Millennials and College Choice—A New Age of Enlightenment
The words “college was different back in my day” have never rung so true as in the age of the Millennial. Our digital natives have radically transformed the university experience from the selection process forward, but they also bring with them analog experiences like volunteerism and worldly knowledge in much greater numbers than ever before.
As a result, the college admissions process has grown ever more fierce because there are so many highly qualified applicants. The contemporary student expects answers about a new set of questions when considering college, and institutions of higher learning are the better for it.
Perfect Fits Don’t Really Exist
Prospective students often overburden themselves with ideas of the perfect college, but rarely does such an option exist. Like buying a home, selecting a school includes setting priorities and making compromises. The days of thumbing through the Barron’s Guide to Colleges may be long gone, but utilizing digital resources may also become obsolete sooner than we think.
Several apps now calculate student preferences, grades, and board scores to produce what they claim are the ideal schools for applications. Like every algorithm, the formula eliminates variables, but it also tosses away the human “feel” factor. The result may provide a supposed perfect fit, but such a formula also overrides the potential for surprise, or, more importantly, a change of mind.
Prospective students, possessing campus reviews via social media and professor evaluation websites, among myriad other sources, begin the college process better prepared than any other students in history. Their knowledge carries with it the enlightened understanding that their opinion of best fits may well change throughout the selection process.
Communities Benefit from Service-Oriented Students
The campus community used to be limited to interactions in class, life in the residence hall, and socializing in the student union. Today, the definition of the community much more broad. It includes residents in the neighborhood, local business and shops, and interactions with coworkers at internships and part-time jobs. Included in this are opportunities to give back through volunteering which caters to one of the core principles that unite this generation. Essentially, they wish to affect change beyond the university’s shadow, to make a difference right away.
Challenged communities, once derided as a campus deficit for adjacent colleges, now draw service-oriented college students. These students expect to volunteer, just as they did in their high school, church, and civic communities. They consider volunteering in their greater college community to be as much a part of their experience as attending classes and social events. They expect their colleges to do the same.
Well Traveled and Well Intentioned
Many secondary students have yet to travel physically abroad; only 1.5 percent of the U.S. student population participates in study abroad programs before college, according to a 2013–14 NAFSA study. Yet they still comprise a global generation who understands more about underdeveloped countries and the world at large than we likely knew about our own cities at their age.
Such international acumen is now considered essential for students in all fields of study, be it environmental science or business. A recent survey cited by the NAFSA found that “almost 40 percent of companies surveyed missed international business opportunities because of a lack of internationally competent personnel.”
With many established exchange programs, post-secondary institutions often provide students with their first opportunity to explore the world. Prospective students, passports in hand, have begun to assess post-secondary institutions by how far those passports can go.
Online and On Campus
The first iteration of online education engendered a physical versus virtual dichotomy. Students who attended classes digitally rarely set foot on campus, while residential students considered online curriculum superfluous. Online Education 2.0 looks very different: a well-toned hybrid of physical and virtual education. Campus students may watch an online lecture but participate in a physical lab or seminar. Students who miss a class often watch the “make-up” class, a stream of the original, online.
This blended model of higher education has fostered a significant rise in working, non-traditional students. These students typically schedule a combination of online and campus classes as determined by their personal obligations. Traditional students who live on campus see this model as an opportunity for more flexibility. Prospective students will soon ask about the physical-online hybrid as a matter of course.
The Concrete Intangibles
College campuses have always provided an incubator for new ideas and social experiments, an opportunity to determine one’s identity and reinforce one’s self-esteem. The collective awareness of today’s global and domestic challenges introduces a significant empathic element to campus discussion. A dynamic campus allows students to discover peer-to-peer differences of socioeconomic background, perspectives, and drive.
Today’s child starts learning in preschool that diversity is universal. Prospective college students often choose colleges that reflect this diversity. They embrace the benefits of peer-to-peer education and assume that campus consciousness is comprised of understanding differences. Encouraged to care from a young age, today’s students expect their perspective colleges and universities to do the same.