This time of year, high schools are filled with excitement about end-of-year celebrations and plans for the future. Students wear t-shirts and sweatshirts declaring their college choice. Counselor walls are filled with banners of schools that students have committed to attend. For high school seniors, this hopeful energy permeates nearly all conversations–their future seems limitless with possibility.
Unfortunately, for many students, the intervening summer months do not lead to the college destination they intended upon graduation, with unforeseen barriers getting in the way. Research has shown that up to 40% of students do not end up matriculating at the colleges they committed to during senior year. This phenomenon is often referred to as “summer melt” and disproportionately impacts students from underserved communities.
Studies have shown that students living with low income, students in large urban districts, and first-generation college students are much more likely to delay or completely cancel college plans during the summer after high school. In these weeks beyond high school graduation, students often lose the vital support of their secondary school counselors and teachers and yet, are still left to navigate a host of necessary steps in order to be able to attend college in the fall. These include paying tuition bills, securing financial aid, finding housing, and completing requisite paperwork.
As part of a robust college and career readiness plan, secondary schools should consider what proactive steps can be taken in the spring as well as what support students might need over the summer to ensure a smooth transition between high school and college.
Insulating Students From Summer Melt
In planning for the summer months, consider taking these steps to help support students in overcoming potential obstacles that might get in the way of successfully starting college in the fall.
- Survey seniors to find out their post-secondary plans. Before any steps can be taken to support students in following through on their post-graduation plans, it is critical to learn and document what those plans are. Consider utilizing a senior exit survey or another instrument, and include questions that address some potential barriers to matriculation. These might include questions about financial aid, room and board, living expenses, and support networks. Use this information to identify students who might need assistance as they transition to college.
- Find ways to offer additional support during the summer after graduation. Research has found that just two to three hours of additional guidance or support over the summer can significantly affect matriculation rates. Problems that seem insurmountable for many students and families can be easily resolved with college and career counselors guidance, expertise, and resources.
Send personalized messages to offer resources and nudge students and families to meet deadlines. Studies have shown that sending gentle, personalized reminders to students via text messages to support them in completing pre-matriculation tasks increased college attendance among low-income students. Consider building this outreach into a strategic communication plan. Messages might include information on completing financial aid forms, registering for requisite placement tests, and making arrangements to attend orientation. This is a low-cost, effective intervention for schools trying to support students in their initial months after graduation.
Foster near-peer mentorships with recent alumni. One of the most effective ways to support students is by connecting them with recent alumni who have faced similar barriers and successfully navigated them. Tap into alumni networks and, prior to graduation, connect students with recent graduates who are now attending the same college. By establishing these relationships, students have access to a relatable role model who can help answer questions, share lessons learned, and connect them to relevant contacts.
Use a career and college readiness platform, such as SchooLinks, to continue to engage with students beyond graduation. SchooLinks allows counselors to create personalized to-do lists and automate reminders for all students. And students have access to SchooLinks beyond graduation. Counselors can take advantage of this communication channel to continue providing reminders and encouragement to follow through on important tasks during the post-graduation summer months.
Maintaining the Momentum
Going to college can change a student’s life trajectory. And for many students, if the momentum from high school to college is disrupted, they will unlikely ever return. With a few simple interventions, counselors and educators can play a major role at this critical point. In order to maximize impact, college and career readiness plans and supports should not end at high school graduation. Instead, they must extend through college matriculation when students join the support system that will hopefully carry them through college graduation.
Maintaning the momentum will help reduce the summer melt that many graduating seniors experiences. The tips above gives students readiness tips and support throughtout the summer on their career and college readiness plans post-graduation.