Why Gen Z Will Be More Practical About College Than Millennials

Move over, Millennials. According to a report published last month, Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012), are more independent, practical, and money-aware than their predecessors. Produced by the Barnes & Noble College, the Getting to Know Gen Z report surveyed 1,300 middle and high school students from 49 different states across America in both rural and urban regions and found that 89% of respondents felt that a college education was important as a stepping stone to landing a desirable job. Some 82% reported they plan on heading straight to college after high school. And 77% said they were considering four-year colleges while 39% said they were also considering community college.

Barnes & Noble College is a subsidiary of the popular bookstore chain that has conducted over 50 research studies in the past year alone to better understand population trends surrounding higher education. As part of their exploration into the next generation’s expectations for higher education, they found that Generation Z students display more independence in directing their educations and resourcefulness.

“I’ve been talking to students and professors in all the business colleges I’m interested and asking to check out their online classes and resources. I think it’s the best way to decide it’s where I want to be without actually traveling,” Dani Olivers, a junior year student in San Francisco, says. “I get a ton of emails from colleges, but I don’t want to just hear what they have to say. They have to do what they say.”

Source: Barnes & Noble College Report


Students who responded to the Barnes & Nobles survey said that they were most concerned about career preparation, how interesting the coursework was, and how much the professors cared about their success, when it came to choosing a college. And how are they making these assessments? By talking to college counselors, family members and friends about the information they see from school websites.

This generation’s familiarity with tech is also reflected in their use of online college resources like College Greenlight, My Majors, and College Board. These sites, such as College Greenlight, not only enable students to compare colleges side-by-side, it also functions as a one-stop spot to get info and keep track of admissions and applications. More importantly, College Greenlight also helps connect students to over $11 billion in scholarships, counselors and mentors, changing the competitive landscape for first-generation and underrepresented students without strong financial support and family insight.

To increase their desirability to colleges and employers, almost 50% of Generation Z students between 16 and 18 years old shares that they had already taken college credit classes, and 84% of teens between 13 to 15 said they planned to jump into the action as soon as possible.

Although the youths felt the classes were more difficult and faster-paced, 64% of students said they preferred them over their regular classes because of the extra challenge and critical thinking requirement.

Source: Barnes & Noble College Report


In line with their independent streak, more than a third of Gen Z students reported either currently owning their own business, or planning to have one in future. Teens between 13 and 15 were found to be twice as likely to have their own online business compared to their older counterparts.

Talyah Cole is currently in 10th grade at Street Academy in Oakland, CA, but the sophomore has already had experience owning her own business. Cole established a business selling soap when she was just 10 years old, working with family to mix and create her own soaps. She sees the value of gaining more work experience, is currently on an internship, and said she will work for a year after graduating from high school, before heading to college.

Today, more business schools have introduced programs where their students work in teams to provide services to the community as part of their service and practical learning experience. At University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, students work with nonprofit organizations, multi-national organizations, and startups to to develop working knowledge on introducing new products to markets, market penetration, global business development and more. And at Dartmouth College’s Dart School of Business, all first-year students work in small teams to tackle real-world issues for partner clients. Other business schools have clubs where business students can provide consulting to small businesses in the neighborhood around their institute, or tax help to those in need when the stressful tax season comes around. The development of more of such experiences makes programs highly attractive to Generation Z students. Some 67% of respondents to the Barnes & Noble report say that they enjoy learning with their peers rather than on their own as it facilitates the exchange of ideas. More than half of those surveyed said they learn better by doing, rather than by reading course materials, or listening to a lecture.

Source: Barnes & Noble College Report


The impact of their work and contribution to society remains important to Generation Z, but less so compared to Millennials. In September last year, Forbes reported that according to research on American attitudes towards corporate social responsibility, 76% of millennials said they would look into a company’s stance on social and environmental issues before deciding whether to support them. The Barnes & Noble College survey found that 70% of millennials self-reported volunteering, while only 47% of Gen Z individuals did the same.

“I want to do good, but I need to get somewhere first,” Olivers said. “If I work hard, I can go places, and then I can change things.”


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