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Opportunities To Beat Summer Melt: Unlock Student Engagement Early

By: Mirko Widenhorn on Apr 30, 2024 10:25:54 AM
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You have your incoming class identified and students have deposited– time to celebrate and look forward to their arrival on campus! Or is it? 

It’s likely worthy of a small celebration– or at least a deep breath in recognition of the hard work everyone put in to recruit the class of 2028. But, in many ways the process of engaging incoming students is just starting.

Summer Melt

Summer melt refers to the phenomenon where students are accepted by a college or university,  plan to enroll but fail to matriculate, changing their minds during the summer months between high school graduation and the start of the academic year. Nationally, this phenomenon affects between 10% and 40% of students (according to Harvard University's Center for Education Policy Research), having the potential to significantly impact the makeup of your incoming class.

Many strategies can be put in place across the institution to try to limit summer melt with communication and outreach being a key aspect. Reasons vary among students who do not attend, ranging from financial barriers, lack of support navigating the enrollment process, to uncertainty about college and everything in between. Research shows that low-income students have higher rates of attrition.

Factors contributing to summer melt vary and are often not directly in the purview of student affairs teams. However, research consistently highlights the critical role of building a sense of belonging for retention and student success. There are opportunities to initiate community-building activities over the summer, well before students arrive on campus.

Below are some proven recommendations from our team:

Alarm Clock_Begin communicating with incoming students early

Begin communicating with incoming students early 

Do you remember what it was like the summer before you started college? Students have a multitude of questions: What do they need to buy for their room? How is the food? Can they bring a car (or a cat) to campus? How will they connect with their roommate? Will they make friends and connections? And many more…

Knowing all of this, you have an opportunity to build connections for students as soon as you know they’re planning to attend. It’s a chance to begin building community before they ever step foot on campus. Encourage new students to log into your student engagement platform as soon as possible (and work with admissions and IT to get them into the platform early). Think about the information that you would want them to see at that point– the campus-wide directory so they can connect with other students, events that might be of interest to them, answers to their key questions. 

Having student leaders host campus tours through a video recording or in real time is particularly effective. Some platforms also enable prospective students to connect with students and staff via chat. Interactive tools such as live polls, surveys, and discussion feeds also provide a safe and secure environment for prospects to engage and communicate.

If you have an orientation team, consider leveraging the presence of its team members to encourage meaningful interactions on the platform– even if it’s just answering a simple question that an incoming student has. Enable badges and other gamification to encourage students to keep coming back.

Student on phone and laptop_go-to place for informationGet students to view the platform as the go-to place for information

If your institution is like many others, there are a number of forms incoming students have to complete after depositing and enrolling. Hopefully, these forms are available online, saving your team time and the students significant hassle– not all students have printers easily available, for example. 

Take this one step further and utilize the surveys, forms and polls tools in your student engagement platform to collect the necessary information rather than have students search other disparate systems. This provides another way for incoming students to familiarize themselves with the platform and view it as their hub of activity. Plus, the ability to track responses and monitor engagement among incoming students ensures other areas can stay up to date on students who are not engaging, which could signal higher risk.

Offering a virtual campus experience can help students envision a future at your institution. It provides a window into critical resources such as mental health counseling, tutoring, and academic advising. An introduction to different student communities, clubs, and organizations also lets prospects see how they will engage academically and socially. 

Compass and map_Elevate Student Orientation

Take orientation a step further

Whether your orientation program is in-person or virtual orientation– or a combination of both– it is a key event as students get ready for the semester, and provides another important opportunity to reduce melt. Many students likely experience a degree of anxiety prior to orientation. Be sure to provide them with the schedule and expectations well in advance of orientation (and remind them about it multiple times…). Also consider building the orientation schedule out in your student engagement platform, as well as including FAQ’s to answer key questions that students may have. 

When students arrive at orientation, make it easy for them to connect with other students through a fun activity to kick things off. Some of our clients have used scavenger hunts (virtual and in-person) and other fun icebreaker activities to get things off to a good start, where students can work together in small groups and immediately start making connections with classmates.

Today’s students are used to seamless and intuitive digital experiences with everything accessible from their smartphones, and other devices. They expect the same from their academic journey, including:

✅ An easy-to-navigate paperless admission process.
✅ The ability to pay fees online, in a couple of clicks.

This kind of student-focused and automated enrollment process makes the arrival on campus much smoother for incoming students.

kids playing with balls_Have fun!

Don’t be afraid to have fun!

Admittedly, this may sound strange, but the summer before arriving on campus is a time when many students grapple with leaving home or adjusting to a completely new situation without their usual support systems (friends, familiarity, etc.). They want to know that where they’re headed is a welcoming place one that they want to be a part of. 

While the college environment your school provides is likely already factored into their decision to enroll at your institution, the summer is a key time to continue to build that relationship with them. Students gravitate towards brands that integrate fun into their campaigns.  Aim to do the same so that they look forward to the time that they’ll spend at your institution. Having a digital student experience platform to communicate with students and help them connect with others through multiple channels makes this easier.

notebook and highlighters_Highlight available resources

Highlight available resources

Incoming students are more likely to read information that you provide to them– they don’t want to miss key information. Once they get to campus, this likely decreases (although be sure to mix up your communication strategy by using a variety of communication vehicles, but that’s another blog post). 

Use the time in the summer to begin to highlight resources that are available on campus– research shows that up to 50% of current students are unaware of most key student services available at their institution. By informing incoming students of these services, you’re increasing the likelihood that they will remember that support is available if they need these resources during their first semester. This is especially important for engaging and retaining first-generation, Pell-eligible, adult learners, or online students.

Students should have one place to easily access the information they need when they need it. Where possible, use technology platforms to integrate key systems (i.e. SSO, SIS, LMS, room reservation software, payment gateways) and resources

6 happy college students

While some of the reasons students end up not attending are out of your control, these are some tips that can help reduce summer melt. Stay tuned for more tips related to student engagement and success!