Graduation is one of the most exciting times in the life of a school counselor, but as tempting as it is to look at graduation as the end of a school counselor’s work with a class, the exact opposite is true, especially for students heading to college. An astonishing number of students who walk across the stage at graduation with plans to go to college never get there. Too many students overlook the letters and emails colleges send over the summer, asking students to complete financial aid forms, turn in important health documents, sign up for orientation and more.
If a student misses any one of these steps, the college will assume the student isn’t coming to college after all, and they’ll remove them from their attendance records. Suddenly, due to a couple of missed emails, the student’s plans for the fall, and for their future, take a turn for the worst.
This phenomenon is known as summer melt, and it affects more students than you might believe. According to surveys, up to one third of all students who leave high school with plans to attend college never arrive at any college campus that fall. Summer melt tends to hit low-income students hardest, as well as students who are the first in their family to go to college.
Realizing the devastating effect summer melt can have on students, there are some key steps the student’s support team can take to make sure their senior is on campus come the fall.
Text them reminders over the summer. School counselors can still support their students after graduation by texting them. Weekly reminders to check their email, complete their financial aid forms and register for classes can go a long way to keep students on track. Texting programs can make it easy for counselors to reach large numbers of students quickly, so this really doesn’t take away from their summer vacations—and it can make a big difference.
Continue those weekly meetings. Parents have long been advised to meet weekly with their senior for 20 minutes to discuss their college plans. Those meetings should continue in the summer, so families can review any mail or other communications the college has made. If doubts arise over what should be done, they can call the college and discover the next steps to take.
Head to campus. Older siblings can become part of the support team by taking the new high school graduate for a summer visit to campus. Summer melt sometimes occurs just because the student has doubts or concerns about being successful at college, or if they’ve made the right choice. There’s no better way to lose those doubts than to see themselves at school, meet their adviser, try out the food and buy some bookstore swag. This is a perfect way for brothers and sisters to bond with a sibling, reminding them of the ties that don’t change, even if life does.
Students often feel overwhelmed by all the forms and information colleges ask for, and missing even one of those requests can really set back a student’s college plans. Working together as a team throughout the college selection process—from the junior year, all the way to the fall of the student’s first year on a college campus—parents, counselors and siblings who are there to support and help the student every step of the way can make a world of difference.
Patrick O’Connor is a 2017-18 School Counselor Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.