the consequences played out every day, with my own child, drove the importance of asking this question home like nothing else could.
Want to be in the 1% Will gets excited about? Take what Will says seriously. Schools that speak to Gen Z on their terms are making their enrollment numbers.
You can find more insights and ideas to use at your school at EdwardsCo…
- Read our next Listen to Will Series blog post: Forget Email, Viewbooks, and Laptops – Go Phone-First.
- Learn more about how our approach to creative communications can help you reach and engage your target audience.
- Contact us to talk more about your recruitment marketing challenges.