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The melt dilemma: what are Gen Z’s doubts all about?

three people working off a single laptop

Let’s set the scene: High school graduation day has come and gone. Adulthood is upon them, and that monumental decision of where to attend college has officially been made. This is primetime for excitement, imagination, and anxiety to kick in.

Incoming Gen Z students have a lot on their minds as they prepare to take the plunge into what’s sure to be the most transformative period of their lives thus far. But what’s occupying the most mental capital?

Marketing and recruiting effectively means listening before acting. While higher ed professionals are on the ground doing their own recon, we decided to zoom in on what it is that 1,200+ Gen Z students in the US are most concerned about right now by conducting a pulse survey.

Here’s a sneak peek of what we learned.

Social scaries

If you attended a higher ed institution, then you’re well aware that hindsight is 20/20. And you may even remember some of the worrisome thought loops that you got caught in leading up to your first days of college.

In retrospect, you’ve probably found that you were stressed over nothing. But to incoming college freshmen, the possibilities are endless, and the fears are all too real.

We asked students to write freely about their greatest pre-arrival concern, and you won’t be surprised to hear that the top answer (at 30%) was “making friends.”

Gen Z may be a fiercely independent generation, but they’re only human. They crave connection, and they’re itching to meet the people they’ll soon share a campus with.

Choosing wisely

Another important Gen Z trait that we picked up on is their ambition. 37% of survey respondents said that career opportunities is a top-three issue when deciding where to study.

Everything from courses to the networks of professors to the internships available plays a part in determining whether or not a school can offer the kind of professional trajectory that a student is after. It’s a crucial factor when it comes to their confidence in their decision, which leads us to another major concern.

You’ll surely remember this one just as well: fear of making the wrong choice about where to study. Gen Z students are especially wary of being blinded by bold advertising that isn’t reflective of the actual experience or outcomes that a college or university can provide.

This tendency to see through the smoke and mirrors of advertising is a learned skill that’s become second nature due to constant run-ins with brands and companies that don’t live up to the hype.

As such, they’re committed to hunting down the truth—learning as much as possible about the reality of what their life will be like on campus. They want to dive below the surface and glimpse that realistic picture from someone who’s already in it.

Where admins come in

Permitted to choose as many options as they liked, survey respondents reported on what would most alleviate their fears about beginning their college experience.

More information (40%) and more support from administrators (31%) cracked the list, but the top spot was secured by student connections at 51%.

And it’s clear to see why.

Building connections with peers ahead of time means built-in friendships upon arrival. Social media platforms, student-to-student engagement tools, and online school communities are all key digital channels where students can interact to establish those relationships, thus ticking off a huge box for incoming students.

Connecting with current students also offers prospective students the chance to hear from someone who’s actually living their future in the present moment. It’s an invaluable perspective that has the potential to squash even the greatest pessimist’s doubts.

For higher ed admissions, recruitment, and marketing practitioners, melt season (the post-enrollment period in which universities sometimes lose students) is no joke.

But—as communicated by the students themselves—student connections have the power to save the day, and save their spot for the fall.



To read more insights from Gen Z, check out our 2022 student pulse report.

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