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Beyond Freshers - the anatomy of the Gen Z student calendar

When deciding to market to Gen Z students, Freshers is an important first step. It kicks off an entire university experience, after all. But it’s just the beginning. Ready to learn what other marketing opportunities exist throughout the year? Fasten your seatbelts….

As a marketer, you have approximately 1,095 days to engage with Gen Z students while they’re at university (1,460 if they complete a masters, or a four year course). In the grand scheme of things, that’s not long at all.

And while Freshers week is by far one of the best-known student marketing opportunities, it doesn’t stand alone. From student-specific marketing moments to national (and even global) events, students are busy and engaged all year round.

Srs student business

When you make the decision to market to Gen Z students (and trust us, it’s a good one), you’re tapping into a unique community – one that is forming and thriving around you, online and on campus, with its own unique cultural markers. We talk about “campus culture” a lot, and there are certain events within university life that really fuel it. Freshers is, of course, one. According to UCAS, students spend an average of £421 in Freshers Week, which is roughly double what they’d spend during a normal week at uni. 

Students at a Freshers Fair

But there are many other times throughout the year where you can expect the mood on campus to change. Some, like careers and housing fairs, are vertical specific. Others – such as Students’ Union elections – aim to involve as many students as possible. There are also times to be aware of simply because students might not be on campus – such as holidays and reading weeks. 

As a marketer, these are your opportunities to tap into the student experience in its purest form. Whether you’re welcoming them back from the Winter break at Refreshers, keeping them sane with little treats during exam season, or seeing them off into the wider world at graduation, you absolutely have a place. 

If you’ve made your first impression at Freshers, these student-specific events are key touchpoints to check in throughout the year. And if Freshers passed you by this year, then any one of these moments could be your first impression! 

Getting Sh*t done

Not all students are Gen Zs, of course – but they now make up the biggest age demographic at UK universities. For many, university is their first step into the adult world.

And while these digital natives might shy away from their older Millennial cousins’ obsession with “adulting”, there’s a lot that Gen Z students are doing for the first time. They are hitting the clubs and engaging with nightlife, signing their first rental contracts and solidifying their plans for the future. 


But if we know anything about Gen Z students, it’s that their productivity is not just tied to personal gain. Just as you’ll see them hitting up housing fairs or making New Year’s resolutions, so too will they make up the attendees at marches and demonstrations for key causes, as well as being some of the most vocal on controversial matters. 

When consulting the student calendar, it’s just as important for you to be aware of what they expect you to do, as a brand. International End Poverty Day, Raising and Giving Week and World Environment Day are well-established moments to think about the changes you want to make. But don’t limit your activity to just a day, or a week, as this audience will see right through it. 


Bringing people together

By now, we all know that uni is more than just a learning experience. When all of the opportunities to connect and grow evaporated during COVID-19, leaving just online studying behind, it was no substitute. Our 2020 research shows that just half of students felt part of a campus community. 

There are hundreds of bonding moments that happen throughout the university experience. You can actually facilitate some, as an advertiser – and you can be a key part of others. There are the ones you’ve heard of – Halloween and Christmas, for example. Just bear in mind that students will engage with these events slightly differently, and tailor your marketing strategy accordingly. 


There are also tiny shifts that have huge impacts on how young people socialise in groups – such as the end of British Summer Time, when spending peaks on content subscriptions, takeaways and cinema tickets. Whether it’s a themed party, an important conversation or a group challenge, these moments are all about the group effort. 

Identity shapers 

As well as heading off to uni to discover a new place, new people, and a whole new level of study, university is notoriously a time when you learn a lot about yourself. This path to self-discovery looks a little different to Gen Z – as socially aware digital natives, they will arrive at university with a key sense of who they are. But there’s still room for learning.

Two people enjoying Pride

From lighthearted, creative expressions such as London Fashion Week (fashion and beauty brands, take note) to challenges and explorations of new ways of living (looking at you, Veganuary), there are lots of opportunities for brands to get creative. But there are also important cultural and religious moments to recognise, spanning race, gender identity, sexuality and mental health. Gen Zs’ sense of identity is deeply tied to the causes they care about, so calendar moments like these are a good chance to connect with them – so long as you do so authentically and with sensitivity. 


Active vibes

According to our research, one in five students take part in university sports. Sports clubs are a huge social cornerstone in university life, culminating in annual varsity tournaments that see rival universities go head-to-head. 


But beyond that, UK students will be tuned into global sporting tournaments, and are just as likely to be inspired by smaller challenge days – such as National Running Day, for example. After all, this is the generation that elevated activewear brands like Gymshark and Sweaty Betty to global juggernauts… 

Let’s go shopping 

And then, of course, there’s the shoppertunities. Students are no strangers to Black Friday – 60% plan to participate this year, making it their biggest event (of any kind) in the winter months – with Christmas Markets and Boxing Day Sales also earmarked in their calendars. 

There are also three very specific times throughout the year where you can expect student spending to peak – the three student loan drops. 62% of students have a student loan, and these are dropped at the start of each term in large lump sums. Naturally, you can expect spending to spike during the days and weeks surrounding loan drops – it’s the student equivalent of payday.

Mini moments that count 

Ok, so the world rarely pauses en masse to recognise World Guacamole Day. Nor do we devote large-scale celebrations to Sourdough September. But these are just the kind of tiny, glimmering moments that students love. Their unconventional working (and sleeping) hours and communal living situations mean they’re primed to hold a pizza party to celebrate National Pizza Day, or create a living-room blanket fort in homage to National Napping Day. If there’s a day that fits your vertical, you should make sure students know about it – and you – because they are most definitely the types to show up for this type of moment. 

Don’t believe us? Check out this household of young people who took it upon themselves to create a giant bean. Why? Who knows. It’s just a shame it didn’t fall on National Bean Day (January 6, if you’re wondering). 

Freshers is just the beginning. Find your next student marketing moment in our Insights Calendar – A to (Gen) Z: The Definitive Student Marketing Calendar.