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A* for acquisition: meet your future customers this Freshers

This Autumn, around 590,000 students are expected to start university – descending on campus for Freshers 2023. And that’s before we even consider the returning students. So, what do you need to know about them? Here are some of the latest insights into the Freshers of 2023.

Where they’ll live

When we talk about students “arriving” on campus in 2023, we neglect to mention the alternative truth: many of them are already residents of their university town or city. When native asked students what their term-time living situation looks like, there was an even three-way split of 29% living between houseshares, uni halls and those living with parents or caregivers.

A girl stands in her bedroom

If we look at first-years specifically, there is a clear preference for on-campus halls. 48% of students opt for university accommodation, while a further 7% live in privately-owned halls. But the percentage of students living with parents or caregivers remains high, at around 30%. And UCAS research also shows a 10% year-on-year increase in the number of students living with parents or caregivers.

Why this matters to you: This even spread of living situations means you’ll be catering to a number of student sub-demographics: those who live a hyper-local lifestyle, in university halls in or around campus, and those who live at home with parents, and commute in every day. This affects everything from the time students will spend on campus each day to the journey they’ll make to and from lectures, and even where they spend time with friends – 35% of students say they socialise in their accommodation. You can optimise your advertising strategy to meet them wherever they are. 

How they’ll spend their time 

Yes, students go to uni to study… but that’s not all they’re there for. University is a formative period, with so many connections to make, skills to develop and moments to experience. This is particularly true of this post-pandemic cohort of students, whose secondary education will have been fraught with long periods of lockdown and isolation. 

Typically, our research shows that students spend an average of 16.3 hours per week on campus, or in related university buildings. But first-years, for whom everything is new and exciting, spend slightly longer exploring campus each week – around 25.2 hours.


In terms of what they get up to – 46% will be a member of a university society, 22% will take part in uni sports, and 39% will be hanging out in Students’ Union facilities, such as the gym, cafe and bars. And yes – as an advertiser looking to make your mark, there are
plenty of opportunities to do so in all of these spaces. 

Speaking of bars – you might have heard that Gen Zs are off alcohol. Well, our research suggests that this isn’t strictly true; 43% describe themselves as occasional drinkers, 28% are completely sober, while 24% drink regularly (but not heavily). Binge drinking, though, is out for this cohort – just 6% say they drink heavily and regularly. 

Why this matters to you: through on-campus activity like OOH ads and event sponsorships, you can own the day for students as they navigate campus – mirroring where they are and what they’re doing. 

How they’ll earn money 

For many of the 314,000 18-year old students headed to uni in 2023, university will be a major stepping stone into full financial independence. And they make this step at a tenuous time – many of us will be familiar with the trials and tribulations of the cost-of-living crisis. It’s not surprising, then, that affordability is the number one factor 2023’s students will consider when deciding which brands to buy from. 

a man works as a cashier

But students do have multiple sources of income to see them through. 62% rely on a student loan, for example, and a further 16% have access to the university bursary. To supplement this, 86% of students either have a job or are looking for one. Gen Zs are known for their entrepreneurial spirit, and one in 10 students will arrive at uni with a business or side-hustle under their belt. 

Why this matters to you: if you’re hoping to win some of students’ precious spend, you’ll need to understand where their money is coming from – and what their priorities and considerations are. And while those with jobs will be paid weekly or monthly, student loan drops come three times per academic year. This makes the student spending pattern slightly different from other demographics – they get a large lump sum of cash at the start of term, and have to budget until its end. 

What they’ll use social for 

It’s no longer a question of whether Gen Z students use social media or not – you’d be hard pressed to find an incoming student who doesn’t have some sort of social-media presence. It’s more a case of looking at how this demographics uses social. 

lady scrolling on phone

The pandemic was undoubtedly a huge shaping factor in how this cohort of students uses social media – and it may surprise you to learn that 69% say that social media is the most popular way for them to spend time with friends. In other words, they are hanging out virtually more than they are in person, racking up an average of 4.8 hours per day on their favourite platforms. Which, if you’re interested, include TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and Youtube – all highly visual platforms. 

There’s room for you in this virtual world, too. 74% of students say they use social media to discover new brands, and they have high expectations for what you add to their feeds. The students we surveyed were most keen on getting a peek behind the curtain, with 47% saying they want to see more behind-the-scenes content from you. Beyond that, they simply want to see what you have to offer – product imagery and content also ranked highly. 

Why this matters to you: While Gen Z students love social media, they have different expectations from their friends, from content creators and from brands – they won’t expect you to emulate the same type of content that their friends are producing, but they will want to see content that gives a better sense of who you are and why they should spend with you. Remember, a follow is not for life – it’s important to listen to your audiences’ needs and wants to keep their loyalty. 

Ready to meet the incoming class of 2023? 

native can help. We have the largest direct reach to UK students, through our omnichannel media network that spans over 69 campuses. Contact us today to launch your Freshers campaign.