For Counselors

Reducing Summer Melt

Post by
Drew Goltermann
On the path to college graduation, many students stop before they even start. Learn some practical tips that can help your students avoid this "summer melt".
Reducing Summer Melt

Congratulations to you and your students for all the hard work in building the academic skills, finding a best-fit match college, and evaluating all of your college financial aid offers! Your student has identified their best fit college and is ready to continue their journey to a fulfilling career and future. 

The next hurdle to jump can feel like a big one: matriculation. Research suggests that the number of students - particularly those who are first-generation, qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch, or receive special education services - who intend to enroll in college but don’t can be upwards of 10-40%. That’s commonly called “Summer Melt”; ensuring that students begin college in their first semester after high school is critical to long-term postsecondary attainment. 

We spoke with a few experts who have minimized summer melt and increased college attainment by building sustainable systems-based approaches. Here are 7 learnings that they shared that support their students into first-year matriculation. 

Leverage Strong Relationships & Lines of Communication

Supporting students is all about building a relationship of trust, honesty and transparency. Cesar Lombera, a former Associate Director of Alumni Success and current Overgrad NYC Engagement Manager, suggests that counselors “build rapport quickly with students by helping them identify problems and providing them with solutions so when you say ‘this is important’ they will trust you and do it. In the absence of having built that trust, identify the adults or peers in their lives who may be able to relay that same message for you.” This helps in so many ways: getting good contact information from a senior survey, guiding final decisions with students and families, and in talking about the real challenges of college for First-Generation, Low-Income students.

Create Lines of Communication

Before a student leaves school, counselors and staff can work together to make sure that the communication with students doesn’t stop when they graduate. This means that setting up routines to gather good contact information is critical. Many schools send senior surveys to understand their students’ postsecondary plans - make sure to also get their college or personal email address and phone number, and ask them who their close friends are (so you can try to reach out through their circle if you need to). While you’re at it, ask students if they prefer an email/text/phone call, and if there is anyone who should (or should not) be included on future communications. Most students have a connection to one or more staff at the school - a favorite teacher or coach, for instance - who can also help in the effort of gathering up to date contact information for soon-to-be graduates. 

Systems = Success

By systematizing communication practices, you can concretize what works best. Lindsey Alves, Director of Programs at Minds Matter Boston, says that systems are great because they codify the best things people do so that everyone can do them. “Even the language [like ‘Summer Melt’] we use is a system,” she says. A few systems that counselors, schools or districts can readily adopt:

  • Sending Pre-Recorded Videos and Reminders to Students and Families – use your existing text or email systems and prepare a cadence of messages (videos are best if you can!) to go out over the summer before big milestone dates like registration and orientations. Most platforms will allow you to schedule your communication calendar in advance - base yours on key actions and deadlines like registration. 
  • Matriculation Trackers – set up an easy to use tracker (or store this information using Custom Fields in Overgrad) to track the most important actions a student takes towards matriculation throughout the spring/summer

Co-create Checklists for Accountability

While you may not be able to support every student after they receive their diploma, you can set them up with a gameplan to get to their first day of college. Create templates that each student can tailor to their college during meetings with you in the spring (and share with families!) so that everyone knows the next steps that need to take place over the summer. Cesar says that these checklists are a way to “support your students in creating a process of accountability in their own matriculation.” Consider the following categories, outlined in these resources from the New Visions for Public Schools

  • Admissions and Commitment Fee
  • Testing
  • Financial Aid
  • Housing Forms
  • Special Opportunity Programs
  • Orientation / Class Registration
  • First Day of Class

Prioritize the Right Students for Extra Support

Unfortunately, counselors’ time is limited. Knowing which students might be at risk - and prioritizing those specific students - can move the needle for matriculation. Prioritizing students based on demographics can be helpful - first-generation, males of color, students with IEPs, housing insecure and Black & Brown students are statistically more likely to “melt”. We also heard that tracking other data - like students who have an out-of-pocket cost greater than $3,000, are enrolling in a college whose grad rate and selectivity is lower than what they are eligible for, or a decision that was contentious within a family - can help counselors spend their time most effectively to reduce summer melt.

Collect Ongoing Data

Speaking of data, know the colleges that your students most commonly attend and their “melt rates”. Some schools are going to be better fits for your students, and some schools will have lower summer melt rates because their systems are more equipped to meet your students’ needs. Use your senior survey data and matriculation data from NSC to collect and aggregate melt rates by college. Over time, you can build a data-driven knowledge base of schools that historically have high matriculation (and ultimately, graduation) rates; use this information to help students make informed decisions about their future. 

Build a Network of Support

Your work doesn’t exist on an island - so find ways to lean on all the other people who are ready to support your students’ next step. That might be family members, mentors, CBOs in your community, teachers or community leaders. Lindsey shares some advice about getting multiple people on board to support students’ transitions, with one focusing on “check-ins and informal updates; [another] asking college-based matriculation questions”. You might not have the support of a CBO, but, there is definitely someone else in your student’s life who can help make sure your student matriculates. Cesar says not to underestimate the value of engaging families in the process, because “knowing how your families make decisions, who and what influence matters. [Remember] that decisions are made by families.” 

You and your student have worked so hard to build strategic applications lists and make an informed postsecondary decision. With a little planning and system-building, you can increase the number of them who can matriculate the following fall. 

What else are you doing to reduce summer melt?

Check out some of our most frequently requested resources below...