What Does Summer Melt College Mean and Why Is it Important?

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The term “summer melt” is used to describe the phenomenon of students who intend to go to college, and are maybe even registered, to “melt away” or never make it to their first day of class.

This can happen for numerous reasons, but it affects mostly students who are the first in their family to go to college or who come from low-income, minority, or disadvantaged families.

There are numerous reasons why this happens, and it refers to the summer between their senior year of high school and the first day of college.

The Phenomenon: Traits of Summer Melt College and Why it Happens

Not all students who suffer with “summer melt” are from low-income families or are the first in their family to attend college, but most are. This happens for numerous reasons, including the following:

1.  They Do Not Have the Support They Need

If parents did not go to college themselves, they may consider it unimportant and therefore may not encourage their children to go to college when the time comes.

People tend to raise their kids similarly to the way they were raised, and if their own parents didn’t provide the support they needed to want to attend college, they’ll likely treat their kids the same way.

And when we say “support,” we mean emotional support in addition to financial support.

Emotional support can include showing your child how excited you are about them going to college, preparing for the experience by buying them new clothes and school supplies, and letting them know how lucky and smart they are to be going to college, among other things.

2.  They Do Not Have the Resources They Need

This is sometimes the most significant reason a student experiences summer melt. Low-income or minority families, statistically, are less able to finance their children’s college education. Student loans and grants can help, but they may not be enough to pay for tuition, books, fees, and transportation to and from the campus.

Kids whose parents didn’t go to college often have the same problem. The reason why their parents didn’t attend college is often because their own families couldn’t afford to send them there, and the cycle continues.

If you are in this position, make sure you meet with a financial aid expert so that you can have access to grants, low-interest student loans, and other financial resources.

3.  They Do Not Have the Encouragement They Need

Simply put, many families simply don’t give their kids the encouragement they need to go to college. Your overall attitude towards college directly affects the amount of encouragement you give your child about their education in general.

If your kids don’t feel like you have faith in them to go to college and finish college, their desire to go may dwindle or disappear altogether.

Encouragement involves simple ways to encourage your child to go to college.

Talking to them about what being on campus is like, acting excited whenever you talk about them going to school, and letting them know that they can handle the task gets students excited and lets them know that you have faith in them and are sure they will be successful once they get there.

4.  They Do Not Have the Guidance They Need

If you didn’t go to college yourself, it’s difficult to guide them through the experience, but it isn’t impossible. Prospective college students need to have a realistic view of what college life is like and what they need to do to succeed. This eliminates a lot of their nervousness, and you can still help them with this even if you didn’t go to college.

Get a copy of the handbook from the college they’ll be attending and try to read through it.

It’ll help you share with them tidbits about college that will make them even more excited to go, such as extracurricular activities, scheduling their classes, getting tickets to sporting events, and a lot of other things that can help them look forward to going.

How Bad Is it?

Statistically, roughly 10% to 20% of all high school students in the U.S. experience summer melt, mostly for the above-mentioned reasons.

In some groups, including the Southwestern states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, the number is as high as 44%. This is concerning for most experts because like everyone else, Latinos need a good education in order to find a good job.

Of course, it isn’t just Latinos who have higher-than-average summer melt numbers. It is also African-Americans, the poor, and other disadvantaged groups.

The good news is that if we concentrate on avoiding summer melt college phenomena, we learn that there are in fact things we can do to improve these numbers. And most of these things are both simple and inexpensive.

What Parents Can Do About Summer Melt?

The interesting thing about summer melt is that many of these students not only intend to go to college, but they are actually registered and enrolled.

By all accounts, them getting to their first day of class should be a given, but something happens during the summer that causes them to change their minds and never start the semester after they graduate from high school.

To change this, there are a few things that parents can do to help avoid summer melt. They include the following:

  • Talk about college constantly. Your teen is going to be nervous about their freshman year; that’s only natural. But the more you talk about the experience, the better they’ll feel about it and the more likely they’ll start school as planned when the time comes.
  • Talk to your teen about staying in contact with some of their favorite teachers, school counselors, and even administrators at the college. This way, they’ll get the answers to the questions that are naturally going to come up, and they’ll feel more comfortable about the entire process.
  • Suggest that your teen find out which of their high-school classmates will be going to that particular college. They can even agree to meet up on the first day of class so that both of them are much less nervous on that day.
  • Make sure your teen attends freshman orientation because this will help them get more familiar with college life and make some new friends in the process. Freshman orientation can also be a lot of fun for the students.

The bottom line is that the more parents are involved in the lives of their graduating seniors, the less likely those seniors are to skip out on the first day of college. Summer melt is a real phenomenon, but it is not hopeless because there are things that can be done about it.


Summer melt describes high-school seniors who intend to go to college and may be already enrolled, but who don’t show up on the first day of class. They simply “melt” away and never start school. Considering how important it is to have a college education these days, this is a phenomenon that worries a lot of people.

Fortunately, parents can become more involved in the process and encourage and support their teens so that in the end, they not only attend the first day of class but eventually graduate and get their degree.


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