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.

Advisor and Student Experiences of Summer Support for College-intending, Low-income High School Graduates
January 2015
Arnold, K. C., Chewning, A., Castleman, B. L. & Page, L. C.
This article presents qualitative findings from two interventions intended to reduce summer melt among low‐income, urban high school graduates who had been accepted to college and indicated their intention to enroll. The data fit an ecological perspective, in which personal, institutional, societal, and temporal factors interact to affect students’ behaviors and outcomes and show that obstacles in completing college financing and informational tasks can lead college‐intending students to re ‐open the question of where or whether to attend college in the fall after high school graduation. 

Customized Nudging to Improve FAFSA Completion and Income Verification
October 2016
Page, L. C., Castleman, B. L. & Meyer, K.
Page, Castleman and Meyer investigate the impact of a texting campaign specifically to address the informational and behavioral barriers associated with initial FAFSA filing. Evidence from school-level randomized trials in Texas and Delaware indicates that the text-based outreach serves to improve FAFSA filing outcomes. 

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.
Castleman, Page, and Schooley report on two randomized trials investigating efforts to mitigate summer melt. Results show that offering college-intending graduates 2–3 hours of summer support increased enrollment by three to 12 percentage points at a cost of $100–$200 per student and had lasting impacts on persistence several semesters into college.

Freshman Year Financial Aid Nudges: An Experiment to Increase FAFSA Renewal and College Persistence
December 2014
Castleman, B. L. & Page, L. C. 
In this paper, Castleman and Page investigate, through a randomized controlled trial design, the impact of a low-touch intervention in which they sent college freshman a series of personalized text message reminders related to FAFSA re-filing. The messages produced large and postive effects among community college freshman by (1) providing information about where to obtain help with financial aid; (2) reminding students about important aid-related deadlines and requirements; and (3) offering assistance on financial-aid related processes. 

Improving College Access in the United States: Barriers and Policy Responses
December 2015
Page, L. C. & Scott-Clayton, J.
Page and Scott-Clayton describe the barriers that students face during the transition to college and review the evidence on potential policy solutions by examining the evidence on informational and behavioral interventions, academic programs, and affirmative action policies intended to improve college access.

How an artificially intelligent virtual assistant helps students navigate the road to college
March 2017
Page, L. C. & Gehlbach, H.
Researchers employed conversational artificial intelligence (AI) to efficiently support thousands of would-be college freshmen by providing personalized, text-message based outreach and guidance for each task where they needed support in the context of a field experiment with Georgia State University (GSU). 

A Trickle or a Torrent? Understanding the Extent of Summer “Melt” Among College-Intending High School Graduates
April 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. Castleman and Page assess the extent to which this phenomenon—commonly referred to as “summer melt”—is broadly generalizable.

Stay late or start early? Experimental evidence on the benefits of college matriculation support from high schools vs college
June 2015
Castleman, B. L., Owen, L. & Page, L. C. 
Reserachers facilitated a collaborative effort between the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) and the University of New Mexico (UNM), and randomly assigned 1602 APS graduates admitted to UNM across three experimental conditions: (1) outreach from an APS-based counselor; (2) outreach from a UNM-based counselor; or (3) the control group. Among Hispanic males, summer outreach improved timely postsecondary matriculation, with suggestive evidence that college-based outreach may be particularly effective. 

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.
Castleman and Page report on two large-scale randomized trials that found that an automated and personalized text messaging campaign to remind students of required college tasks substantially and cost-effectively increased college enrollment, 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. 

Summer Link: A Counseling Intervention to Address the Transition from High School to College in a Large Urban District
November 2012
Daugherty, L.
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. Using difference-in-difference analysis to estimate the program's effects, the 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. 

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