While it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, it’s never too early to think about summer melt. It’s estimated that every year between 10-40% of college-intending students fail to enroll in college the fall after high school graduation. This phenomenon disproportionately impacts students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and first-generation college-going students.

Understanding the Problem

Like many other issues in postsecondary education, finding the solution begins at learning more about the predicament. For summer melt, this means measuring the percentage of students that are not matriculating. While getting this number can take some effort, having this knowledge is well worth it.

For many, a senior exit survey can serve as the perfect jumping off point. Harvard’s Strategic Data Project Summer Melt Handbook offers resources on increasing completion and what exactly to include in the survey, with examples. The guide advises that the more specific questions are, the better. These questions should include what students’ enrollment plans are and if they have paid their enrollment deposit.

With an understanding of how many students planned on enrolling, data from the National Student Clearinghouse’s (NSC) StudentTracker service will provide the numerator in this equation (e.g., how many students truly enrolled).

Knowing the percentage of students melting each year is a great place to begin intervening, but even better is identifying groups of students melting at a higher rate than others.


Summer melt can serve as a motivator to strengthen K-12 and higher education pipelines. NCAN’s understanding of enrollment trends across the country is that there are typical institutions that receive high proportions of students matriculating from the same high schools each year.

The Puget Sound College and Career Network created a number of checklists for their students’ popular college choices to ease the application process and the transition. These one-page cheat-sheets lists tasks, deadlines, contact information, and more.

Along with these cheat-sheets, identifying these institutions can serve as a motivator to form relationships between high schools and their students’ popular college destinations. Edutopia has some suggestions on programs that can serve as a win for both parties. Examples include:

  • Getting volunteers for after-school STEM programs
  • Inviting guest speakers to discuss career pathways
  • Collaborating on grants to bring professional development for school staff

One idea not outlined by Edutopia, but worth exploring, is inviting staff from financial aid offices to present or assist with FAFSA completion. These personnel can provide some expert knowledge not only on financial aid questions that may come out of the FAFSA, but also on related topics such as how to read an award letter, what student can expect in financial aid packages, and the financial aid appeal process.

These partnerships will vary vastly from school to school, but the University of California system offers several great ideas that can be used throughout the entire K-12 spectrum.

Along with the resources outlined in this post, NCAN provides a Summer Melt Toolkit along with our K-12 Advising Calendar, which has a summer melt category.

Have questions about summer melt? We’d love to hear from you! Contact me at to hear more about approaches to freezing summer melt.