College Access and Success

How to Prevent Summer Melt: A Series

by Melissa Fries

Kelly speaking with a student

This is the introduction to a series of blogs offering guidance on combating summer melt.

High school seniors who are accepted at four-year colleges have put in a lot of hard work to get in. Four years of college prep classwork, SATs, admission essays, and financial aid forms paved the way with obstacles to overcome. That’s why it’s especially unfortunate to see a student who’s been accepted into college—and committed to attend—not show up on campus in the fall. Yet it happens much more frequently than one might think.

In the phenomenon known as “summer melt,” as many as 20% of students who are accepted into college (and plan to attend) “melt away” over the summer. The number is estimated up to double for low-income students. Students who have little to no at-home resources to navigate the myriad tasks that arise over the summer do not always show up on campus in the fall.  Tasks such as making tuition payments, registering for orientation, taking placement tests, completing housing forms, and logging into and navigating an institution’s online portal present challenges to first generation students. And, students can’t turn to their high school guidance counselors for assistance with these tasks because counselors don’t usually work over the summer.

There are many other reasons for summer melt. Some students lack the time management and organization skills necessary to stay on top of administrative tasks. Some students don’t have the financial literacy skills needed to make budgets and stay on top of payments, or, they face family pressures to work instead of leave for college. For other students it’s a mindset issue: they must overcome the fear that they “don’t belong” on a college campus.

Though these challenges are significant, they are not insurmountable. Small tweaks, or “nudges,” have proven to be especially effective tools. At CAP, our team of college coaches and financial service coordinators work closely with students throughout the summer to set them up for success on campus. Over the coming months, we’ll share a series of blogs that offer practical guidance on how parents, students, and educators can prevent summer melt. We’ll dive into topics including financial planning, organizational skills, mindset and goal-setting, and using technology. Stay tuned!

Melissa Fries is the executive director of CAP.