How to Prevent Summer Melt

Summer melt” describes the outcome of recent high school graduates who fully intend to enroll in college, but ultimately don’t matriculate in the fall for a myriad of reasons. First-generation and lower-income students are especially impacted by this phenomenon, so continued support from college prep and advising programs during the summer months is invaluable.

Navigating competing priorities can make it challenging for students to address the financial and logistical barriers to matriculation. Even if you only work with students 10 months of the year, there are a few ways you can combat summer melt and ease students’ transition to successfully starting a new semester. Here are a few ways to get started.

Tell Students How to Get Help Over the Summer

After you determine which staff members will be available to support students throughout the summer, list their names, hours of availability, locations (virtual/in-person), and contact information via email, your website, printed handouts, and/or social media. Be sure to clearly share this information with your students and families as early as possible. It never hurts to remind students that you are available to them at multiple points during the summer.

Additionally, try creating campus-specific checklists, or “enrollment cheat sheets” for your program’s most popular post-secondary destinations so students know where they can turn for help at their future institution. Most colleges and universities have support programs specifically for BIPOC, first-generation, and lower-income students beyond the support in admissions, financial aid, academic advising, and housing offices. Having a directory of campus contacts helps students know where to go for help, even after your interventions end. Include offices and contacts who assist with common pain points:

  • Enrollment or housing deposits
  • Final matriculation steps
  • Student bills and financial aid disbursements
  • Emergency funding
  • Mental and emotional crises

If this sounds like a lot of work for your already overworked staff, remember that you don’t have to combat summer melt alone. College and university enrollment offices are acutely interested in preventing summer melt. Many higher ed offices are facing similar staffing and capacity issues, so partnering with them to help high school graduates transition to college is mutually beneficial. Your admissions reps want to ensure that the students they recruited ultimately pursue the educational opportunity offered to them. Ask admissions offices to share the information that you need for your enrollment cheat sheets. While some of the steps that need to be completed by the fall are universal at every institution, having specific contacts and deadlines per institution can maximize enrollment outcomes while minimizing staff effort. Connecting with current college students from your program on each campus can help with collecting information and forming relationships with their incoming peers prior to fall semester.

Use Organizational Tools to Identify Student Needs

Collecting key student data will enable you to tailor your summer melt interventions. A senior exit survey is an effective method to collect information about post-secondary plans, updated contact details (cell phone, email, preferred contact method, etc.), and financial aid completion status. Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research Summer Melt Handbook offers guidance on what questions to include in your exit surveys and examples.

Another option to track students’ post-secondary progress is to create your own student tracker in Excel or other virtual database tools. This approach could be useful for smaller organizations and those with limited funding. If your program serves multiple regions, has funding for additional resources, or is willing to pool funding with another organization, using National Student Clearinghouse data can help you track long term education trends for your students.

Implement Student Contact Interventions

Successful interventions combine tools and support, but establishing trust is the first step to combatting summer melt. Plan to connect with your students once a month during the summer to address any hesitations that students have about where they will enroll, any family obligations or concerns that may conflict with enrollment plans, knowledge gaps about paying the first semester bill, and any other surprises that could derail matriculation plans.

Monthly check-ins can be in-person or virtual and they can be live or asynchronous. You can have full-time staff, volunteers, or peer mentors lead these efforts. Depending on your capacity and your students’ engagement, a mix of communication methods could work:

  • Live 1:1 Meetings – Meet in person, over the phone, or on a video messaging platform to check enrollment cheat sheets, review financial aid packages, complete required paperwork, and address any social/emotional obstacles to enrollment.
  • Text, Email, or Postcard Reminders - Send weekly reminders with campus-specific tasks to your students via text or email. Messages should be short, actionable, and include direct links, when applicable. If using snail mail, consider sending a checklist of action items to students and families.
  • Group Webinars - Explain key skills needed for college success such as self-advocacy and time-management in workshop or webinar format and consider recording them for future use. You can outsource featured speakers to maximize your staff’s bandwidth. Best practices from current college students can boost the confidence of your high school graduates and college representatives can explain how to access crucial on-campus resources with a virtual tour.

Successful melt interventions enable students to complete college-related tasks that they might not be aware of. Commit to meeting your students where they are and matriculation rates will increase, no matter how intricate or costly your interventions are. Remember, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to address the unique challenges students face in this process. Keep exploring transition strategies and resources to help high school seniors have a successful start to college.