Writing essays. Gathering references. Submitting applications. These are just a few of the major steps high school students have to go through when applying to college — a process that can be extremely time-consuming. 

For most students, getting that coveted acceptance letter and making a deposit is a huge relief. However, in recent years, more and more students are choosing to withdraw their applications after putting in all that work. 

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), between 10% and 20% of deposited students revoke their applications after acceptance and before enrollment. This phenomenon, known as “summer melt,” can have a significant impact on universities. 

“A student melting is like a broken engagement,” said CJ O’Donnell, an account director at Net Natives who previously served as a director of admissions operations at Florida Southern College. “The time, energy, and funds used to recruit that student and get them to the deposit stage is significant. And that loss hurts — especially from the bottom-line financial standpoint.” 

So, why are many students withdrawing before enrollment? And what exactly can you do to stop it? Keep reading to discover our top five strategies for reducing summer melt. 

Recognize the financial burden of education 

Before you can deal with summer melt, it’s important to understand why it occurs in the first place. 

“Often, the decision has nothing to do with your university,” O’Donnell said. “The student may be experiencing personal challenges, such as a family illness, or their career goals may have changed. In other cases, the student may have decided your university is no longer a viable option. A major reason for this is finances.” 

From 2010 to 2020, the cost of tuition at public, four-year institutions has increased by more than 30%. This is an increase that has impacted many students’ ability to attend college. In lower income districts, summer melt rates can be as high as 40%.

“If a student discovers they can no longer afford tuition, they may delay attendance to build up funds or switch to a less expensive institution,” O’Donnell said. “In some cases, they might cancel their college attendance plans altogether.” 

So, what can you do to support these students? 

“First, make sure students are aware of any financial aid opportunities you offer during the recruitment process,” O’Donnell said. “Then, continue to share any helpful resources during the summer, such as work-study programs. According to one study, just two to three hours of outreach during the summer can boost enrollment among low-income students by up to 8%.” 

Help students feel connected to your campus  

A less common, but still significant, cause of summer melt is poaching. 

“In the past, NACAC imposed strict regulations regarding how universities could interact with students who had already committed to an institution,” O’Donnell said. “As of 2020, many of these regulations are no longer in place. In other words, institutions can ‘woo,’ or ‘poach,’ students that have committed to other schools, without fearing repercussions.” 

To help prevent this from happening, O’Donnell recommends helping accepted students feel connected to your campus. One suggestion is offering early class scheduling. 

“Letting students select courses early can make them feel more at-home at your university before the semester begins,” O’Donnell said. “If early course selection isn’t possible, try hosting virtual or in-person advising sessions over the summer.” 

Along with early class scheduling, consider allowing early housing assignments. 

“The sooner students receive their housing assignments, the sooner they can start to visualize themselves on your campus,” O’Donnell said. “Not to mention, they get more time to connect with roommates.” 

Stay connected after acceptance 

Reducing summer melt does more than improve enrollment — it also helps strengthen your connection with current and even prospective students. 

“When you put time and effort into helping new students and parents prepare for your institution, they tell others,” O’Donnell said. “In essence, your students become your advocates before they even step foot in a classroom.” 

Ultimately, if you want students to show support for your university, you’re going to have to stay engaged with them during the spring and summer. 

“One way to connect with accepted students is by hosting an on-campus event specifically tailored for them,” said Gina Morlock, an account director at Net Natives whose credentials include working as an admissions officer at Neumont College. “For example, you could have accepted student days divided by majors, which gives students opportunities to connect with peers who have similar interests.” 

If you’re working with a smaller budget, there are plenty of cost-effective ways to remain connected. Even small things, like sending out personalized video messages or texts, have proven effective in reducing summer melt and fostering relationships with students, Morlock said.

Don’t forget about the parents  

Our Student Pulse reports, which interviews students in the U.K., revealed that almost 50% of students were influenced by parents during the university decision-making process. And, we’re seeing similar trends in the United States.

“Many students take into account their parents’ opinions when it comes to the final university pick,” O’Donnell said. “So, be sure you remain connected to parents throughout the late spring and summer.” 

While this may seem like an extra effort, connecting with parents is similar to connecting with students. According to O’Donnell, you can apply many of your student-geared strategies toward parents. For example, you can hold on-campus sessions, send merchandise, and create personalized videos or letters to show them their children have made the right choice. 

Make addressing summer melt part of your overall recruitment strategy 

No matter what the cause is, summer melt can have a significant impact on universities. 

“The primary challenge universities experience is revenue shortfall,” O’Donnell said. “Most institutions are tuition-driven, which means every lost student impacts the bottom line. Ultimately, the investment you put into recruiting that student is lost. And, that loss of funds can affect decisions regarding staffing, reinvestment in facilities, and other key operational aspects.” 

To make up for students lost due to summer melt, many universities scramble to find replacements. But, this last-minute recruitment can take a toll. 

“Things like late-cycle recruiting events, additional name buys, and other unplanned strategies are costly, and results are unpredictable,” O’Donnell said. “Plus, it takes valuable time that could be used to focus on the next recruitment cycle.” 

To prevent last-minute scrambling and sudden costs, you should be building these strategies into your overall recruitment strategy.

“Understand that spring and summer marketing is critical to enrollment success, so it should be part of your annual recruitment budget,” O’Donnell added. 

If you’re struggling to fit summer melt strategies into your overall recruitment plan, we can help. From designing compelling creative to advertising on-campus events to assisting with spring and summer outreach, we’ve got plenty of ideas to help you reduce summer melt and turn your accepted students into advocates. Let’s start a conversation.