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Reaching Millennials: Thoughts on Higher Education Marketing

June 10, 2010

We’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about Higher Education marketing, which means we’ve done a good deal of research on Millennials, the generation of students currently applying for college.  Millennials are an interesting group and we thought we’d share some of the more interesting facts we found, along with some implications for admissions offices looking to reach this coveted target.

First – consider a few basic facts about this group:

  • Most students applying for admission into the class of 2015 were born after the Internet was invented.
  • They have very likely never known the world without computers.
  • They rely heavily on their peers, TV and web pages to receive news and get information.
  • The majority of them have a detailed five- and ten-year plan for their future.
  • 57% of Millennials currently enrolled in college consider the amount of time they spend with full-time faculty to be “very” or “extremely” important, according to the 2006 LifeCourse-Chartwells 2006 College Student Survey.
  • The number of students going to college closer to home is higher than it was 10 years ago.
  • Millennials are more likely to volunteer in college.
  • Many high school students report feeling so “overwhelmed” [during the college admissions process] that they have sough counseling.
  • Many Millennials feel college is more challenging academically, than it was for their parents.

Then consider some statistics about their media use (Thanks to Ira Bass of IB Media for help compiling these):

  • Members of this group are heavy users of the Internet, TV, Movies, Video Games, Email, Radio, Online Video & Social Networking.
  • The average teen watching 3 hours and 20 minutes of television per day.  Of note is that teens prefer watching live TV, not DVR.
  • Millennials spend an average of 1.8 hour a week at the movies.
  • Despite the rise in popularity of online music and portable music devices, radio is the top source of music consumption for 16% of teens globally and the secondary source for an additional 21%.
  • This group is also a heavy user of Mobile Web and Text Messaging.

So what does this mean for colleges looking to reach this group?  Well first – be prepared to invest heavily in social media and have a good website.  The latter is particularly important, at least according to JamesTower, 85% of students said they would drop a school from their search, or be disappointed with a school if the website did not have the content that student needed (WOW!).  That’s not to say you don’t need to invest in traditional media tools, these will still be valuable awareness generators & attractive to the parent target – but Social Media is a must for any college that wants to increase enrollment numbers.   Second, make sure you are personalizing information and sharing things with these prospective students that is interesting, relevant and unique.   Here are some specific things that Colleges & Universities should consider:

Millennials are “Eager for discovery”
Not so much a trend but a discovery: The brain, especially the younger brain, likes to “seek”.  Seeking satisfies the brain’s desire for tidbits of information, our curiosity about details, playing games, for news and novelty in general. This describes our fascination with Twitter, online gaming and following celebrity news. Meaning for a college? Play to Gen Y’s eagerness for discovery via a game or hooking up with a student-ambassador for a campus life “daily” report. Fun can make a difference!

They expect “The VIP treatment”
Not in a snobby way, but in an informational way. For Gen Y’s information is currency.  Dartmouth has a great blog which is called “Uncommonly Asked Questions” that does 2 things: Reassures students that no question is too silly to ask and plays to students’ desire for information, even the most bizarre or trivial facts.  Colleges should embrace Millennials’ collective desire for information shared just with, or for, them.

The new “Me” generation or the “Us” generation?
Both! There’s a debate over whether our young adults are narcissistic or community oriented. On one hand there’s an eagerness to “do right” and help one’s community, there’s social media and co-ed group outings/dating. On the other hand there’s an immense need for fame, attention and being perceived as an influencer. Interestingly, social media satisfies both: A stage where one can present everything about themselves, even create a persona they strive for, even become a celebrity (of sorts), and do it in front of a community, support causes, follow others, “date.” For a generation that grew up feeling entitled and being taught that “they were special” social media is golden. Some are using the term, the “Look At Me” generation. Take away for higher education institutions? Make sure you provide ample opportunity for students to join communities online and utilize social media to promote the idea that you “get it.”  Any efforts to personalize the admissions process is great.

Do you have any thoughts to add?  We’d love to hear from you!


James Tower (now Blue Hue) Research and Insights

Millennials Go to College: Strategies for a New Generation on Campus.  Available for purchase on

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 10, 2010 11:58

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  2. June 11, 2010 04:37

    Thanks for sharing this good information.

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