For higher education professionals, the recruitment cycle doesn’t end with spring commencement. It continues throughout the seasons with your efforts to combat summer melt. Even after students make their deposit, active efforts are still necessary to maintain student engagement in the summer and prevent students from changing their minds or going to a different school.

The dreaded summer melt exists across private and public, large and small schools. According to the National College Attainment Network (NCAN), anywhere between 10% and 40% of students who intend to go to college never end up following through. Decreasing this percentage, even by a few points, can play a massive role in minimizing the impact summer melt can have on enrollment and tuition revenue.

Getting to that point means getting strategic. Let’s examine exactly why students may change their minds during the summer before their first semester. Then, we’ll dig deeper into the various ways in which you can address these challenges as early as this summer.

Why Does Summer Melt Exist?

Students may ‘melt’ from your admission funnel for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, a recent study we conducted showed that 45% of students made tuition deposits to two or three schools this year, while 15% of students deposited to more than three schools. In these cases, summer melt is not an active decision. Instead, it merely reflects the fact that a tuition deposit is no longer a reliable means of predicting enrollment.

But the reasons your deposited students may melt go beyond simply maintaining their choice of school all the way to this stage.  According to the NCAN, first-generation students and students of color disproportionately decide against college at the last minute, with financial factors playing a major role. The recent FAFSA crisis is certainly making an impact, as well, with students more likely to melt due to a lack of (or a smaller than expected) financial aid package.

Also, there are the rising challenges connected with mental health. According to one recent study, 28% of first-generation students do not feel mentally prepared for college. Any effort to maintain student engagement in the summer has to be mindful of the fact that in a post-COVID world, students may simply decide against enrolling because the gap between the comfort of home and a new life in college has simply become too large.

7 Ways to Maintain Student Engagement in the Summer and Tackle Summer Melt

More freshmen moving in due to robust summer melt reduction and summer engagement campaigns

A close understanding of the reasons behind melt is a crucial part of building a strategy to stop it. More specifically, these seven ways can help you:

  • Maintain student engagement
  • Answer crucial questions
  • Begin to impact your summer melt percentages

1. Offer Financial Aid Resources

Even before this year’s FAFSA adjustments, financial aid was among the top reasons why students melt. Now, it’s moved to the top, and it’s not a particularly close race. Our survey, for instance, found that:

  • 45% of students delayed their deposits as a result of FAFSA delays.
  • 39% of students decided to attend a more affordable school than they might have otherwise.
  • 7% decided to attend community college instead of a four-year institution.

Some of these challenges are out of the control of individual institutions. But that doesn’t mean giving up. Instead, take pains to become the institution that offers more financial aid help and guidance than the others your students are considering.

For example, consider hosting and heavily promoting virtual financial aid sessions for all of your incoming students throughout the summer. Host larger webinars that explain your financial aid package in general terms. You can even consider sharing external scholarships that might be relevant for students considering your school. Then offer help to apply to the more competitive options.

2. Host In-Person Engagement Opportunities

Our survey found that most students who have been admitted would like to attend admitted student days during the summer. But of course, even those who have already attended this type of day will still be interested in coming to campus and learning more about your school.

Your admissions staff can help facilitate that. Consider, for example, offering short info sessions on athletic teams, student clubs, specific majors, study abroad opportunities, and more.

Emphasize the personal and small-group atmosphere students can experience at these sessions, and make them exclusive to students who have been admitted or deposited. Then, promote them across channels and through personal outreach from admissions counselors to spread the word.

3. Create Personalized Email Campaigns

Deposited students know that you have a lot of information about them. Now, they’re looking for relevant content and follow-ups that account for their plans and preferences as they look forward to attending your institution.

Personalized email campaigns can become a massive advantage here. Build custom flows for anything from majors to student interests and hobbies. Send them out at a weekly cadence throughout the summer, and don’t be afraid to change up the sender to program directors or student club presidents. The more personal the outreach appears, the more likely your incoming students will be to engage with them.

4. Make Your College Life (And Move-In Day) Come to Life

We know about the importance of move-in day for your incoming class. But especially given students’ concern about being ready for school, how you communicate about move-in day throughout summer also makes a difference.

The key here is turning what might be a scary time into excitement. Share the different activities your incoming class can participate in. Let the introverts know that not all of those events are required. Also, give them the resources they need to know where to go, what to bring, and how to connect with others.

Even sharing the logistics of move-in day early can make a difference. For example, sharing your interactive map and move-in day layer in June allows families to plan and maybe even take a test drive out to campus early.

5. Facilitate Community Building

On a more nuanced level, becoming more college-ready also means getting to know your peers who enter school with you and have already been there. While that process is partially organic, every institution can facilitate that level of community virtually throughout the summer.

Most commonly, that means building social media groups in which members of the incoming class can communicate with each other. You may also want to consider a group for parents of the incoming class.

But you can also go beyond those basics. For example, consider a matching program in which a current student becomes akin to a big brother or sister to a group of incoming students. Create these connections early, and encourage your current students to volunteer for this mentorship role. The earlier those connections get made, the stronger they’ll become once the fall semester rolls around.

6. Open Your Facilities Early

Who said your library or fitness studio should not open until the fall semester? Chances are some of your students and faculty already use it during summer. So why not open it up to students who have committed to coming to your institution early?

Adding this layer of engagement communicates a sense of place to your incoming students. The ability to swim in your pool, have a coffee in the library, or take a run on your track familiarizes them with the facilities and makes them feel like they’re already a student. That mental adjustment, in turn, will make them less likely to change their mind and contribute to summer melt at the last minute.

7. Enhance Summer Melt Efforts Across Campus

Finally, the multifaceted nature of summer melt demands that any solution or strategy goes beyond a single channel or office. As the panelists in one of our recent webinars outlined, any engagement at this stage is built on trust. But building that trust is only possible when it comes from more than marketers or admissions counselors.

Instead, it requires outreach from your faculty and other academic representatives. Current students and athletic coaches can also play a major role. The more you can loop in others across campus, the more likely you’ll be to reach your students consistently and authentically.

Getting to that point takes time. Many of the campus faculty and staff will not necessarily understand that a deposit doesn’t necessarily equate to a student in the fall. Outlining the challenge in simple and direct terms, as well as highlighting the efforts you’re already building and how any broader initiatives can fit into them, can help get buy-in and engagement from other stakeholders across campus.

Leverage the Right Tactics and Technologies to Combat Summer Melt

Maintaining student engagement during summer is no small feat. But it’s an essential component of the recruitment funnel and the final stop to ensure that you bring in a healthy incoming class every year.

The above tactics offer a great way to get started in this process. However, you also need the right technology in place, from a CRM allowing audience segmentation and content personalization to an interactive map showing your incoming class around for early access, move-in day, in-person events, and more. A calendar system helping to distribute and promote your events is even better.

Fortunately, Concept3D can help. Our interactive map solutions and event calendar management systems can go a long way toward executing these tactics, ultimately helping to prevent and minimize summer melt. Ready to learn more? Contact us to start the conversation.