From the anticipation of college acceptance letters to the thrill of high school graduation, spring was an incredibly exciting time for us prospective college students. But now that the excitement has settled, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the big life changes that are fast approaching. From dorm room decorations to class selection and financial planning, preparing for university can at times feel as overwhelming as imagining my first day on campus.
Without the proper support, students can easily get knocked off course. 1 in 3 students falls victim to summer melt each year. This challenge for schools can end up costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost tuition revenue.
As an incoming freshman at McGill University, my summer internship at Kira Talent provided the perfect opportunity to lend a student’s perspective on the challenges that cause summer melt. Through my own experience, as well as interviews with other incoming freshmen to universities throughout North America, I've cultivated some actionable insights for schools wanting to mitigate summer melt this year.
1. Engage your students on social media
The most effective way to keep students engaged over the course of the summer is to meet them where they already spend the majority of their time - online.
Holding student-run social media takeovers, where current students temporarily take over the school’s official Instagram account, provides incoming students with a way to actively engage with the school community in an authentic and informal way. Glossy photos on a website can make campus life seem like a different, slightly intimidating, world from the one they’re used to. Live streams and takeovers can help students relate to the school in a way they’re already comfortable with.
Hosting fun activities like trivia contests via social media is another way to sustain authentic engagement while giving incoming students pertinent information about your university. With a simple prize of a school-branded sweatshirt or campus coffee shop gift card, it’s a low-cost way to keep the excitement fresh throughout the summer.
To help us get settled before we even reach campus, McGill created Facebook groups for students based on their residence hall assignments. Being able to easily get to know the students I’ll be living within the Fall has helped soothe my nerves and has kept me excited to meet my new online friends in person.
Leveraging technology to connect incoming students with professors, alumni, and their peers offers them a unique opportunity to integrate into the campus community and start building those important connections from the comfort of their smartphones.
2. Give students a peek into the future
Another great engagement technique is hosting live virtual events. Zoom, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube all have features that allow for live streaming, enabling a large group of students from anywhere in the world to interact in real-time.
This summer, Notre Dame University hosted live Zoom calls where incoming students were able to meet with each other, professors, and current students in order to get a better idea of what life would be like on campus. When I talked to my classmate about her decision to attend Notre Dame in the Fall, she told me that these virtual live streaming events helped solidify her decision to attend because they made her feel like she was already a part of the school community, reaffirming that Notre Dame would be a perfect fit for her.
New York University took a similar approach, offering incoming students a glimpse into what their future at the school would look like through their Student Showcase series. In program-specific Zoom calls, current NYU students discussed what they were up to at the university, including class projects, research programs, and extracurricular activities.
My classmate, who was deciding whether NYU was truly the school she would fit best at, told me that hearing from current students, who had been in her shoes only a few short years before, made it easier for her to visualize herself as a student there. It not only eased her nerves but also gave tangible moments she could look forward to if she chose to attend NYU in the Fall.
Discover how the University of Michigan leveraged virtual events to increase applicant engagement
3. Focus on one thing at a time
The journey from high school to university can be incredibly overwhelming for all sorts of reasons. The neverending to-do list – from registering for courses, to managing finances, to potentially moving to a new place – provides a full summer’s worth of work.
Gentle reminders from a school to take things one step at a time can make a huge difference. It’s easy to feel lost with all the different tasks that need to get done, and guidance from a knowledgeable source (the school) can ease the transition from high school senior to university freshman.
Try mapping out a simple timeline or checklist for students, and plan your outreach and due dates accordingly. Not only will this help your incoming students feel supported throughout the summer, it will give them a taste of the level of support they can expect over the next four years of college.
Checklists are a great way to reduce applicant stress and make your admissions process more accessible!
Discover another 6 simple ways to attract applicants by improving accessibility.
4. Connect with parents and guardians
Parents and guardians play a key role in guiding students through their college decisions. Keeping parents and guardians involved throughout the summer can help provide them with the peace of mind they need to confidently send their child off in the Fall.
Often busy with their own multitude of responsibilities, they don’t need as many touchpoints as the incoming students, but simple and concise communications can be very effective. Offer parents the opportunity to ask questions, let them know how you’re engaging their child, or connect them with other parents so they can begin to feel like part of the school community as well.
While summer melt can be a persistent issue for any school, good communication is what my fellow incoming class of peers and I have found to be the differentiator when it comes to engaging us in a way that makes us feel a sense of belonging. Preventing summer melt is a marathon, not a sprint, and keeping the lines of communication open throughout the summer is the best way to keep students, and their support networks, engaged all the way to the finish line.