It’s that time in the admissions cycle again - summer melt. As a former admissions counselor, I fully understand the anxiety, stress, and frustration that comes with this part of the admissions process. You have nurtured fantastic relationships and gained commitment from your candidate pool. You are riding high as the spring semester ends. Then, as it happens with every admissions cycle, commitments start getting softer, and your candidate pool starts to shrink.
You look back over your notes, try to determine where things went wrong, and most importantly, produce a plan to prevent more students from falling out of your pipeline. To combat melt, it is critical to understand what is happening from the student’s perspective.
What causes summer melt?
According to the Harvard University Center for Education Policy Research, summer melt is “the surprisingly common scenario in which high-school graduates apply, are accepted, and say they plan to enroll in college—but don’t.”
Working closely with prospective students, you learn quickly that the transition from high school to college can be a complicated and overwhelming process. The timing of college acceptance and commitment decisions, final exams, senior year festivities, and graduation all begin to add up for hopeful college-bound students. Entering the summer, students are left to navigate through the remainder of the college enrollment process with no access to high school guidance counselors or other educational resources.
Many admissions professionals can attest to summer melt occurring for a variety of reasons including:
- Students do not have access to high school guidance counselors during the summer
- Students have limited resources to navigate complicated forms like FAFSA
- Students miss communications with vital information and deadlines
- Students lack the support of family and friends
- Students are overwhelmed by the entire process of entering college and get cold feet
While melt can be discouraging, the role of the admissions staff becomes increasingly important during the summer — not just to support the institution’s enrollment goals but to ensure students are staying on the path towards receiving a college education.
3 Techniques for handling summer melt
1. Stay personal and consistentYou have developed the relationship and gotten to know your candidates on a very personal level. May 1st has passed, and you have gained the commitment. While it is a great accomplishment, summer is not the time to let up. Make sure to check in with your candidate pool throughout the summer months — this can go a long way. And even though you still may be actively recruiting new applicants, do not let your guard down on your committed student pool.
2. Create a unique experience for each candidate
Students come from all diverse levels of preparedness when it comes to college readiness. Some students will be ready to enroll and pay their first bill at the earliest possible date. While others might be unfamiliar with the forms and processes needed to finalize financial aid and enrollment — you might find this occurs more frequently with first-generation prospects. Do not assume your candidates have read every single email or piece of mail sent from your institution. Be prepared to revisit conversations that you may have had in the fall or early spring - especially when it comes to financial aid. And most importantly, create a unique experience for every student. Although you may be a seasoned admissions representative, it is always a good reminder that entering college is a huge milestone and every student is experiencing it a little differently.
3. Engage your candidates in the right way at the right time
Of the three techniques, this might seem to be the most obvious but also the most difficult to execute. Now that students are wrapping up their senior year and graduating, availability may not be the same or as consistent as it was in the months prior. In conjunction with your enrollment marketing teams, admissions personnel need to be ready to use multiple forms of communication to engage with students in addition to tracking the details of those communications (days of the week, times of day, modality, etc.). By digging into the details, there is a greater opportunity to have better execution of techniques 1 and 2. While this technique requires a good deal of effort, especially if you are still actively recruiting applicants, it will go a long way to preventing the candidate pool from significantly dwindling.
Can more be done to prevent melt?
Some who read this article might be thinking that they are already implementing these tactics into their recruitment plan with little to no change in the prevention of summer melt. In this scenario, it might be time to take a closer look at the tools and solutions your team is using to engage with prospective students. And when it comes to melt prevention and retaining students through their first semester, it is important to look back to the initial touch point of engagement. Oftentimes, this initial touch point is the application for admission.
For higher education institutions, creating a persona-driven experience tailored to targeted student types and program offerings communicates the institution’s level of credibility and certifies a promise to students of the type of unique experience they can expect at your institution. Many CRM and common application solutions offer limited to no flexibility to tailor the application to meet the needs of every student and program. Additionally, the CRM and common application options limit an institution’s ability to extend branding creating a disjointed experience for new applicants.
By taking an approach that places your unique students and programs first, institutions can make the application for admission experience organic so that you can capture the data you need more naturally. This allows students to seamlessly experience your institution’s brand, provide better information, and get through the admissions application quicker. As a result, admissions offices naturally can reduce the time spent on dealing with bad data, can process applications faster, and engage with a more highly invested applicant. Consequently, the result is less melt, higher yield, and improved retention.