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Gen Z students - the Gen Z market segment you’re sleeping on

The chances are, you’ve already considered what it means to market to Gen Z. But there’s a whole cohort of Gen Zs that might well be missing from your strategy. Behold – Gen Z students.

A sleeping person emoji with A to Gen Zzzzz written above it


By now, you know Gen Zs (in case you don’t, they are anyone born between 1997 and 2012). Far from being some distant, aloof younger generation, they’re the colleagues you email at work, the creators behind the TikToks you engage with; wedding guests, parents, homeowners. You might even be a Gen Z, reading this, in your capacity as a marketer. Gen Zs are adults now, on track to inherit – and change – the world. 

Despite this, there are very few spaces where Gen Zs make up the majority. They share school and TikTok with Gen Alpha, and workplaces with Millennials and Gen Xs. 

But there is one place where you’ll find more Gen Zs than any other demographic: university. 

Even without considering their Zillennial cousins – who share a lot of the same characteristics as Gen Z, but with some added Millennial spice – Gen Zs are the biggest demographic on UK campuses. Out of the UK’s 2.8 million students, 63% are Gen Zs – rising to 79% if you include anyone aged 29 or under. Youth culture is alive and well on campus. 

But when, at native, we speak to marketers about Gen Z, they don’t always consider Gen Z students to be an audience in their own right.

Now, we may have skin in this game – but we think that’s a huge mistake. 


Gen Z students: blink and you’ll miss them 

The student population refreshes every year, as one cohort graduates and another one arrives. The incoming students might never have heard of your brand before. But if you’ve played your cards right for the last three years, the outgoing one will take your name – and their loyalty – with them for the rest of their lives. Just to demonstrate this – a highly-scientific poll of the native staff revealed that 74% of us are still with the same bank that we signed up for at uni. 

Gen Zs first arrived on uni campuses way back in 2014. That means they’ve been a cultural driving force on campus for 10 years. Since then, they’ve brought about a lot of change to university culture – from where they choose to live, to what they value, and how they socialise. Those once-Freshers are now not-so-recent graduates, with brand loyalties that they first picked up at university. 


Gen Z students are…

Financially conscious – and financially independent

A lot has been made of Gen Z’s unique money mindset. And while they may have tested the waters of financial independence in their teens, with part-time jobs and side-hustles, uni is where self-sufficiency really comes into play. 

In our February 2023 survey of over 1,000 Gen Z students, native gleaned some insight into what their bank accounts look like. 62% of Gen Z students have a student loan – making it the most popular financial product for this demographic. This affects everything, from how they budget their money to when they receive it (in termly loan drops, three per academic year). 



But make no mistake: this is a financially-savvy generation. A huge 45% of UK Gen Z students have savings – not bad for a cohort at the very beginning of their money journeys. 28% also have some financial support from family, and 61% make extra money via a job or side hustle alongside their studies. 

This paints a financially-independent picture; a demographic with multiple income sources. While some of that income will no doubt be devoured by the higher cost-of-living (91% of Gen Z students are affected by it), this remains an exciting time for students. They’re figuring out how to budget, what to buy, and discovering verticals they’ve never shopped in before. After all, how many of you bought washing-up liquid, or secured a wifi provider, or even did the weekly food shop before leaving your family home? At this stage of life, these basics are thrilling – simply because they’re new.


Developing their ethics and values

University campuses have always been a place where the seeds of new ideas are planted. But Gen Zs have had a head-start – they’ve been socially and politically engaged since they first gained internet access. They’ve also had the bad luck of having lived through several major world events, which has accelerated their socio-political development. 

In our survey of Gen Z students back in February, we found that the vast majority of students cared about healthcare – 86%. This makes it the number-one cause that this cohort cares about – not a great surprise for a generation that just spent their formative years in a global pandemic.


some gen zs


The other causes close to Gen Z students’ hearts won’t come as much of a surprise – the environment (76%), equality (75%) and, specifically, race equality (72%). The reason why it’s important to understand these if you want to connect with them is because these beliefs affect every facet of their lifestyles. 75% of Gen Z students make a conscious effort to live a sustainable lifestyle – one that mirrors their values, and affects their purchasing decisions. See also – the global Gen Z campaign to stop vaping over Congo mining concerns. 

Connecting with Gen Z students during uni goes beyond just marketing to students in the short-term. This is where you get to know the generation that will inherit the world. In order to future-proof your brand, it’s essential that you align to their values sooner rather than later. 

This also makes university campuses a perfect place to start a conversation, if that aligns to your brand. At native, we worked with The Lady Garden Foundation – a gynae cancer charity – to spread awareness of the five gynae cancers, and bust taboos around gynae cancer in general. Demonstrating just how receptive Gen Z students are to new ideas, The Lady Garden Foundation saw their web traffic increase by 20x as a direct result of their campaign with us. 


Investing in their own futures

Not every Gen Z will go to university. But for those that do, deciding to go is a big decision – one with greater financial implications than it used to have. Any student who embarked on their studies in 2012 or later will know all too well about the uni price hike – with typical fees rising from £3k to £9k. 

More than ten years on, it’s clear that the fee increases haven’t put Gen Zs off – but they have transformed how they treat their university experience. With a price tag triple that of previous generations, today’s Gen Z students want to squeeze every last drop of value out of their education. This means they’re focusing on their future careers earlier than ever before.

And it will pay off – government research from 2019 suggests that graduates will go on to earn, on average, £10,000 more per year than their non-university-attending counterparts. For brands looking for young people who will grow with them, this is great news – but it also means that Gen Z students are more switched-on and receptive to ideas while they’re at university. Speaking of which…

Highly receptive to new ideas

Gen Zs are digital natives. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy to engage with them digitally, though. This is a generation of ad-skippers and influencer-blockers; one that won’t hesitate to distance themselves from your brand if you miss the mark (91% have done so, as per our survey of Gen Z students).

There are a few reasons why it’s not possible to build a lasting relationship with Gen Z students via one-off appearances in their TikTok feeds or email inboxes. Trust is one of them – oversaturation is another. 


Some Gen Zs in a library


But that’s exactly what makes the student landscape such an important one. On campus – and on student-centric channels, such as Students’ Unions’ websites and social media – students are a lot more receptive to brand discovery. On average, Gen Z students spend 16.3 hours on campus per week, rising to 25.2 hours for first-years. And the word they’d most commonly use to describe their Students’ Union – a space that spans the physical and digital realms – is “trustworthy”. 

Naturally, Gen Z are heading to uni to discover new and exciting things. And your brand might just be one of those new and exciting discoveries. 

So you know who Gen Z students are. Ready to find out what they get up to 365 days a year? We’ve got just the calendar for you. Dive in – right here, right now.