It’s the summer before freshman year of college, a time your student has anticipated for months (or even years). You’re both busy ticking things off checklists — they’ve filled out umpteen required forms and been in touch with their new roommate; you’re starting to outfit the residence hall room.
And then your student decides they don’t want to go to college — at least not now. Where did these second thoughts come from?
“Summer melt” is the term colleges use to refer to students who have applied, been accepted and sent in a deposit but who do not enter college in the fall. They seemingly melt away. Although students in lower economic brackets and first-generation college students have higher levels of melt, according to a Harvard study, up to 40 percent of incoming freshmen may melt over the summer, so any student may be at risk.
Why does melt happen?
It can be hard at first to understand why a previously motivated student might suddenly change their mind, but there’s a lot going on this summer.
Your student may simply get cold feet. They worry about money and loans, about academics, about moving away from home.
Everyone talks about how awesome it is to start college. No one talks about second thoughts or being downright scared, so when anxiety happens, your student assumes this means they’ve made a mistake.
Your student wonders what the residence hall and living with a roommate will be like, whether they’ll make friends, how they’ll spend their time, whether their major makes sense, even if they’ll like the food. There’s nothing familiar to hold on to.
Your student worries about failure and their ability to succeed. Maybe the college made a mistake and should not have admitted them!
Starting with a blank slate in a new place is hard. Recreating and establishing themselves might feel like more than they can handle.
The college keeps sending new information all summer — forms and questionnaires; requests about housing, meal plans, schedules, financing; at home there are appointments to make for check-ups or car insurance or bank accounts. Sometimes just navigating the process may feel like too much.
Maybe it would be easier just to stay home.
How can you help your student?
Be proactive. Help your student prepare for feelings like these and work to stay positive and in control.
- Recognize that your student’s fears are real. Don’t try to minimize them. Listen to what your student has to say and validate their emotions.
- Remind your student that this is a normal reaction. Remind them also that they have made successful transitions in the past and the skills that helped them then will help them again.
- Invoke a 24-hour rule. Take a breath. No major decisions made without 24 hours to cool off and reflect.
- Ask your student to name their fears. What are they really worried about? Identifying fears may help them find a solution.
- Reassure your student about their specific concerns. The college admitted them for a reason — they had the grades and background. Finances will work — your family has a plan. Many first-year students don’t know their major or career path yet.
- Encourage them to reflect on why they chose this college. If you live close enough, visit the campus so they can picture the great opportunities they’ll have there.
- Help them make sense of the flood of information. Make sure they’re checking email regularly. Create a summer calendar with things they need to do (deadlines, orientation dates, online placement tests, etc.).
- Encourage your student to talk to someone who’s successfully completed at least a year of college. Remind them that there are no silly questions.
- Arm your student with the skills they’ll need to be successful. Discuss time and money management, how to talk to professors, how to get along with a roommate, how to ask for help and seek support.
- Understand that it is possible your student will need to melt. In spite of your efforts, your student may realize that now is not the right time for them to head to college. If you both agree, talk about alternatives: deferral, a gap year, work. Make sure your student has a plan.
It is the summer before college and it’s natural for your student to have second thoughts. Everything is about to change. Be patient with their concerns and provide plenty of reassurance. Listen a lot.
Keeping your cool may help your student avoid summer melt.
Helpful reads for the summer before freshman year: