Preventing summer melt: Providing students with wraparound support

This blog is part of a series about summer melt, and how the Dell Scholars Program is working to prevent it. Read the full series here.

The summer after high school is an important time for every student who plans to attend college in the fall. It’s a time of preparation for life away from home, saying “see you later” to family, and completing final tasks needed to enroll in college in the fall. Many students have plenty of support during this time, ensuring they step foot on campus with a positive mindset and the resources they need to be successful.

But what about those who are the first in their families – or communities – to attend college? For them, the summer after high school can be overwhelming as they navigate this major life change. This often leads to summer melt – the “melting away” of students who are accepted into college and signaled their intention to attend, yet never enroll in the fall. As a retention officer for the Dell Scholars Program, it’s my job to ensure our students have the support they need – whether it’s help completing financial aid verification or simply nudging students to complete important summer tasks – so each student begins their freshman year with the right support in place.

A two-pronged approach to college success

At the Dell Scholars Program, we have a lean full-time staff of five who work each day to support all 1,659 of our current students to college graduation. But 76 percent of our Dell Scholars graduate with their bachelor’s degrees within four to six years after high school graduation. So, what’s the secret to our success? Preventing summer melt is the first step by taking an approach that is twofold: we support students through the summer on an individual level and create resources and supports for the current Dell Scholar community as a whole.

  • Individual support: When our students become Dell Scholars each spring, we schedule one-on-one advising calls where we work with each student to create academic and financial plans to help them prepare for the fall. We identify early on where students may face challenges once they arrive on campus, and tailor our calls to fit their individual needs. We may use this time to help students plan for everything from busy work schedules to transportation to college orientation, depending on what each student needs. Students can talk to us online, too. Instead of calling us, Dell Scholars have the option of getting in touch with us on social media or by text message, so we can address their issues faster and more conveniently.
  • Scholar community support at scale: Based on trends we see at the individual level, we create resources like a helpful summer check list and use Facebook to remind students about important tasks they need to complete for the fall. This includes registering for classes, finalizing housing arrangements and creating a budget. Students are also able to connect with other students who are going through similar circumstances, and find useful resources. We then follow up with them via social media or SMS on any challenges they may be facing as they prepare for freshman year.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to college completion.

One size does not fit all

Through my work at the Dell Scholars Program, I’ve learned one very important thing: There is no one-size-fits-all approach to college completion. Each student has different circumstances and needs, so we won’t achieve success by approaching each one the same way.

My advice to other practitioners doing this work? Think like a student and reduce barriers to communication. Our students are on social media and use text messaging, so this has become a very effective way for us to get in touch with them. Some higher education institutions have found success in implementing a live chat bot or 24/7 help line to get students the answers they need quickly and efficiently. Get creative as you think about how you can meet the needs of your students, and think about how you can scale your efforts through technology. This is especially important during the summer months when so many students are transitioning from high school to college.

And finally, start now! There’s no time to waste. Let’s get this next class of college freshman to class prepared and ready to succeed.

Other blogs in this series:

Applying new solutions to old problems in college success