There’s a reason ‘butts in seats’ is a common phrase among college enrollment professionals. While tuition deposits are a great predictor for your incoming class, they are not exact. Over the summer months, schools everywhere are contending with summer melt—and the evolving causes of summer melt.

A higher melt’s impact on higher education institutions is impossible to ignore. Between 10% and 40% of your committed college-intending students may simply decide not to enroll. Minimizing the damage starts with understanding the causes of summer melt, along with building strategies designed to prevent it. But of course, it begins with a basic understanding of what summer melt actually is.

What Is Summer Melt?

In the context of higher ed, summer melt describes the phenomenon of college-bound students who have already committed to your school but end up changing their minds. Instead, they either choose to enroll at another school or forego matriculation at a college altogether.

The negative impact of a high summer melt rate for local colleges and national universities alike can be significant. Colleges traditionally use deposits and commitments to predict enrollment for the incoming class. These factors, in turn, are used in institutional budget planning during summer. Lose a significant chunk of your predicted incoming class, and your lost revenue can go into the six or seven digits.

According to the National College Attainment Network, between 10% and 40% of high school graduates with higher education enrollment intent never actually make it. That’s why understanding the causes of summer melt and how to mitigate them is so important.

Common Causes of Summer Melt

Understanding the common causes of summer melt begins with understanding who your incoming students are. High school students are facing one of the most significant choices in their lives: a comprehensive change in their environment to postsecondary education that many are simply unprepared for. Most, if not all, causes of summer melt revolve around that reality.

Lack of Support and Guidance

For many students, the college admissions support system is built into the school district. High school seniors get the help they need from school counselors who are ready to help them through the admissions process and drive them toward student success.

But when they graduate, that support system disappears. High school counselors are no longer available to them. Even those who help beyond graduation will likely be unavailable for in-person consultations.

In addition, first-generation college students, especially, can suffer from a lack of parental guidance. Much has been made about the increasing involvement of parents in the college admission process. But all too often, that is only true with parents who have been through the same process. Disproportionally for first-generation and low-income students, parental mentorship and guidance are simply not available.

As a result, these students don’t know where to turn. They might not know how to read their financial aid package or when to conduct college outreach. So they stop the process altogether, minimizing their own chances of college access and success.

Student Uncertainty and Anxiety

In part because of this lack of support system, student uncertainty and anxiety rank among the top common causes of summer melt. Many students, especially students of color, may worry about how they will fit into schools where most students do not look like them or don’t know them.

Students may also be worried about their academic readiness. It doesn’t take going to a school like Harvard University to fear that your good performance during senior year in high school doesn’t translate to leveling up during your first year in college.

It’s why, according to one study, anxiety is now among the top causes for incoming students to reconsider going to college. It may also be why some of them change their mind at the last minute and decide to enroll in a lower-pressure option like a community college instead.

Financial Barriers

Admissions offices around the country know the importance of financial aid when it comes to enrollment. Even the best messaging matters little if the data provided by the FAFSA doesn’t lead to an education your incoming students can afford.

Worse, especially in a cycle like this, many students may be confused about financial aid and potentially unexpected costs. They’re not necessarily aware of either the additional fees needed beyond tuition or the different ways to pay for college. Unable to cover their college expenses, an untold number of students are expected to defer or completely cancel their enrollment.

Communication Gaps

Traditionally, most recruitment communication—personally and broadly—happens at the early stages of the enrollment funnel. But too often, that means ignoring the students at the bottom end of your funnel who still need to hear from you. They’ll need both reinforcement that they’ve made the right decision and functional information about next steps, from registering for orientation to planning for move-in weekend.

This is the stage where marketing and recruitment professionals traditionally exit the equation and administrative offices enter the fray. But that also means messaging can become overly functional and complex, leading to misunderstanding. In fact, students may fail to complete the enrollment process simply due to this complexity.

