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10 things we've learned about college students

10 things we've learned about college students

A look at the behaviors and motivations of today's generation of college students

Penn State’s Engagement App, developed by Navengage, officially launched at Penn State this past fall and has since gained over 13,500 users. 

From the start of the app development process, our user success team has been laser-focused on learning what students need, how they think, and what motivates them to get engaged outside of the classroom. 

Digitally native, independent, and open-minded – today’s generation of college students are a special cohort. They don’t know a world without computers, mobile phones, or gaming devices. In fact, an 18-year-old today was born the same year Facebook launched, and they turned 3 when the first iPhone hit the shelves. Most notably, they experienced a global pandemic while attending school and were pushed to alter their social and academic routines. 

We understand that in order to provide students with an app that is enjoyable to use and will help them get engaged, we must dedicate ourselves to understanding their characteristics and motivations. In collaboration with the Penn State Student Engagement Network, Navengage has worked with students representing every Penn State campus via focus groups and feedback forms throughout the last 18 months. We've talked to students, asked them about their college experiences, and observed their user behaviors. Here’s what we've learned: 

1. They enjoy being part of the innovative process. 

Students don’t necessarily expect perfection, as long as they’re invited into the creative process. They’d rather be told “This is a new app, help us make it better” than “This is a new app, go use it.” 


2. They value what their network recommends. 

A known characteristic of Gen Z is that they heavily rely on influencers when making purchase decisions. With the Engagement App, students are able to learn about opportunities through their network. Whether it’s through a conversation in a group chat or an opportunity posted on the app's newsfeed, students seem to enjoy the person-to-person interaction as a way to get engaged outside of the classroom.  


3. They are transparent. 

Whether they like a feature or see room for improvement, students are blunt and quick to the point when it comes to providing feedback. They will truly say whatever is on their minds! 


4. They appreciate prompt responses to feedback.

Whenever we’ve responded to feedback within a short timeframe, we’ve noticed that students seem pleasantly surprised at the quick response. No matter if they submitted positive or constructive feedback, a fast and genuine response was much appreciated. On several occasions, it even opened up a more insightful dialogue. 


5. They are more vulnerable than expected.

There are various opportunities on our app for students to share their goals and interests for getting engaged outside of the classroom. When reviewing responses, we found that students are willing to open up and share their personal struggles. They just need to be given the space to do so. 


6.  They move at their own pace but all need to be supported. 

Students navigate college at their own pace. Some want to hit the ground running as soon as possible, while others take more time to step outside their comfort zones. Some want to sort through a ton of information, while others jump at the first opportunity they hear about. No matter what the case is, students need to feel like there’s a support system available when they need it. Our app is that go-to resource for them. 


7. They want to feel heard on a personal level. 

Students don’t want to feel like a statistic. No matter how big their campus is, they want to feel supported in their own unique goals and needs. They want to be met where they're at. We’ve received positive feedback that our white label app - which uses university logos, colors and brand voice - makes students feel like their campus is listening to them.  


8. They look for meaningful connections based on shared interests. 

Students want to find others who share their unique interests and have gravitated towards features on our app that allow them to do so, like creating interest-based group chats or requesting to join new organizations.


9. Convenience is a top priority. 

Most of the feedback we’ve received relates to the convenience of our app. Students will do anything to save time. With a world of information to navigate and not enough time to sort through everything, they gravitate towards tools that will organize data into one place. Our mobile app centralizes university programs, events, and engagement opportunities into the ultimate one-stop-shop for students. 


10. They want to find belonging.

What do students want when they arrive on campus? Whenever we’ve asked this question, a majority of students share an answer that has something to do with finding friends or joining an organization. They want to make friends and feel connected to their campus communities before anything else. 


As the rest of the academic year unfolds, we look forward to working with students to learn more about the complexities of college life as it is today and as it continues to evolve.


About Navengage

Navengage Inc. delivers mobile-first student engagement software that helps higher ed institutions increase student engagement and boost retention. We aim to advance student engagement technology so that colleges and universities have comprehensive, accurate, and readily available data for decision making. We are committed to engaging today's students with tomorrow's cutting-edge education technology and envision a world where every student has the opportunity to safely and successfully pursue their education.

To learn more, visit, book a 15-minute demo, or email 


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