Making your enrollment process easier to navigate can help incoming students stick
Each May, just-graduated high school seniors are excited and focused on the start of college in the fall. They’ve selected your school and you anxiously await their arrival on campus. But something funny happens over the summer. Maybe they’re slower to respond to emails. Maybe they don’t complete the required paperwork. Or maybe they drop off the radar altogether — sometimes even when they’ve already made their deposit and registered for classes. Welcome to the annual ritual of summer melt, where the “drip, drip, drip” sound you hear is enrolled students “melting” off your projected fall roster.
The reasons for summer melt run the gamut from lack of support and guidance to financial issues, second thoughts and changes in the student’s situation. For many students, not knowing how the college enrollment system works and what’s expected of them can overwhelm them, turning motivation into paralysis.
In this chapter of our Back to School 2022 series, we explore summer melt — and concrete, actionable ways to address it. From making your enrollment process easier to navigate and clarifying critical information to helping students connect to your campus before they get there, here are our top four tips for keeping your students on the path to enrollment.
Tip 1: Understand the reasons for melt
Why do students go from excited to enter college to not showing up? Causes range from financial problems, fear of not fitting in, need to work, family commitments and stress to a lack of motivation — or lack of student support. Understanding these reasons is critical to helping would-be students overcome their roadblocks and successfully begin their first college term.
Conquering these challenges requires a well-coordinated student support plan that includes your entire team at every level. Students and schools alike can benefit from an approach that focuses on tapping into the skills necessary for long-term success — reaching beyond short-term tasks, such as registering for classes and signing up to meet with a professor. Incorporating more interactive “why” questions into initial student meetings can help them cultivate long-term skills — including problem-solving, self-awareness and resilience — in a way that can get students into their first term at your school and successfully move them forward.
Melt is particularly prevalent with first-generation college students and students in low-income minority communities — students who don’t always have someone who’s been to college to show them the ropes and guide them through an enrollment process that can seem overwhelming. Maintaining contact with these students by letting them know you are there to answer any questions, is an invaluable tool. Consider hosting a Financial Aid 101 workshop to explain the ins and outs of paying for college. Provide campus tours for students and their families. Partner them up with an existing student who’s willing to connect with them as a peer. Going the extra mile can not only ensure they show up on day one, but it sets the foundation to get them to graduation day.
Tip 2: Clarify critical information and policies
For incoming college students, learning the language and customs of the higher education world can be like a major unto itself. What’s the school’s code of conduct? What’s the minimum GPA a student has to maintain in order to remain in good standing — and what happens if they fall below that number? When is full tuition due each term and is there any kind of deferred payment plan? And how is financial aid impacted by grades — or withdrawing from courses after they start? If students don’t have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them, the anxiety from trying to comprehend legalese or overly complicated forms and policies can cause them to give up before they even get started.
The key is to have your student support staff put themselves in the shoes of the incoming student. Instead of using standard higher ed boilerplate, resources need to be written and designed in a way that’s clear and easy to understand for the student. This is all part of creating a student-centered university — one in which the focus is on building an institution that’s “student-ready,” rather than expecting incoming students to be “college-ready.” It’s a subtle difference but one with sweeping ramifications for student success. When students truly comprehend the school’s policies — especially the policies regarding academic eligibility — they’re far likelier to persist and succeed.
For example, through one-on-one coaching with students at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, InsideTrack coaches realized that students were confused by the school’s scholarship policies. As a result, Ivy Tech created a series of short explanatory videos and updated their information packets. Clear, student-centered communication is a must.
Tip 3: Helping enrolled students connect to their educational community
Choosing the right college is all about fit. Students often cite a “sense of community” as a primary factor in their higher ed success. And while that can mean everything from caring professors, helpful classmates and engaging courses, it also applies to student support. Whether the student is 18 or 58, on-campus or online, helping them connect to their school community can mean the difference between fitting in and flunking out.
Freshmen, adult and re-entering students are often taken aback by the quantity and quality of study demanded by today’s higher ed programs. When you add additional challenges, such as financial pressures, outside commitments and time management issues, things can quickly feel overwhelming — something made even more acute during the pandemic. That’s why one of the most important things the student support team can do is make sure students know how to identify and access the resources they need. Maybe it’s math tutoring or one-on-one help in the on-campus or online writing center. Maybe it’s career counseling or a way to better connect with classmates, either in-person or online. It could even be specific help available to first-generation students, student-athletes, adult learners or other groups that might benefit from extra support. Helping students learn to ask for help and providing access to any and all available support resources may be one of the most valuable lessons they’ll learn.
Tip 4: Bridge remaining gaps with enrollment coaching
Enrolling in college is a pivotal decision for any student. They want to enroll because they see this as the gateway to their future. The enrollment period is a time for students to review career options, explore different degree paths, learn more about available types of financial aid, and determine if any eligibility requirements need to be met, such as placement tests or prerequisite classes. Whether it’s a traditional, first-gen or adult student, selecting the college that best fits their needs can be a life-changing decision. Having an InsideTrack enrollment coach serve as a trusted ally gives the student a way to ask questions and address their concerns right from the start.
Research shows that students who receive coaching are more likely to enroll, select the program that best fits their needs, remain in school and ultimately graduate. At this stage in the student journey, coaching helps keep students engaged and connected with their institution. Building relationships with students during this formative period gives them a sense of belonging and helps them develop the habits and abilities that are critical to college success. From knowing the basics like how to maximize institutional resources to developing the mindset to persist through challenges, InsideTrack coaches help prepare students to show up to school ready to thrive, setting the stage to continue on the path to completion. And it can help decrease the chance of summer melt.
Getting a student to commit to your college or university is an important step. But it’s only the first step. Learn how having InsideTrack coaches work with prospective students at Golden Gate University to define long-term goals, evaluate program options and make informed enrollment decisions paid off. The result was a 28% enrollment increase — and that was just part of the story. Read the case study.Read the Case Study