TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Guess Who’s Coming to Campus?
Five Things That May Surprise You About Millennials
By SCOTT HESS
Take a quick look around campus, squint your eyes just right, and you can almost feel yourself drifting back to your own college days. Sure, as you let your eyes come back into focus you notice the abundance of smartphones and that Chipotle burritos seem to be trumping Quarter Pounders. But more or less, college still looks like college, right? Sort of.
At TRU, a global leader in youth research, we have spent
the past three decades helping brands like Nike and Under
Armour, Coke and Pepsi, and MTV and the NFL better connect with youth. While much of what we learned in our earliest days still holds true—that teens aspire to be older and that
peer counsel plays better than authoritarian edicts—we have
also noted many interesting shifts as Generation X has given
way to the current cohort of Millennials.
Through its work with colleges and universities, TRU has
uncovered countless insights that are particularly relevant to
the college experience. Here are five that may surprise you
and your colleagues:
➌ Millennials really like their parents.
Remember your first concert? If you are over 35, chances are
your parents (or your friends’ parents) played some role in
the experience, buying the tickets for you and dropping you
off and picking you up at the back of the parking lot. For the
current crop of inbound freshman, the memories are likely
to be quite different: They enjoyed Taylor Swift or AC/DC
together with one parent or both, and each left with a t-shirt.
Millennials have learned to make friends and family equally
important in their lives. you may find that one parents’ weekend may not be enough on-campus interaction for them.
➊ The expectations of Millennials may be more voca-
tional than recreational.
Gone are the days when the word college conjured up one’s
right to partake of years of carefree self-discovery and keg
parties before eventually assuming a deserved position
inside a corporate monolith. For many incoming freshmen,
college is not the accidental next step in their march to adult-
hood. It is a conscious choice carefully made in concert with
parents, often amidst a backdrop of economic sacrifice. As
a result, today’s Millennial students and their omnipresent
parents may be arriving on campus with greater expectations
for career placement centers than for dining halls and
➍ Peer adhesion trumps peer pressure, and inclusion
Back in the 1980s, high school cliques consisted of five or six
friends, and social circles often revolved around a smallish
group of like-minded, similarly dressed individuals. Only in
movies like “The Breakfast Club” did the twain meet and then
only in detention. Times have changed. Today’s teens come
to campus as a diversity-positive, big-tent brigade, bragging
openly about their diverse friends and boasting about thou-sand-person, social network registries. More than one in three
Millennials claims to have friends they have never met (a far
cry from the days of the pen pal), and more than one in four
says their inner circles include someone of a sexual orientation
different than their own.
➋ Millennials are more likely to be Armchair Activists™
than campus radicals.
Today’s young, socially-conscious consumers increasingly are
looking to wear their values on their sleeves, either in the real
world, where there is a colored bracelet for every cause, or in
virtual realms, where supporting a worthwhile charity is often
only a click away. Although less likely than previous cohorts
to camp out in the provost’s office or build a tent city on the
quad, this generation is uniquely adept at researching and
supporting their favorite causes, especially online. Although
many Millennials consider themselves too poor and too busy
to boycott or demonstrate, most are possessed of the same
idealism that has always animated the lifestage, and they are
increasingly looking not to the street but to the establishment—big companies, parents, and college leadership—to aid
and abet their do-gooder instincts.
➎ Although more motivated and conventional than you
might guess, many Millennials seem to view their future
as a “road trip” to stability.
Although we have all heard about “hookups” and “friends
with benefits,” the mass of Millennials aim for marriage, albeit
not until an average age of about 27, a number that has been
rising for the past few decades. The same holds true for other
arenas of ambition, as most Millennials aspire to a career, family, and even their own home. The difference, however, is their
attitude toward achieving all this. For many, serendipity and
destiny are at least as important as planning. The things that
happen along the way are not missteps but, rather, opportunities for learning: essential “do-overs” that help make the
journey that much more rewarding. LE
Scott Hess is the vice president of insights at TRU, the global leader in
youth research and insights ( www.tru-insight.com).