College Tour What Gen Z wants from their college education might be quite different than what parents consider important. Learn how understanding those priorities might benefit your child.

As a backdrop, bear in mind that this generation is growing up with a higher percentage of parents holding college degrees. Given that so many parents went to college themselves, they could think it will be similar to their own experience. Therefore, it could be easy to overlook how much the college landscape is shifting. However, so much has changed in terms of what to learn, how to learn, and what to get out of a college education.

A great deal of the college statistics about Gen Z (aka iGen), centers around new learning approaches, technology shifts, and career directions. All of these topics influence the way that colleges and universities are evolving.



Gen Z and College 

Priorities shape each generation. Colleges and universities must adapt to the goals and expectations of each generation and Gen Z is no exception.

First and foremost, as pointed out earlier, this generation is quite different from their parents’ generation and even their close millennials. As a parent, if you understand your child’s goals and priorities, you can assist them in finding the right college, help them navigate a career direction, and help maximize the whole college experience.

College readiness is more than just academic preparedness, so it is important to prepare for this important transition early on. Gen Z is doing that in many ways. Gen Z is highly committed to learning, they know how to learn independently, and they are highly adept at technology.

In addition, when you think about how practical this generation is and how they might even be juggling both a college education and perhaps even a business venture, colleges will need to make learning both practical and applied.

So, now let’s turn to some of the priorities this generation has in mind as they enter colleges and universities. The following priorities below were largely gleaned from research conducted by Pew Research Center and The Annie E. Casey Foundation. What do they expect?

  1. Career Oriented Learning – Gen Z views college as a means to a good job and a strong career direction. They want to gain real-world skills and be able to forge a positive financial future in their chosen career. This is reflected in some of the majors of interest, including: Business, Engineering, Computer Science, Health Sciences, Journalism, Communications, Biological and Biomedical, Visual and Performing Arts, and Education.
  2. Practical and Pragmatic – The impact of the Great Recession makes this generation extra focused on money matters. Being able to pay off college debt looms large for this generation and helps explain their focus on preparing for a career. They want to gain practical skills that mirror professional work, rather than simply master academic subjects. For example, if they study business, they could be thinking about a career in accounting, marketing, finance, or economics.
  3. Social Interaction – Interacting directly or online, working in teams, collaborating, are all very important to Gen Z. They value working with friends, group discussions, presentations, and interacting with professors.
  4. Integrated Learning – Growing up under the umbrella of the internet, Gen Z views learning as highly integrated. They do not draw neat lines between academics, social, and career interests. In addition, they look for intersections between subjects. For instance, by taking STEM classes in high school, they can begin to prepare for college and future careers.
  5. Enjoyable Learning Experiences – As students, this generation knows learning can be fun and interactive. They expect professors to use a combination of tools, such as: technology, personalized assistance, and hands-on learning.
  6. Challenge Oriented  – This is a generation that will rise to challenge. They are used to gathering their own information and trust their abilities to make their own decisions.
  7. Technology Driven –  As digital natives, they expect technology to play an instrumental role in their educational experience. This would include: study materials online, DVD Smartboards, digital textbooks, videos, and learning websites. If they become accustomed to how technology shapes teaching and learning in high school, all the better.
  8. Opportunities to Self-Educate – Their self-reliance puts them in a unique position to learn independently using a variety of methodologies. This is in sharp contrast to generations that relied more on friends or family members. This generation is taking the lead in their own learning.
  9. Experiences to Co-Create Content – Gen Z has the confidence and research skills to collaborate with their professors and peers to co-create content. This does not exclude the use of traditional learning materials, but will necessitate a broader view of digital opportunities.
  10. Inclusion – They expect colleges to appreciate diversity, be inclusive, and make colleges both affordable and accessible.


Gen Z College Statistics 

Barnes & Noble College conducted a survey and reported their findings in an article entitled “Getting to Know Gen Z Learners.” As cited below, their Gen Z college statistics reflect a very high commitment to learning, college education, gaining a career, and the use of social interactions and technology to have a positive educational experience.

  • 89% rated a college education as valuable
  • 82% plan to go directly from high school to college
  • 77% plan to attend a four-year college or university
  • 49% have already taken a class for college credit (older teens)
  • 35% more than one-third of Gen Z students currently own their own business or plan on having one in the future
  • 80% prefer to study with friends
  • 51% prefer to learn by doing
  • 64% like websites with study materials for classroom learning
  • 84% think smart boards are helpful education technology tools

Now, let’s analyze just what these findings might mean to your child as they head off to college. First, it will be important to find the right college fit. For some, this could mean a small liberal arts college, whereas for others, it could mean a private or public university.

Once enrolled, Gen Z college students will also be weighing the best way to pursue a career based on their major or perhaps how they will grow or start a business.

If college isn’t the chosen path following high school, some will lower their cost by taking online classes while others will take gap years to gain work experience. In addition, there is also a growing trend in the U.S. toward trade and vocational directions, which will require more internships and on-the-job training programs.

One of the most interesting statistics from the above data demonstrates the drive and initiative of this generation pertaining to business ownership. With over a third interested in business ownership, this begs the question, will this mean more interest in business as a major? Perhaps, but this is perhaps too limited a view. When you consider their various interests, there could be much more at play here.

If this trend continues, students should begin early to develop business and leadership skills. One way to accomplish this is through participation in an Interact Club in high school and college. As part of Rotary International, this organization has over a million business and professional members.

Regardless of their chosen professional direction, Gen Z will need to expand their framework of knowledge, get an edge on the work world prior to college graduation, and develop the financial resources to help offset college costs.

This is why, not only colleges, but some private high schools are providing academic classes, clubs, and programs aligned with career interests and careers in demand.

At one boarding school for boys in California, for example, students can learn how to become a pilot, how to do computer coding and programming, learn about cyber security, conduct scientific research like the pros, and acquire leadership and management skills.

In conclusion, as a parent, regardless of your own personal views and college experiences, remember to be responsive to your child’s college priorities. This is a new generation with a very different worldview and educational perspective.

By assisting your child in choosing a college well-aligned with a career or business interest and teaching them practical life skills, you will help your child carve out a bright and productive future.