Generation Z Goes To College

It’s back to school time, and my youngest nephew is among the thousands of young people heading off to college.  My nephew was born in 1999, a year that conjures up great memories for me, including our family vacation to Disney World, and Prince’s popular song lyrics.  It had never occurred to me until recently that while eight of my nieces and nephews (along with my children) are Millennials, the younger two are members of another generation, Generation Z.  These younger family members quietly watched and learned life lessons from their older Millennial cousins. Who is Generation Z, and what makes them different from Millennials?   Generation Z, according to most sources, consists of those born between 1996 and 2010.  The oldest members are graduating from college and entering the workplace, while the youngest are just seven years old. Since Gen Z members are still largely kids and adolescents, many of their adult characteristics are yet to be vetted. Early indications are they are increasingly self-aware, self-reliant, innovative and goal-oriented.  They outsize Millennials by over a million.

One important factor that separates Gen Z from Millennials is whether they were born or old enough to remember 9/11. Millennials grew up amidst the relative peace and prosperity of the 90’s only to have their expectations shattered by the 9/11 attacks and the financial crashes of 2000 and 2008.  Gen Z never had the luxury of a threat free perspective so they’ve been forced to view life through a more guarded lens from the start.

Gen Z shares many similarities with Millennials but there are key distinctions:

They are Tech Savvy and Want to Stay Connected Online

Gen Z has never know a world without smartphones and social media, so it’s even more ingrained for them than Millennials.  The iPhone was released in 2007, when the oldest members of the generation were only 11 years old. Technology is all they have known, and their technological abilities are almost second nature.  Being connected online is a way of life for this generation.  They grew up with computers and iPads in the classroom, and expect interactive learning experiences.

They Like Privacy

When platforms like Facebook and Twitter first came out, Millennials and older generations would use them without putting much thought into the repercussions. Over time, they came to realize that living their life in the public eye could easily come back to haunt them.  Gen Z has learned from those mistakes and prefer platforms like Snapchat, that don’t leave a permanent record.

They are Culturally Diverse

Gen Z embraces multiculturalism as a touchstone of who they are, and this also informs their attitudes on social issues.  They’ve come of age when same-sex marriage and a black president are a given and they expect continued social progress to reflect the ethnic diversity that is tightly woven throughout their lives.

They are Pragmatic

Growing up in an uncertain world, and being raised by Gen X parents whose own prospects seemed stunted by less exuberant times, Gen Z is drawn to safety.  Like the Silent Generation who grew up amidst war and the Depression, Gen Z is a more cautious class that steers away from risky behaviors and toward more sensible careers and choices.  Lower reporting of underage drinking and higher seatbelt wearing for this group are just a couple of data points for this characteristic, as well as anecdotal evidence of job paths that are forged less by passion and more by practical realities. Some are forgoing college liberal arts programs, in favor of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education.

Generation Z will start to make its mark on society and on the workplace in big numbers over the next five years, and I for one am excited about the cultural changes they will bring with them.  They won’t be hoping for change, they will insist upon it.

Share your experiences with this group of young people with us!


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