Wrapping Up and Ramping Up, Part 1: Q&A on Summer Melt

College enrollment offices around the country have entered the “wrapping up while ramping up” period in the higher ed recruitment cycle. Perhaps their busiest time of year, enrollment teams are working tirelessly to finish strong by focusing on yield. But as students leave campus and head home for the summer, locking in the fall class using anti-melt strategies becomes the focus.

We asked Capture Higher Ed enrollment advisors about summer melt and how they strategize with institutions to control it.

Why are the spring months so critical to securing fall enrollment? How does this time differ for traditional, first-year students and for transfers?

This time is critical because seniors — traditional undergraduates who are coming straight from high school — are graduating and making their plans. They are making their decisions not only by themselves but with their family members.

It’s a critical time because of all of things that need to be done leading up to the start of the fall semester:

  • Registering for classes
  • Getting housing
  • Securing financial aid and scholarships

It’s also an important time for transfer students because they are finishing up the last semester at their current institution. They are finding out what their grades are, which credits will transfer, and how quickly the will be able to begin at their next institution.

Yes, these are very busy months in admission offices.

Summer melt seems to impact all kinds of universities across the U.S. What’s the root cause and how can it be minimized?

Summer melt has been around for quite a while in the field of admissions. It simply refers to those students who have made some sort of commitment to a particular campus but then decide not to come. Part of the reason summer melt has increased is because of shifting trends and perceptions of a higher education. Overall, the pool of eligible undergraduate students has diminished in several areas of the United States, but the competition has increased. You have more institutions competing for fewer students.

“Overall, the pool of eligible undergraduate students has diminished in a lot of areas of the United States, but the competition has increased. You have more institutions competing for fewer students.”

And the students are getting pickier. In some instances, they even attend multiple orientations. That means they submit their deposit. They are admitted. They maybe even submit a housing application. But they attend two or more orientations because they need that much more confidence in the decision they are making.

How do colleges and universities prevent summer melt?

By finding unique ways to engage their deposited students and having a clear sense of what those students are really interested in. Where is that tipping point? You might have a student who has committed, but they are concerned about financial aid or scholarships. Whereas another committed student might have concerns over where they are going to live.

Summer Melt

Prevent melt by finding unique ways to engage deposited students.

Being able to recognize what that tipping point is for each individual student and keeping them engaged throughout the process is vital. Some students are admitted as early as January or February; they might deposit soon after. So now you have a deposited student who has been sitting in your pool since winter. You’ve got quite a few months before classes start in August or September to keep them engaged and wanting to know more about your institution.

You need to help them start feeling like part of the campus community. A good way of doing this is to connect them with other deposited students as much as you can. There are several things a university can do to build that community virtually before everybody comes to campus.

Give us an example of a successful melt prevention strategy.

One of the strategies we have assisted our partners with is reaching out to those students who have attended orientation but haven’t yet registered for classes. Let’s say you had 300 or 400 students attend orientation. Of those students, it wouldn’t be out of the question to have 250 registered for class. That means you still have anywhere between 100 and 150 that maybe haven’t registered yet.

Summer Melt

Continue to find ways to engage out-of-state students after orientation.

If formal programming for orientation ends in early- to mid-July, there is still that gap before class starts. You can’t forget about those students who attended orientation and need to continue to find ways to engage them as much as possible … especially with out-of-state students.

Several effective campaigns involve reaching out through triggered emails and triggered direct mail pieces to anyone who attended orientation to make sure they have those next steps. For those who have not registered yet, we give the individual a phone call or a text from an admissions counselor.

How can technology such as behavioral intelligence enable and elevate these anti-summer melt strategies?

The big key is — for anyone in the funnel but especially those admitted students and those deposited students — to know where that tipping point is. The tipping point is hidden in that behavioral engagement on the institution’s website. What the prospective student is looking at on the site — the pages they are engaging with — that is what’s important to them. And that’s where those tipping points are. Otherwise, it’s sort of a shotgun approach to try and figure out what’s going to get them to commit and secure their spot.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of “Wrapping Up, Ramping Up” when we look at future-proofing your admissions through engaging high school sophomores and juniors.

Answers compiled from Capture’s Senior Enrollment Advisors.