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How Gen Z is Choosing Their College (Differently Than Millennials)

Gen Z are looking at a lot of things in their potential college decision, but they’re different from what students before them considered…


  • Middle and high school students planning to go to college are considering location, tuition and safety as top qualities for choosing a college
  • Young males and females have different priorities in their college search 
  • Upcoming college students are considering safety and dorms much more than the students who chose colleges before them

With back to school season going, now is the time many high school students are starting to seriously think about what they’ll be doing after graduation. Even if they aren’t yet a senior working on applications, many middle and high school students are planning ahead and thinking about the factors that will ultimately define their choice in college or university. Though it may seem tuition is all Gen Z will be considering, there are many factors they consider just as important, if not more. 

For years, YPulse’s Education report has been looking at how Gen Z and Millennials feel about higher education. And despite recent reports of low enrollment rates, 84% of current middle and high school students still tell YPulse they’re planning to go to college. How exactly they’re making their big decision is different from students before them, though, and different demographics also have widely varying priorities. YPulse asked current middle and high school students which qualities they will be considering when they choose their college, and found males and females aren’t completely aligned on what’s most important:

Male and female Gen Z students planning to go to college are looking for different experiences 

While current middle and high school students planning to go to college are most likely to be thinking about location and tuition cost when choosing a college, males and females are also approaching their education choices with different concerns. YPulse data shows that while they’re both considering tuition, safety and academic quality / reputation similarly, their considerations diverge when it comes to campus, classmates, and activities. 

Male students are significantly more likely to be considering location, the size of school, where their friends are going / have gone, and the sports participation at a college than female students. And, despite the fact that 46% of each say academic quality / reputation is a quality they’re considering, 15% of male students say it is the most important quality in a school, versus only 6% of female students. 

Female students, on the other hand, are more likely to be considering dorms / student housing, diversity of students and faculty, and campus environment than their male counterparts. When it comes to what they say is most important when choosing a college, 15% say safety is their top factor, versus only 8% of male students. One factor that is beginning to be included in the idea ofsafety for these students is the access to abortion services across America, which Reuters reports is a major talking point for college counselors and female students since the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Some female students are going so far as to cross top schools off their lists completely because of state bans on abortion. 

Gen Z’s future college students are more concerned about safety and housing than previous generations

As split as Gen Z students may be on what they’re considering for their future college, their overall priorities are also somewhat different from those who chose colleges before them. YPulse also asked current college students, college graduates and current graduate students what they considered when choosing a college, and found they were less likely to consider several factors that today’s students are prioritizing:

Gen Z students planning to go to college are significantly more interested in the safety of a college than past students have been. A survey from Clery Center found last year that 82% of college students reported feeling concerned about their safety as they returned to campus in the fall, and 97% of students “say they consider their personal safety as they go about daily campus life.” When choosing what is most important when choosing a college, safety is the top priority of 12% of future students, where just 5% of current and past college students chose it as the most important factor in their decision.

The biggest factor the majority of Gen Z students are considering when choosing a college is location (63%), where only about half of current and past say that location was a quality they considered. But, though it may seem like Gen Z students are looking to move away after their years of at-home learning, recent studies show that students are actually staying close to home more than ever.

But, living close to home doesn’t mean living at home, so future college students are also considering the dorms / student housing at college more than the students before them did, and their love of aesthetics may have to do with it. While there have always been dorm inspo pics on sites like Pinterest, young college students are going all out on their dorms more than ever—and sharing each and every #dormroomessential. We know they love a good DIY, and they get inspiration from each other on social media, especially TikTok, where #DormRoomMakeover has over 17 million views. 

YPulse paid users can access the full Education report here.

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