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How to Reduce Student Summer Melt in Higher Ed


It’s never been more important to have a strategy in place to reduce melt.

The effect of summer melt on enrollment is still unclear. And there is no reliable measure. Even deposits, which are usually a good indicator of how fall enrollment will look, are unreliable as we phase back into some level of normalcy.

According to the NCR Research Center, there was a growth of 2.1% in 2022 year over year enrollments. However, this figure is still 3% lower than the pre-pandemic levels. Despite the recent uptick offering a glimmer of hope, it remains essential to have a well-thought-out strategy in place to reduce melt this summer  and cement this success. Communicating with your students, recognizing their unique circumstances, and making up for those missed opportunities will prove essential for institutions.


In this time, you can’t over-communicate

It’s really important that the opportunity to connect with a peer is highlighted across communications. Having the opportunity to speak to someone makes a huge difference and can be the difference between choosing to enroll or defer.

And students have even more questions and concerns given their current situation—that matters more than ever.

Regular contact, or at least the opportunity to have regular contact, will help give these students more confidence and at least the semblance of control. And all of us know that when we feel we have control over our decisions, we feel less anxious and more motivated.


Different students will be affected differently

You know well that every student is an individual, and their unique circumstances will also come with unique challenges. Those individual characteristics should be on your radar.

For your first-gen students, the coronavirus may have enhanced that feeling of being “cut off” from the school they’re planning to attend. Make sure you’re communicating with them and offering them mentorship and guidance for preparing to enroll in the fall.

Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, students from ethnic minority groups, and students with disabilities will likely continue to have concerns about starting college this fall—particularly around their health and wellbeing. Making sure they are empowered with relevant information is essential. 

And of course, we can’t possibly exclude the needs of international students. While US international enrollment amongst new students is up by two-thirds from the 2020/21 academic year to 2021/22, overall international student enrollment yet has not been fully recovered.

Reduce melt by making up for missed opportunities 

You already know that campus tours are important. They have a proven impact on yield and on reducing melt. 

By why? There is, of course, a practical element. Students want to see a campus to ensure it meets their expectations and needs. They may want to see that the dorms are close to the classrooms, there is study space for everyone, or that the sports facilities are up to par. 

But much more importantly, there is the emotional element. This is what’s sometimes called the “sense of belonging” that students gain from these sorts of events.

It’s about seeing the campus and figuring out whether they can imagine themselves living there. But it’s also about meeting their fellow applicants and prospective students, and the current students whose shoes they will fill. The small interactions with a campus tour guide can be essential for developing that sense of belonging. 

Make sure you are replacing these key touchpoints with digital alternatives—virtual events (we have a whole blog on top tips for running those), the opportunity to chat with a current student or staff member, and even student-generated content that paints an authentic picture of campus life.

Using digital tools to prevent summer melt

Utilizing these tools effectively means embracing various online platforms and technologies to engage with prospective students and keep them interested and informed. 

One of the first steps you can take is setting up virtual campus tours. This has become essential, especially when in-person visits are not feasible. These tours can be interactive, allowing students to explore different parts of the campus virtually and get a feel for the college environment. It’s not just about showcasing facilities but also about conveying the campus atmosphere and culture. The tour can either be pre-recorded and published on the website or YouTube or scheduled live events that allow prospective students to interact with the tour guides.  

In addition to tours, online Q&A sessions and webinars can be highly effective. These sessions allow students to interact directly with faculty, current students, and admissions staff. They can have their questions answered in real-time, providing a more personal and engaging experience than static information on a website. 

Social media engagement is another powerful tool. Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter can be used to create a sense of community among prospective students. Posting regular updates, student stories, and informational content can keep students engaged and excited about the institution. 

Hire peer mentors to help students

Peer mentors help mitigate summer melt by providing personalized support to prospective college students. They act as relatable guides, often sharing similar backgrounds or experiences, which helps in building trust and connection. Their role includes offering practical advice on college processes, answering questions, and helping with decision-making. 

Hiring peer mentors can eat a substantial chunk of your budget but in the long run it may be worth it. In one example, The Mastery Charter Schools implemented a peer mentor program to assist high school graduates in their transition to college, as detailed in the SDP Summer Melt Handbook (pp. 50-51). This initiative was part of a broader strategy to address challenges faced by students during this critical period. These mentors proactively reached out to students to assess and support their readiness for fall college matriculation.

As a result, across locations, between 40 and 60 percent of all students targeted for outreach interacted with a peer mentor or counselor at least once during the summer.

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