Incoming traditional undergraduate students are members of Generation Z. Born between 1995 and the mid-2000s, this is the first generation of true digital natives. They’ve been immersed in the virtual world as far back as they can remember and are fluent in digital communication.

It should come as no surprise that these individuals have their own refined preferences for communicating, whether it be with their friends, their favorite store or a potential college. The traditional methods of institutions communicating with college students are no longer effective. In order to command their attention and influence their actions, schools need to renovate their communication strategies.

We spoke with Paul Kramer, Director of Student Experience at Collegis Education, to learn more about communicating with today’s college students. Keep reading to learn more about the communication habits of tomorrow’s college students and how they can help level up your admissions practices.

3 Key insights about the communication preferences of Gen Z students

Today’s prospective students have their own approach to navigating their college search, and with it, their own preferences for communication and engagement. EAB Enrollment Services released a student communication survey in 2019 that provides insight into these preferences. We’re diving deeper into some of the key findings based on the survey.

1. Social media engagement is stronger than ever

Prospective students have grown more comfortable interacting with higher ed institutions over social media, especially on Instagram. Some students use social media to engage, others use it to research colleges.

According to the report, prospective students from lower-income families and a majority of those who identify as African American or Latino were significantly more likely to have discovered a college on social media compared to their classmates. This suggests that institutions should consider focusing on social media as a platform for reaching underrepresented demographics.

2. Web chats are convenient

More and more organizations are incorporating live web chat functions on their websites. Whether it’s a chatbot, a live representative or a combination of both, it’s a great way to provide immediate engagement with potential students.

According to the student communication survey, prospective college students find live chat experiences to be helpful. In fact, half of the students polled found live chats to be “extremely or very useful.”

3. Email is preferred early on

It may come as a surprise, but email remains to be prospective students’ preferred method of communication from colleges and universities. The survey found that prospective students prefer less intrusive communication methods early on in their search, including email.

But as they progress in their college decision process, their communication preferences also evolve. Once they’ve narrowed the field down to a few choice colleges, they are more open to communicating via text message and phone.

Actionable advice for admissions teams communicating with college students

Now that you’re more familiar with the communication habits of Gen Z, how can you apply these insights into your admissions efforts? We enlisted Kramer to share some practical tips.

Create a communication plan to ensure prompt and consistent engagement

“It’s important for schools to get ahold of students soon after they opt in,” Kramer advises. “It’s emotional to fill out a form. And that emotion will wane over time. Schools need to reach out quickly and engage in several different methods.”

You need a communication plan that maps out phone calls, emails, texts, mail and other engagement. Many schools are caught unaware by the pitfalls of not reaching out and engaging prospective students consistently and across enough platforms. If a call to a prospective student goes unanswered and no follow-up communication is sent, it’s a missed opportunity.

“A messaging protocol provides consistent and timely communication for prospective students across platforms,” Kramer says.

Focus on the student’s needs

Another common mistake schools often make is being too focused on pushing messages or topics that are important to the institution. Rather, you should ensure your admissions team addresses the questions and concerns of the student.

It’s also important to consider the timing of your communications. Creating a personalized communications system can help ensure you’re delivering the most relevant information for each student. Communications triggered by behavior, such as filling out a form, are more applicable to prospective students as opposed to generic email blasts.

Keep it concise and digestible

It’s often stated that the average Gen Z user has an attention span of just eight seconds. This is not only significant for your marketing efforts, but also in your admissions communications. Can you grab your students’ attention in eight seconds?

“Shorter is always better. Bullet points are fantastic,” Kramer advises. “Many students have a short attention span, so if it’s text heavy, they’ll get lost. People have a fatigue around that.”

For text-based communication, such as texting or email, try to keep it short and straight-forward. For longer or more complex messages, make it easy to skim by incorporating numbered lists, bullet points, images and even video.

Establish a welcoming tone

The timing and format of your communications are important, but don’t forget about the tone of voice. Establishing a helpful and inviting tenor can make students more comfortable sharing their questions and concerns.

“The tone of the messaging should be engaging. But it should also articulate to the student why it’s important for them to continue reading the message,” Kramer says. “You can talk about how great your school is, but if it doesn’t address the concerns of prospective students, they won’t take notice.”

Don’t forget to include the parents

For traditional undergraduate students, be sure to include their parents in the communication plan. Many schools overlook this influential audience, which is a missed opportunity.

“Once you’ve engaged a student, create a messaging plan for their parents,” Kramer urges. “They can indirectly influence the student’s decision and keep them moving along in the enrollment process.”

Cater your communications

When it comes to communicating with college students today, it’s all about delivering the right message at the right time in the right format. The better you understand your prospective student’s decision process and habits, the better chance you have to engage with them.

Learn more about how to connect with students throughout their journey in our infographic, “8 Stages of the College Decision Process.”

Put the pedal to the metal this summer!

Our Marketing Acceleration Bundle gives you actionable recommendations to turbocharge your marketing efforts for 2025.