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What the Popularity of Gap Years Tells Us About Gen Z

By collegemktgrp | March 11, 2021 | Brands/Advertisers

With the global pandemic still impacting the college landscape, many current and prospective students are deciding to spend the year doing something else before returning to school — otherwise known as a gap year.

When Malia Obama announced her intentions in 2016 to take a year off before attending Harvard University, the idea of a gap year became part of a national conversation.

As schools continue to shift into a remote or hybrid learning environment, many students are postponing school until it’s safe to be on campus again.

In 2021, 22% of college students have said that they aren’t planning to return for the rest of the academic year. And in 2020, 35% of high school students reported considering taking a gap year before college.

Countless articles popped up detailing the increasing popularity of the trend and its benefits. But many articles fail to answer the question of “Why?” Why is the gap year so popular among Gen Z?

There are many reasons prospective and current college students may want to take a gap year. One is the fact that Gen Z doesn’t want to waste tuition money by rushing into higher education without knowing exactly what they want to study.

And according to the Gap Year Association, students who take a gap year tend to academically outperform their peers and are ultimately happier in their jobs.

Below we discuss the popularity of the Gen Z student gap years and how understanding their personality and ambitions can help your brand or university accomplish your marketing goals.

Gen Z Wants Unique Experiences

Compared to previous generations, Gen Z places more value on new experiences versus owning things. They’re also more willing to take chances to pursue their passions and appreciate social interaction and travel.

Gen Z understands how the recession impacted Millennials as they entered into the modern workforce. And with hefty student loans affecting both Millennials and Gen Z, many college-aged students want to avoid debt as much as possible.

Unlike past generations, Gen Z doesn’t see college as the only option after high school and are more willing to pursue traditional career paths, like trade schools.

The Takeaway

It’s more important than ever to keep your university top of mind while prospective college students take a break after high school.

Through multiple digital marketing strategies like social media, email marketing, and paid ads, College Marketing Group can help you leverage these tools to drive your next campaign.

Gen Z Sees Themselves as Global Citizens

Before COVID, one of the most popular options for students taking a gap year was experiencing new places, meeting new people, and learning about new cultures.

Gen Z may not be able to travel right now, but they’re still staying connected with others around the world:

  • Modern gaming is on the rise during coronavirus, which gives gamers the perfect opportunities to interact and connect with players from around the world.
  • Zoom and FaceTime happy hours and brunches are becoming a new norm.
  • They strongly prefer to text over talking on the phone, mostly using their mobile devices for this favorite pastime.

Another upside to spending more time inside is that they’re still spending money on commercial retail, restaurants, and entertainment services.

The Takeaway

Now is the time for brands and advertisers to tap into marketing tactics like mail-delivered product sampling. This is a contactless and safe way to get your products in consumers’ hands during the pandemic.

Just because Gen Z moves fast doesn’t mean you can’t reach them!

They Want an Efficient Higher Education Experience

One of Gen Z’s defining characteristics is saving money and mindful spending.

Though they were children during the 2008 Recession, Gen Z is now experiencing consequences of the housing bubble, credit card debt, and soaring student loan bills.

Gen Z doesn’t want to waste time and money at a university while they figure out exactly what they want to study and why. Gap years offer students the opportunity to figure out their passions and interests, along with developing skills before entering college like:

  • Self-discovery by exploring the world in a less structured way.
  • Empathy from working or volunteering on causes that they’re passionate about.
  • Interpersonal communication through interacting and collaborating with people from different cultural backgrounds.

The Takeaway

Even though normal travel won’t resume until 2023, you can get a head start on promoting your school’s study abroad programs now.

Since it usually takes a few months to finalize travel accommodations and documents, reaching out to students ahead of time can spark their interest. You could also host a virtual one-on-one or information session to answer complicated questions or help with the application process.

They Want to Save Money

It’s no secret that college costs have been increasing over the years. And with the added stress of job losses due to the pandemic, 56% of college students say they’re unable to cover college costs.

By taking a gap year, students are saving extra by avoiding tuition and housing costs. Not only does this allow them and their parents to save for when the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, but students can also save if they’re working a part-time job or internship during their gap year.

The Takeaway

Paying for college can be difficult, especially for students without financial support.

Gen Z are mindful when it comes to money, so it’s important to highlight options that could help students like information about paid internships, part-time jobs, and work-study programs.

And since college students are active across all social media platforms, you could promote any financing programs using student or staff ambassadors from the financial aid or career services office.

They Want to Learn More About Themselves

Gen Z has been described as entrepreneurial-thinkers who value independence. They’re intellectually curious and want to know about themselves and others.

Taking a gap year gives students the mental and physical time and space to form new relationships.

Famous people who took a gap year to learn more about their personal and professional selves include Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. You never know which future college graduate will be next on the list of greatest visionaries!

The Takeaway

Gen Z craves experiential marketing and values experiences and memories over retail products. Hosting a socially-distanced product demonstration or giving out free samples are a few things brands and universities can do to gain trust from Gen Z.

For companies looking for the next generation of talent, socially distanced on-campus events and in-person or virtual information and hiring sessions are good options.

These events can be helpful for students trying to figure out their major or professional career path. Companies can also learn more about students to see if they’re a potential fit for a role or program.

Want to Learn More About Gen Z?

The rising popularity of gap years tells us a lot about Gen Z and how an understanding of their values and personalities can help us create an effective marketing strategy that resonates.

Gen Z isn’t only dominating the gap year. They’re also shifting the economy with their spending power — from purchasing a new gadget online or filling in a seat at your university.

From enrollment marketing to event-hiring and product samples, College Marketing Group can help you take your marketing strategy to the next level.

Reach out to learn more about Gen Z and how we can help you today >


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