Summer Melt Handbook

The SDP Summer Melt Handbook is a resource for education leaders interested in examining whether summer melt is occurring in their agency. The handbook not only serves to diagnose the phenomenon, but also helps leaders understand what they can do to address it.


Across the country, 10–40% of seemingly college-intending students, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, fail to enroll in college the fall after graduation. This phenomenon is known as summer melt. College-intending students have completed key college-going steps, such as being accepted to college and applying for financial aid, and have concretely signaled their intention to enroll in college. A student has melted if he or she was college-intending, and yet still fails to transition successfully to college the fall after high school graduation. Summer melt is a prevalent issue for education leaders because large shares of students are failing to bridge that gap between institutions. Yet research has identified interventions that can have a significant impact on alleviating the summer melt phenomenon and increasing college enrollment rates. Moreover, it is possible to do so at a relatively low cost.


Using the SDP Summer Melt Handbook, you can: 

  • measure the magnitude of summer melt among your high school graduates,
  • design a summer intervention customized to the needs and realities of your school community,
  • learn about the extent of the summer melt phenomenon across several large education agencies, and
  • gain insight into the positive impact of additional outreach and support for students during the post-high school summer.

Download the SDP Summer Melt Handbook

See also: Resource

Sample Forms

The sample forms from the SDP Summer Melt Handbook can be found below.

Nine Steps (p. 66)
A general summary of key summer tasks for college-going students to complete.

Initial Outreach Checklist (pp. 68–69)
A checklist of key topics for counselors to discuss with students prior to their first meeting.

Assessment Meeting Checklist (pp. 70–71)
A checklist of key topics for counselors to discuss with student during the assessment meetings.

Student Intake Form (p. 72)
A form for counselors to organize information gathered during the assessment meetings.

Counselor Interaction Log (pp. 74–75)
A template for counselors to record outreach and interaction with students.

Academic Papers

These published findings provide evidence about the positive impact of summer interventions in several education agencies across the country. These papers provide more in-depth methodological and technical information about the studies.

The Forgotten Summer: Does the Offer of College Counseling After High School Mitigate Summer Melt Among College-Intending, Low-Income High School Graduates?
July 2013
Castleman, B.L., Page, L.C. & Schooley, K.
Despite decades of policy intervention to increase college entry and success among low-income students, considerable gaps by socioeconomic status remain. To date, policymakers have overlooked the summer after high school as an important time period in students’ transition to college, yet recent research documents high rates of summer “melt” among college-intending high school graduates. Castleman, Page, and Schooley report on two randomized trials investigating efforts to mitigate summer melt. Offering college-intending graduates 2–3 hours of summer support increased enrollment by three percentage points overall, and by eight to twelve percentage points among low-income students, at a cost of $100–$200 per student. Further, summer support has lasting impacts on persistence several semesters into college.

A Trickle or a Torrent? Understanding the Extent of Summer “Melt” Among College-Intending High School Graduates
April 17, 2013
Castleman, B.L & Page, L.C.
The object of this study was to examine whether college-intending, low-income high school graduates are particularly susceptible to having their postsecondary education plans change, or even fall apart, during the summer after high school graduation. College access research has largely overlooked this time period. Yet, previous research indicates that a sizeable share of low-income students who had paid college deposits reconsidered where, and even whether, to enroll in the months following graduation. In this paper, Castleman and Page assess the extent to which this phenomenon—commonly referred to as “summer melt”—is broadly generalizable.

Summer Nudging: Can Personalized Text Messages and Peer Mentor Outreach Increase College Going Among Low-Income High School Graduates?
April 2013
Castleman, B.L & Page, L.C.
Despite decades of policy intervention to increase college entry among low-income students, substantial disparities in college participation by family income persist. Policymakers have largely overlooked the summer after high school as an important time period in students’ transition to college, yet recent research documents summer attrition rates ranging from 10–40% among students who had been accepted to college and declared an intention to enroll in college as of high school graduation. Encouragingly, several experimental interventions demonstrate that students’ postsecondary plans are quite responsive to additional outreach during the summer months. Questions nonetheless remain about how to maximize the impact and cost-effectiveness of summer support. Text messaging and peer mentor outreach programs are two promising approaches both to inform students of college-related summer tasks and to connect them to professional support when they need help. In this paper, we report on two large-scale randomized trials we designed and implemented to investigate the role of technology and peer mentor outreach in mitigating summer attrition and helping students enroll and succeed in college. We find that an automated and personalized text messaging campaign to remind students of required college tasks substantially increased college enrollment in several of our intervention sites, with effects concentrated among students who resided in communities with low levels of educational attainment and few college-going supports; students who qualified for free- or reduced-price lunch; and students whose college plans were less defined as of the end of high school. We find that a peer mentor intervention increased four-year college enrollment, with effects largest for males and students with less-defined college plans. At a cost of $7 per participant for the text message campaign and $80 per participant for the peer mentor campaign, both strategies—and particularly the text outreach—are cost-effective approaches to increase college entry among populations traditionally underrepresented in higher education.

Summer Link: A Counseling Intervention to Address the Transition from High School to College in a Large Urban District
Daugherty, L.
November 2012
While college enrollment rates have grown over the past 25 years, enrollment rates for low-income students continue to lag behind those of students from wealthier families (Baum et al, 2010). Recent studies have shown that summer melt has a significant impact on enrollment rates as students with demonstrated intentions to enroll in college don’t end up following through with their plans (Castleman et al., 2012; Castleman & Page, 2012). Summer melt is a particularly common problem for low-income minority students (Castleman & Page, 2011). Counseling interventions to provide outreach and counseling to college intending students have shown the potential to have a significant impact on summer melt. This study evaluates the impact of an intervention in a large urban district in the Southwest that provided two hours of outreach and counseling to students who reported that they planned to attend college and had applied and been accepted to at least one college. To estimate the program’s effects, difference-in-difference analysis was used to identify the effect of the program. Results indicate that the intervention increased the probability of enrollment for college intending students by 9 to 11 percentage points. The program’s impact was greatest for four-year college intending students who had completed financial aid forms, finished college entrance exams, and been accepted to a four-year college. In addition to evaluating the effect of the program, I discuss a number of key implementation decisions and the impact they may have had on the success of the program. Recommendations are made for future research to identify “best practices” for summer counseling interventions intended to address summer melt.

Case Study

Increasing College-Going Rates in Fulton County Schools: A Summer Intervention Based on the Strategic Use of Data
This case study, published by Harvard Education Press, describes how to use data to challenge assumptions, reveal student needs, address these needs programmatically, and evaluate results. It shows a team of data specialists and educators working together, across institutional and departmental boundaries, to determine why some high school seniors who intend to go to college after graduation do not enroll in the fall. Together, they develop, implement, and evaluate a summer counseling intervention program called Summer PACE to ensure that more students enroll seamlessly in college.
Purchase case study on Harvard Education Press website