It’s the height of summer, which means we are in the middle of orientation season. But if your campus is like most, that crucial event likely looks much different than it did even a few years ago. The reason is this: college orientation for Gen Z requires a greater emphasis on technology than it did for any other college-going generation.
But this new college orientation technology requirement is a challenge in name only. In reality, especially for institutions ready to accommodate the evolving needs of today’s prospective students, it presents a significant opportunity.
You just have to know how to leverage it.
College orientation for Gen Z likely has a heavy social media tilt. It might start in virtual communities long before the actual campus event. Join us for an in-depth look into how you can leverage college orientation technology to better connect and engage with this vital audience at this crucial juncture.
How Technology Preferences Impact College Orientation for Gen Z
Any discussion of how Gen Z experiences orientation has to begin with the technology preferences of this generation. Put simply, they are the true digital natives, not having experienced a world without technology and the internet at their fingertips. The resulting trends are as clear as they are startling:
- 98% of Gen Z own a smartphone, and they check it more than 80 times every single day.
- Gen Z prefers texting over phone calls or email, using it as their core form of communication. In fact, the average teenager sends an average of 3,000 texts every month.
- Social media is another core messaging channel. More than half of Gen Z spend at least four hours every day on social media, preferably on TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube.
- Gen Z expects instant access to information. A lifetime of the internet at their fingertips means any question they have is only a Google search away.
- In part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gen Z is more comfortable with virtual connections than any previous generation. In fact, half of Gen Z consider virtual connections and relationships to be as valuable as in-person connections.
Combine all of these trends, and one thing is clear: technology impacts every part of regular life for this generation. As a result, college orientation for Gen Z cannot be successful without at least considering the technological needs of your incoming college students.
6 Ways to Leverage College Orientation Technology for Today’s Incoming Students
Effective communication with Gen Z has to include technology. But how you implement that technology matters just as much as simply using channels like texting or social media. These six strategies can help you successfully reach and engage the next incoming first-year class.
1. Share Timely Information on Preferred Channels
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, you have to focus on the channels that your audience prefers. That’s especially true when it comes to sharing in-the-moment information you need your audience to know about.
Yes, email remains the official communication channel for most colleges and universities. But if your incoming students don’t regularly check their email yet, even the most official notice won’t make a difference in getting core information across.
Instead, refer back to some of the trends we shared above. Texting, for instance, is a great way to let students know about their schedules, times, and where to go next. So use social media as a way to let them know about upcoming sessions.
When in doubt, ask your incoming students. Survey anyone registered for orientation about how they’d like to receive important updates about the day and schedule. Of course, you’ll need to be prepared to use the channels they prefer once you receive their answers.
2. Create an Online Hub as Your Informational Knowledgebase
Of course, much of the information you’ll likely share about orientation is much more in-depth than a simple text can convey. We know that your website still remains the most important channel for incoming students to seek information. Also, during orientation, it can become your informational hub for all that in-depth information.
Use it to publish your complete schedule. Then post individual events on your campus calendar. Integrate a campus map to show where students have to be—and when. You can even link to some of the other tactics described throughout this post, like related online communities for your incoming class.
The key is to centralize all of this information in an easy-to-find spot. It might be as simple as your orientation landing page. That way, all of your ongoing communications can easily link back to a space where it all gets gathered and updated in real time.
3. Create Virtual Communities for Incoming Students
Beyond in-the-moment and more in-depth information, technology can also play a core role in helping your students connect with each other before they ever meet each other on the first day of class. Virtual communities have been a part of the online experience since the first messaging boards, but they remain as relevant—and might even be more relevant—among today’s teenagers.
Nearly two-quarters of Gen Z feel most comfortable online when sharing their thoughts in virtual communities with like-minded users. These communities can take multiple forms, like online forums, community-focused social media networks like Twitch and Discord, and more.
Of course, incoming students don’t necessarily expect their future college to create and actively manage these communities. Instead, it might be enough to facilitate the setup, allowing your students to easily connect with each other and build connections before and around orientation.
4. Leverage Social Media as a Central Connector
Speaking of social media: don’t underestimate its potential power for both communicating with students and students communicating with each other. The best college orientations for Gen Z integrate it naturally into the program to maximize engagement.
The possibilities are nearly endless. For example, you can create a virtual scavenger hunt between academic and informational sessions that allow students and their parents to explore the campus. Or you can run a contest asking students to share their favorite nugget of information using a pre-set hashtag. An event like orientation showcases social media at its best—as a social connector between your students and your institution.
5. Prioritize Two-Way Digital Communication for Questions and Concerns
For many students and parents, orientation is when college gets real. The amount of information shared here can quickly become overwhelming, especially when it begins to include not just academics and student affairs but also resources to take advantage of.
Consider anticipating the questions you’ll get as a result. For example, Gen Z is more impacted by mental health concerns than any generation before it. So incoming students will likely have questions about how your counseling center and other resources will address it.
Make it easy to ask those questions, whether it’s through two-way texting or another, more centralized spot to ask questions virtually. Even better, have answers to common questions prepared so that you can satisfy that instant need for information this generation has become known for.
6. Don’t Forget About the Physical Component of College Orientation for Gen Z
The emphasis on technology can make it easy to forget that orientation remains primarily an in-person event. But that matters for Gen Z, which prioritizes in-person experiences even as it embraces technology.
The key, then, is connecting your in-person events with your virtual experiences and communications. Both should closely integrate with each other, so be consistent in the information you share and when you share it.
Ultimately, the goal is not to create a great virtual college orientation for Gen Z. Instead, it’s to create a great college orientation through technology as a helpful tool. That means building on your tried-and-true in-person experiences with technological enhancements.
Embracing Technology as You Plan Your Next Orientation Program
With the oldest representatives of Gen Z now nearly ready to graduate college, we have plenty of data to understand and plan their ideal college orientation. Now is the time to leverage that information for a better program and, ultimately, a better transition to college.
College orientation for Gen Z, it turns out, has to revolve around technology. Ignoring the digital comfort and preferences of incoming college students can prove fatal. But the key is integrating that virtual information and communication strategy with in-person, face-to-face experiences for a more holistic, successful experience.
Consider your interactive campus map as an example. As a virtual tool, it can play a core role in communicating with your incoming students in ways they prefer and respond to. But, at the same time, it also connects that same audience to physical and in-person events, building a college orientation for Gen Z that meets their needs and prepares them for their next four years.
To get there, of course, you have to get your tools right. Your interactive map and university calendar play directly into that equation, and our experience with higher education has enabled us to shape them specifically for today’s students. Ready to learn more? Contact us to start the conversation about improving college orientation for Gen Z today.