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How Gen Z feels about college search and what that means for enrollment teams

A conversation with EAB’s student marketing experts

March 11, 2024, By Tisleen Singh, Sr. Director of Partner Success, Audience Generation

Based on our Office Hours with EAB podcast, Episode 181, “How to Expand Your Recruitment List Sources”

Last fall, EAB brought together Cappex, College Greenlight, Concourse, and YouVisit Virtual Tours to launch Appily—a comprehensive resource designed to help students explore, plan, decide, and apply to colleges with confidence. For EAB’s Office Hours podcast, I sat down with EAB’s Emily Niedermaier to discuss the journey to Appily and what it means for both students and colleges. Here are a few highlights from our conversation.

“Students are much more anxious than the generations before them.”

Tisleen Singh: Recent studies show that students are increasingly concerned about whether college is the right pathway for them. What’s driving those concerns and what resources are students relying on to help inform their college decisions?

Emily Niedermaier:  We’ve been conducting a lot of surveys with students on to figure out what their biggest barriers are to a smooth college transition and to being successful after they graduate from college.

What we’re learning is that these students are much more anxious than the generations before them. One of the main questions we asked is, “what are the most challenging aspects about the college-search process?” All their top answers boiled down to a lack of confidence in knowing that the decision that they’re making is the right one. Some of their answers were, “I don’t know that I’m making a good choice,” “I don’t know what to search for,” “I’m not finding the information that I need in this process,” “there’s too little (or too much) information” and “I don’t know who to talk to for help.”


  • 48%

    of Appily students surveyed reported that stress and anxiety overshadow their college search process.

Ultimately, students don’t feel confident in the choices that they’re making on their way to college and they’re in need of better resources that will help boost their confidence.

TS: You recently completed a survey of 6,000 students to explore the impacts of that crisis on college-going behavior. What was your most surprising takeaway?

EN: We learned that nearly one-third of high school students who are either currently applying or considering applying to college cite mental health concerns as one of the reasons that they may choose to delay enrollment or opt-out of college entirely. This issue is even more prominent among underrepresented student populations. Trans students, non-binary students, black, Native American, and female students feel these mental health concerns much more than traditional college-going populations.

Students are stressed out, and they’re concerned that they won’t be able to find their community when they get to college. Any tools or information that we can offer to help them feel secure in their ability to find friends and be successful (academically, socially, etc.) when they get to college are really important in helping them find their right-fit school.


  • Reflection question:

    What student support services does your institution offer that you can more prominently promote during recruitment?

“We are making college search tools more useful, convenient, and impactful for students and their families.”

TS: With today’s students feeling increasingly anxious about the college search process, how is Appily helping to support them?

EN: We created Appily to help smooth the journey to college while also keeping students up to date on all the changes that we’ve seen take hold in college admissions over the last few years. The FAFSA recently changed, test-optional applications are more prominent than they ever were before the pandemic, direct and reverse admission platforms have been introduced, and we need to educate students on what those changes mean for them.

To do that, EAB took incredible college search tools from Cappex, services and support for underrepresented and first-generation to college students from College Greenlight, immersive virtual tours from YouVisit, and reverse admissions through Concourse and brought them all together to create a one-stop-shop for students that will help them at every step in their journey to college. We are making college search tools more useful, convenient, and impactful for students and their families and then, ultimately, facilitating connections with colleges.

  • 13x

    increase in virtual tour visits since the launch of

We also have resources for transfer and adult students, as well as students who want to go back and complete their degree. Our goal is to be the premier destination for students to plan, decide, and apply to college with confidence, which can mean so many things: getting matched with colleges based on their preferences, calculating their chances of admission at specific schools, taking virtual college tours, finding scholarships, and access to a ton of parent and counselor resources, as well.


“It’s incredibly important for enrollment leaders and marketers to be strategic and personalized in their approach.”

Emily Niedermaier: Tisleen, you work closely with our college partners. Thus far, how have colleges been leveraging Appily to engage with students?

Tisleen Singh: Partners have been really excited about how Appily brought everything together.

For partners that work with us, at the start, we make sure that they have a custom profile on, which includes making sure that their profile’s information is up-to-date and unique to the student that’s conducting research on Appily.

So, for example, if a transfer student is searching for information on XYZ College, the platform will pick up that they are a transfer student and will make sure that they are specifically seeing transfer information about that school. Similarly, if it’s a first-generation student, that school may have chosen to put up information about bridge programs or peer mentorship programs that may be of interest to that student. It’s a place for schools to essentially have a custom “billboard” based on the audience that’s looking at them.

As you mentioned earlier, given the volume of college search platforms that have popped up in recent years, it’s important for enrollment leaders and marketers to be strategic and personalized in their approach. You need to leverage platforms that not only maximize your reach, but also enable you to customize your presence to speak to the needs and interests of the student who is engaging with you on that platform. Appily does that really well.


  • Reflection question:

    What can you do to ensure that students have a personalized college search experience with your school?

EN: What can enrollment leaders do to maximize their presence on Appily and help students feel more confident in their college choices?

TS: Firstly, you need to be visible where students are conducting college research, and they need to curate their presence on those channels. That means taking students’ mental health concerns into account along with the trepidation that they are having about going to–and staying in–college. Ultimately, enrollment leaders need to be more flexible. This is an industry that has done things a certain way for a very long time; I often encourage admissions teams to switch it up.

You also need to introduce yourself early when they’re determining what their priorities and preferences are. The earlier schools engage with students and the earlier students are introduced to your brand, the more likely they are to apply to and enroll at your school. It’s never too early to start engaging with students and making sure that they can see your brand when they’re browsing. If you are engaging with a sophomore, they’re two times more likely to enroll at your university than if you were to meet them at a later point in time.

  • 5x

    greater likelihood that Appily inquiries will deposit compared to other major sources.

It’s also time for enrollment leaders to diversify their list sources and open themselves up to new opportunities as the times and trends change. Students are not searching in the same ways that they once did, and we can’t rely on assessments and college fairs as our sole connection points anymore. Students are connecting with your institution all the time, but on new corners of the internet. Be in those corners. Diversify your sources. Because students are entering the college search process all the time and they’re largely using the internet to do it; not just when they sit down to take a test.

Lastly, you need to present your brand authentically while answering the questions that students want answered. We’re in the age of TikTok; the attention span for this generation is around 7 seconds. Keep the information you present brief while addressing the critical concerns that students have in about mental health support, finding their community, and being successful during and after college.


  • Reflection question:

    Which channels can you adopt to diversify your recruitment strategy and better engage with Gen Z?

Tisleen Singh

Tisleen Singh

Sr. Director of Partner Success, Audience Generation

Read Bio

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