By Ainsley Ash, National College Attainment Network

Every year, an estimated 10-40% of high school students who intend to enroll in college the following fall never actually do so. Students most underrepresented on college campuses — students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and first-generation students — are the most susceptible to challenges of “summer melt.”

Comprehensive and engaging summer melt interventions require planning in order to effectively reach the students who need them the most, which is why it is important to be proactive. Here are some tips for preventing summer melt.

Measuring summer melt.

For many organizations, the senior exit survey administered around graduation is a good place to start. To increase survey completion, consider offering incentives or making the survey a graduation requirement. Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research Summer Melt Handbook offers a guide on what to include in the senior exit survey and includes examples.

The more specific the questions, the better. For instance, the guide recommends asking questions that reveal which institution a student plans to enroll and whether or not the student has paid their deposit.

With an understanding of how many students intend to go to college, compare that information against data available through the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC). Their StudentTracker service helps organizations determine how many students actually enroll in college the following fall.

Once the fall approaches, use data on intention and enrollment and this formula to calculate summer melt:



The key is to have some sense of how many students are melting and, even better, which student groups are melting at the highest rates. Having these data makes more effective summer melt interventions possible.

If many of your students are going to the same colleges, consider creating transition “cheat-sheets.”

Organizations can take this simple and low-budget action to support students over the summer.

To get started, make a list of the institutions to which the students you serve most often matriculate. Contact these colleges’ admissions offices to ensure that your organization is creating a guide that is in line with each school’s requirements and timeline and to see if they have any additional information to include. This can also help to build a stronger partnership between your organization and the higher education institutions that serve your students.

To make the most of cheat sheets, combine with hands-on support.

Consider summer staffing.

Hiring school counselors or other summer employees allows for personalized advising. It is a great way to reach students who started their college-going process later in the year. This is especially impactful if your organization has access to the information necessary to contact students over the summer, which you can capture on the senior survey.

Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research Summer Melt Handbook offers guidance:

“Through phone calls, text messages, and face-to-face meetings, counselors offer additional college-related support and guidance during the summer months. Counselors help students review their financial aid packages, understand and complete required paperwork, and negotiate social/emotional barriers to enrollment.”

Also consider involving members of the local groups such as the faith community, a local college access organization, or a local college.

Texting campaigns can easily be customized to reach your students.

Whether or not your organization is able to bring on summer staff, you should still consider a digital approach such as texting. Research suggests that texting campaigns can be one of the most cost-effective ways to stay in contact with students.

The aim of texting should be to inform students about college-related tasks that they might not be aware of, remind them of deadlines, and help them complete such tasks before enrolling.  If your district or school’s student portal has texting capabilities, that is one way to get in contact with students.

When sending texts to students, focus on just one enrollment objective per text and include links for action actions.

If you’re looking for text messaging templates, Find the Fit has a series of customizable text messages that can be used to send to students.

For a more in-depth look, “Nudges, Norms, and New Solutions” is a comprehensive guide on how to utilize digital efforts such as texting, social media campaigns, and chatbots.

Stopping the Class of 2021 from melting

New data about the class of 2020 tells us that low-income high school enrollment numbers were down more than 13 times from the previous year. Similarly, high-minority high schools saw enrollment decline more than ten-fold.

Since the most disadvantaged students are the most susceptible to summer melt, it is imperative that districts, schools, and college access programs are prepared to provide support for high school seniors as they transition. Regardless of your organization’s capacity, there are actions that you can take to combat summer melt.

Register now for April 15 “Summer Melt” webinar.

On April 15, NCAN will lead an expert panel from districts and programs that implement summer melt strategies during a webinar titled “Reducing Summer Melt in the Age of COVID.” The webinar will take place from 1-2 p.m. EST.

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