Administrative Hurdles

Finally, the sheer complexity of college enrollment is one of the more under-discussed causes of summer melt. Paperwork, secondary deadlines, and enrollment procedures can easily overwhelm students. This causes them to miss important steps or get discouraged from continuing.

Some of these administrative hurdles, of course, are impossible to prevent. But they’re important to keep in mind as you consider your students’ mindset. Ultimately, this will help you build a more robust strategy of supporting and enrolling as many of your committed students as possible.

Tips for Universities to Prevent and Mitigate Summer Melt

Student uncertain about her college choice and likelihood of success

Summer melt is a pervasive problem, and not all of its causes can be eliminated entirely. Still, several strategies and tactics can help you minimize it, from improving your communication to building immersive digital experiences.

Maintain Top-Notch Communication With Incoming Students

First, and most comprehensively, put a plan in place to continue communicating with your students. This includes both ensuring that your broad communications on social media and elsewhere continue into the summer. Also, build up personal outreach from your admissions counselors and other important offices.

At its best, your summer melt communication plan becomes a comprehensive, multi-channel effort. It should include email, phone, text messages, and social media. Collaborate closely with any offices communicating with incoming students in the summer to align your messaging and minimize misunderstandings.

Connect Incoming Students With Mentors

Incoming students who may feel anxious or unprepared about college will benefit significantly from mentorship programs designed to help them succeed from the first moment. There are a variety of ways to implement these programs, from pairing more senior students with incoming first-year students to a sign-up process for volunteer peer mentors.

Even with students and staff members already in touch with incoming students, you can do more. Once they step on campus, they can still benefit from mentorship training and programs. Academic advisors, residence hall assistants, and others could be incentivized to go above their technical duties and take new students under their wing from the moment they place the deposit.

Equip Students With Full Support and Resources

When students stop receiving the support they need from their high school, institutions can jump into the breach. Use the summer to offer a full suite of support for any students who ask for them—and proactively offer them for students who might not know what to ask for, as well.

Financial aid counseling sessions can be immensely valuable, even (and especially) after your financial aid packages have gone out. Academic preparation options, including longer orientation or welcome week programming with options like learning study skills, can be just as beneficial. So can offering incoming students physical and mental health services, even before they move in.

The Power of Interactive Maps and 360° Tours

As you look to build out and promote your services, your interactive maps and 360° tours can be immensely powerful to support incoming students. They’ll use your tour and map during the summer to familiarize themselves with your campus, find your resources, and take the edge of this significant life step. Anything you can do to build out helpful, immersive visual content for your committed students will help to reinforce that they made the right choice.

Simplify Enrollment and Administrative Processes

Part of the process of minimizing summer melt is internal. It includes ensuring that your enrollment process is as simple as possible. Examples include:

  • Making enrollment forms accessible online and for mobile devices
  • Offering workshops from various offices to help with paperwork
  • Clearly and repeatedly communicating important deadlines to students and parents
  • Providing checklists and timelines that keep the overview of the entire process

Anything you can do to help your students from becoming overwhelmed or missing paperwork and deadlines can help.

Hold Information Sessions

Finally, and partially connected to most (if not all) of the above tips, consider holding regular information sessions from functional areas like financial aid, residence life, the registrar’s office, student billing, and more. These information sessions are most effective as webinars. Provide basic information about the process, and include time for Q&A. Communicate the sessions well, and you’ll easily fill them up with students and parents eager to learn more and get the process right.

Reduce and Manage Summer Melt Effectively with Concept3D

The causes of summer melt vary widely but tend to come down to both perceived and real lack of preparedness for the process. Fortunately, strategies reliant on communication and offering the right information at the right time can go a long way toward minimizing the damage and helping your students enroll at your institution.

Of course, clear communication is only possible with the right tools. Concept3D, through calendar, map, and virtual tour solutions, can become a comprehensive suite to help deliver that information effectively. Ready to learn more? Contact us and request your demo today.