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How to Stop Summer Melt and Get More Students on Campus

Lindsay McGuire
July 23, 2019
Min Read

We talk a lot about conversion rates here at Formstack. In fact, we have an entire tool called Conversion Kit focused on helping our customers improve their conversions. Although we’re usually hard at work solving the problem of low form or survey conversions, we’re taking a new spin on the topic today: low student conversions, specifically regarding college admissions yield.

If you work in higher education, you know that student recruitment is becoming more difficult by the day. With more than 5,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. alone, it’s getting more and more difficult to recruit due to a saturated market and an incredibly competitive atmosphere. On top of this, the number of U.S. high school graduates is projected to decline by 4% by 2030, resulting in a smaller pool of students to recruit from. 

But there’s another major pain point causing distress for recruiters, college admissions specialists, and students alike: summer melt. This phenomenon has become an epidemic plaguing colleges across the world, causing many students to never even walk through the university doors on their first day. 

What is summer melt? 

According to the Harvard University Center for Education Policy Research, summer melt can be defined as, “when seemingly college-intending students fail to enroll at all in the fall after high school graduation. ‘College-intending’ students are those who have completed key college-going steps, such as applying and being accepted to college and applying for financial aid if their families qualify.”

Summer melt is probably impacting students who intend to come to your school. Research shows that as many as one in five high school students who intend to go to college never reach campus in the fall. The phenomenon is even more prevalent in students who are low-income or planning on attending community college. Students who fall into these categories have attrition rates as high as 40%.

What causes summer melt? 

The transition from high school to college can be incredibly overwhelming, and many students are not prepared for the steps that come after they’ve received a college acceptance letter. This is further impacted by the timing of college acceptance: Many of the steps students need to take to ensure admission and get to their first day on campus happen over the summer, with no access to school counselors or other educational resources. 

Students suffer from summer melt due to a combination of factors, such as: 

  • No access to high school guidance counselors during the summer
  • Complicated forms like the FAFSA 
  • A lack of knowledge from parents, especially for first-generation college students 
  • Missing emails or mail with important information and deadlines
  • Limited support from family and/or friends 
  • The inability to source important documents, like health and tax records 
  • A minimal amount of communication with the college over the summer 

Students who suffer from summer melt have all the intentions of attending college come fall, but a lack of clarity on the steps they need to take and how to do them correctly challenges their ability to get to campus on the first day. They generally lack support and are unsure of where to turn for assistance, especially after high school graduation has passed. 

This is why recruiters, college admissions counselors, and other key staff are so important—they can make a true difference in the lives of these students and help them get through the university doors on day one. 

Related: How to Market to Gen Z Prospective Students

How can you help students avoid summer melt? 

As an employee in higher education, you can play a role in minimizing summer melt. The key is to keep your prospective students engaged over the summer before they head to your school. Here are some strategies to consider implementing at your college or university to empower students and ensure they have the support, resources, and information they need to make it onto campus come fall. 

Spread registration throughout the summer. 

The paperwork that needs to be completed before a student heads into the first semester of college can be incredibly overwhelming. Ease the stress of registration by spreading it out throughout the summer. 

Instead of sending a massive amount of forms at one time, consider sprinkling them across the summer months. This will not only lessen stress, but improve student engagement by increasing the touchpoints throughout the summer. When students only have to focus on filling out a few forms at a time, they’re much more likely to complete and return them by your deadline.

Related: Tips for Connecting with Students Throughout Their Higher Ed Journey

Provide a mentor or counselor straight away. 

Not having access to a strong support system is one big reason why many high school graduates don’t make it to their intended college. Most high schools lack summer programming that supports high schoolers through the transition to college, creating a major gap in education about the next steps they need to take and what they should expect. 

Establishing a program that includes counseling, financial aid guidance, transcript assistance, and emotional support to potential students may help minimize the impact of summer melt. Providing a mentor or counselor to students directly after high school graduation who checks in throughout the summer could have a major impact on the likelihood of the student making it to college. 

Communicate often through various channels. 

Generation Z is entrenched in technology like no other generation before, so your school must meet them where they are to fulfill enrollment goals. From scholarship applications to residence hall admissions, you need to make your forms, information, and contact options available through mobile. 

Students are attached to their phones, but not necessarily their email. Investigate opportunities to make your data-gathering more mobile-friendly and other ways to utilize mobile communication, such as SMS messages. 

Make your forms simple and easy to complete. 

Confusing forms that are difficult to fill out might be playing a role in deterring students from entering college. If they’re set back by a complicated fillable PDF or don’t have access to print paper forms, they may miss deadlines and get off track. 

Provide your students with mobile-friendly online forms that are simple to fill out in just minutes from any device. Look for a form solution that also makes it easy for students to upload files and add their electronic signature to simplify the form process. The easier you make it, the better your conversion rates, and the more students you’ll see make it to their first day. 

Help students achieve more.

Help your potential students avoid summer melt by keeping them engaged from the moment they receive their acceptance letter. When students have a support network, open communication, and guidance, their ability to overcome obstacles to get on campus increases tenfold. By combining technology, new programming, and planning, your institution can make smart improvements that help more students make their college dream come true. 

Transform the way you gather student data and ward off summer melt with Formstack’s robust platform. Improve student engagement and retention with smart and powerful tools at your fingertips.

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Lindsay McGuire
Lindsay is the Content Marketing Manager at Formstack, splitting her time between creating blog content, writing reports, and hosting Formstack's Practically Genius podcast. She's a proud graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism (MIZ!) and loves connecting with others on LinkedIn.
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