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What does College Mean to Gen Z?

By Josh Miller

Throughout history, college has been a staple of society. Once reserved for the wealthy, college has become an essential career resource and a rite-of-passage from the education of our childhoods to the practicality and intensiveness of the real world.

As a current high school junior, I have a unique lens into today’s educational systems from the perspective of someone who just took the ACT this past week. Fingers crossed!

College is viewed as an essential part of ‘success’ to Gen Z, with an XYZ University study showing 84% of Gen Zs having college attendance as part of their plans.

The three most important aspects of college to Gen Z are potential job opportunities, compensation, and amount of schooling. Business degrees – such as management, economics and finance – are very popular among Gen Zs because it is deemed a relatively safe major and is applicable to many different fields. It is also a flexible degree and tends to pay well. Degrees in STEM are also very popular. Being raised by skeptical Gen Xers and having watched Millennials struggle to find jobs with degrees in the humanities, Gen Z tends to be attracted to the stability and opportunity of a degree in business or STEM.

While degrees in law or medicine are very attractive, many Gen Zs simply don’t feel they have the financial luxury of being able to go to school into their late twenties, rather than work. Gen Zs are also worried about falling behind peers when it comes to major life-cycle events – getting married, having kids, etc. Because of that conflict, many qualified students may end up opting out of medical or law school to pursue other fields that don’t require as much schooling.

Additionally, Gen Z is starting to realize that there are other options for post-secondary education, as evidenced in this article by NPR. High Schools are holding technical school college fairs and inviting branches of the military to come show students that there are other ways to become contributing members to society. And since Gen Zs are so concerned with their financial well-being, many are drawn to the skilled-trades simply due to the fact they can offer high starting compensation. Interest in the skilled trades is great news for the economy since the talent shortage is perhaps the most pressing issue currently being faced.

But perhaps the biggest shift in college is the value proposition it hopes to provide to students. In the past, people went to college to figure out what they wanted to do with their life. Now, Gen Zs enter college already having a good idea of what they want to do for a living, and they look to college as a way to hone and refine those skills.

The alluring appeal of higher education is one of the sole pieces in our society which has stayed constant throughout time. But the way each generation approaches higher education is very symbolic to how they view the world and what they value. To Gen Z, college, in any form, is about gaining the skills we need in order to achieve both professional and personal success.


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