Gen Z college students returning to campus

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Here's how 8 Gen Z students feel about returning to campus this fall

by Stephanie H.
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    The 2020-21 academic year is shaping up to be one for the ages for Gen Z college students. As Zers prepare to return, transfer, or start their college careers, Coronavirus continues to wreak utter havoc on what should be an exciting time. Read on to see how 8 Zers feel about their potential return to campus.

    Nevermind what a complete tease (yay, you’re at school!) and shock (just kidding, now go home!) the previous spring semester was. Now, the closer that fall move-in dates get, the more feelings of unease, confusion, excitement, and skepticism are beginning to move in, too. 

    In May, UNiDAYS surveyed our verified student members in the U.S. about back-to-school (BTS) shopping across several categories. The results indicated that among the 1,200 respondents, most were excited about school, and a good deal of them were already shopping or planning to do so soon. 

    But students aren’t the only ones dealing with a completely foreign college experience—brands are, too. The 2020 BTS shopping season, which typically ramps up in July, will be unlike any that have come before it, either. It’s a unclear time, raft with more questions than we have answers for. 

    With these challenges and uncertainties in mind, UNiDAYS had some follow-up questions for college-bound Zers. We wanted to know where their heads were at. Did they think they would go back to school? And were they worried about it if they did? What were they planning on buying, if anything? These are a few of things we asked. 

    Here’s what 8 Gen Z students had to say about returning to campus this fall:

    Question 1: Do you think you’ll be going back to campus for the fall semester? 

    • “I do think I will be going back to school—mainly because my university has been emailing us constantly, stating that we will be returning no matter what.” - Haley
    • “My school is saying we will, and they’ve adjusted the classroom settings to help prevent spread of the virus. It makes me feel safer and I really hope to go back for the fall semester!” - Manny
    • “I have doubts that we’ll be able to fully return to school if COVID-19 cases continue to grow, but if we do go back, I’m sure it won’t be like it was before.” - Sam
    • “I’ll be headed back to my campus because I’m leasing a duplex. I do plan on attending the fall semester; however, I would much prefer it be online for the sake of everyone’s health.” - Michaela
    • “I am not too hopeful about the prospect of returning to campus. I do really hope it happens and my school has said we will—but I’m very apprehensive to believe it.” - Jon

    Question 2: How are you feeling about going back to campus in light of COVID-19?

    • “I am very nervous about going to college because I’m afraid I will contract the virus.” - Haley 
    • “I’m worried about going back to school, in the sense of living in the dorms. I believe it’s possible to have proper socially distanced classes, but in the dorm it’s impossible to not spread disease.” - Sam
    • “I am really worried about heading back to campus. I don’t feel comfortable being in a classroom with fellow students, no matter how far apart we are. I also do not think people will be taking the necessary precautions to keep themselves and others safe because, although I attend a liberal school, it is riddled with white privilege.” - Michaela
    • “I think having class on campus would be an irresponsible choice that impacts professors, students, and their families. I also am considering dropping out because I feel like my degree will be worthless by the time I graduate.” - Zoe
    • “I’m nervous about it. I know they’re making efforts so that social distancing is more possible but I worry about people living in dorms or dining on campus. I'm worried that a lot of college kids won’t care about wearing face masks or distancing. I know that I won't be able to do a 14-day self quarantine because classes start 11 days after I move in.” - Emily 
    • “I’m still very excited; however, I'm also very confused as to if I will be going, what college will look like, how and when to begin saying goodbye to people at home. There’s also a fear and worry about not really having a normal and fun fall semester.” - Jon
    • “Going back to school is a little scary, but I know life cannot stop completely and school is a big part of life.” - Amanda 

    Question 3: Are you shopping for supplies for school, or are you planning to? If you are, what are you buying

    • “I already bought supplies, but I’m making sure to not spend much money in case we end up not going. I’m buying stuff that I could also use in an apartment sophomore year. For example my bedspread, shower caddy and a laptop.” - Haley 
    • “Yes! I have a bunch of things in my cart right now. I'll be buying the normal bedding, clothes, food and all the goods that I need to be prepared for college life again! ” - Manny
    • “I haven’t started shopping yet. I would normally be buying things to decorate my dorm but I’m worried we will need to make a quick departure again so I don’t want to get a bunch of stuff yet.” - Sam 
    • “I haven't bought any school supplies but I usually don’t buy them until August anyway, once I've heard from my professors a bit. I'm moving in to my first apartment and I'm working on buying stuff that I need for this new living situation.” - Emily
    • “I’m planning to but I don’t think I'll start until late July or early August. I’m going to buy all the normal items (a coffee maker, closet organizers, shelves, tapestry) and also a lot of Lysol and wipes.” - Jon
    • “I have filled up my Amazon cart and get packages very often in the mail. I bought most of my supplies last year, so this year the only big thing I am getting is a TV. Some other things are more decorative, and since I have my own bathroom this year, cleaning supplies.” - Amanda

    Question 4: How has COVID-19 impacted you and your plans?

    • “I was supposed to study abroad in Ireland first semester but because of COVID, that was cancelled and I am attending school on campus in the fall.” - Haley 
    • “I had a fun-filled summer lined up. I was supposed to go to so many concerts and festivals.” - Manny
    • “COVID-19 changed my plans to study abroad this upcoming school year. Apart from school, it means I rarely go out to places when it isn’t necessary, and only see people while social distancing.” - Sam 
    • “COVID has impacted my plans a lot. I was going to work all summer, but my mom has an autoimmune disease and I can’t risk getting her sick, so I am kind of broke.” - Michaela
    • “I don’t have any plans anymore. Nothing is solid and I have no idea what life will look like in the next couple of months. It feels unrealistic to plan any further than that.” - Zoe
    • “I'm definitely missing things like admitted students day, orientation, and welcome week the most.” - Jon
    • “It is beyond difficult to distance myself from all my friends and stay at home all the time. My family are big travelers, so we had many trips cancelled due to the virus.” - Amanda 

    When it comes to Gen Z spending habits, read the (dorm) room

    Students are apprehensive. They want to be excited but also have very real concerns about their health and that of their family members. Brands should take care to not appear tone deaf to Gen Z’s dilemma over what the future holds and where their learning will take place. 

    Even among those that have started shopping, they seem to be doing so with a realistic and pragmatic approach. Purchases will be thoughtful and likely ones that will carry them from dorm to apartment living, to whatever might come next. 

    If you’d like to learn more about where Gen Z plans to spend their money in the strangest BTS season ever, download our report, Analyzing Gen Z Spending Habits Before and During COVID-19.

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