The New Coming of Age: It’s Taking Longer

October 15, 2008 at 6:35 pm Leave a comment

One of the unintended consequences of providing kids with a broad range of experiences and opportunities is that they are often way overscheduled. In grammar school, middle school and high school – when parents are still managing their lives in one way or another – burnout, irritation, or rebelliousness can be the fallout. But what happens when these same hyper-scheduled kids go off to college and start making all of their own decisions?

Our recent research with college-age young adults does not paint a pretty picture. Consider the following:

§ College-age adults report that their biggest challenge is balancing schoolwork and their social lives. Finding the right mix is an ongoing struggle, but it’s particularly taxing in their freshman year. That’s when students realize that they alone are responsible for themselves.

§ Students at large state universities say it is easy to get overwhelmed with student activities, classes, and social commitments.

§ Lack of time is a persistent worry. Students are constantly preoccupied with allocating enough time to their responsibilities and commitments.

All of these issues are present throughout college, but they shift as students advance through school and become more adept at time management. The lifecycle of college maturity typically follows this path:

§ First-year students often struggle with the newness of the college experience – trying to learn study habits, fit in, meet friends, and manage homesickness and the new dynamics of relationships with their home and college friends.

§ Second-year students most often grapple with the same basic issues, and try to make up for lost time during their freshman year.

§ Students in the third through fifth years worry most about their major and whether they have chosen the “right one.” They are beginning to worry about life after college – and all of the challenges that brings.

§ About the junior year in college – in spite of all of the pressures – students begin to appreciate the protective bubble which they inhabit. A certain nostalgia starts to set in as students recognize that the future is even more challenging than the present.

For marketers, reaching college students is actually much harder than when they lived at home. Untethered from the structure of home life, college-age young adults are elusive and erratic. While social media remain a very good channel in reaching them, marketers also need to go where teens are. That means more on-campus events and more creativity in presenting a compelling offer. With money tighter for both themselves and their parents, frugality and value are also very appealing.

To reach this over-scheduled generation, it’s clear marketers will have to think differently to appeal to this moving target.


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