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Targeting Summer Melt Virtually - How to Connect and Engage Seniors During a Pandemic

Blog post written by
Tessa Barbazon
Director of School Counseling and Social-Emotional Learning

As March rolled in, so did the mass closures of schools caused by COVID-19.  Educators quickly shifted and adapted, and districts across the country kept the world of education rolling online.  For seniors, there has been much attention on the impact of missed milestone events, like prom and graduation.  However, the reality for many high school counselors and college admissions advisors is, regardless of the closure, August will still come, and so will those post-secondary plans that have been years in the making for the Class of 2020.  For some seniors, the standard “to do’s” have already been checked off the list.  On the other side,there are seniors that just haven’t had the time to complete the FAFSA, don’t have the funds to put down a deposit, or haven’t even completed a single college application, despite it being their intention to enroll in college in August.  How will these students fare when it comes to life after graduation, and how will counselors be able to support them with this dramatic shift to virtual counseling and academic advisement?

While summer melt has always been an issue, especially with students that don’t have multiple support factors in place, this is an especially challenging time.  Counselors thrive on connecting face to face with students.  Having a relational connection is huge in ensuring students communicate openly and honestly about the support they need.  With counseling occurring via Google Meet or Zoom, it is a challenge to get students to open up about their concerns and needs to ensure they have a successful transition to post-secondary.  With all of these challenges, what can counselors do to effectively address this issue?  Consider some of the following ideas to identify and address the challenges of summer melt with seniors…

  1. Plan and prepare- As a counseling department, what can be provided over the summer to ensure students have access to counseling support?  Even if the support is a year round administrative assistant, consider robust Q&A docs, and other tools like an infographic sheet on breaking down award letters, to assist students when counselors are not available.  Don’t hesitate to get creative with a plan to have counseling support available- could any leftover funds set aside for cancelled programming or Title funds be used to offer counseling outreach hours one day a week throughout the summer? Keep in mind it is important to tackle this logistics component first- you need to know what options you have to support students so that when you see what the needs are, you can put together plans based on available options.  While some districts have summer melt prevention programs, many schools have high school counselors on extended contracts, and/or a department lead that is available for an extended period of time to field questions and provide support.
  2. Collect senior data to identify needs- Putting together a senior exit survey can capture not only current post-secondary plans, but also areas where a student may benefit from counselor outreach.  Using this data helps tier the counseling services and interventions to meet the needs of students that have identified as planning to pursue college enrollment, but have yet to secure admissions or complete basic steps to securing financial aid. 
  3. Evaluate existing data and tackle most critical needs prior to graduation- As always, your seniors struggling with academic coursework need counseling support.  Ensuring these students graduate is of top priority.  FAFSA completion data being available to counselors is also huge- who needs support prior to graduation to secure federal aid and receive a financial aid award letter from their post-secondary institution?  Having college acceptance and financial aid secured prior to graduation, when counselor support is still readily available, avoids some of the biggest hurdles to mitigating summer melt
  4. Have a plan for tracking post-secondary enrollment data- Many districts use official tracking platforms or other subscription services to track this information.  It is advised that as an ongoing practice, schools and districts have a plan to track which students successfully enroll and matriculate through college.  It can be especially valuable to compare senior exit survey data of projected plans to the actual outcome of enrollment.  What gaps made it not possible for that student to enroll?  Are there more effective interventions and support counselors can provide in ASCA aligned programming to address these gaps?

While this time of school closure is challenging for all students, seniors have challenges beyond the norm with trying to navigate their future when so much about post-secondary enrollment is uncertain- will orientations be online?  Will there be a move in day for dorms, and on campus classes in the fall?  Counselors and college advisors can’t provide the answers to these questions, but with a plan in place to collect data and support students that are at risk of summer melt, we can ensure that students are able to successfully enroll in college, even though that enrollment may look a little different this year.  

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