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Summer melt is one of the most frustrating phenomena that colleges face in today’s competitive recruitment landscape. You accept students, they submit their deposits—and then they don’t show up. Not at orientation, and not at the start of fall semester. With estimates of its occurrence ranging from 10 to 40 percent, summer melt presents a significant challenge that can negatively impact your enrollment yield and your institution’s financial stability. But strategic use of digital marketing can mitigate the effects of summer melt, particularly among Gen Z and the emerging Gen Alpha.

Why Do Accepted Students Melt Away?

After a student says yes, accepts their financial aid package, and makes the final deposit that secures their spot, time passes. And between the gap of acceptance and attendance, a lot can happen. For some students, your institution just wasn’t ever their first choice and when they get what they consider a better offer, they grab it. And often, they don’t bother letting you know. Or sometimes, financial reality hits and a student and their family simply decides they can’t afford the cost. But for many students, not showing up in the fall is more nuanced. Particularly for students who are the first to attend college, the runway to a start date can be paved with potholes. Nothing about the process is familiar to the student or anyone in their family. And the guidance counsellors who were so helpful when high school was in session are off for the summer. The documents that are routine components to the admissions process from your perspective can be daunting. Financial aid info, housing applications, placement exam signups, health insurance forms, and other paperwork can be an overwhelming barrier to entry.

Targeting Gen Z and Gen Alpha Students

To effectively combat summer melt, it’s crucial to understand the characteristics and preferences of Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012) and Gen Alpha (born 2013 and beyond). These generations are digital natives. They grew up with the internet, smartphones, and social media and they expect seamless, personalized, and instant communication. Digital marketing can meet these expectations, keep students engaged, and ensure that they remain committed to their educational journey.

digital marketing strategies

5 Digital Marketing Tactics to Prevent Summer Melt

Strategic digital marketing provides numerous assets, tools, campaigns, and methodologies to keep prospective students engaged and committed and prevent summer melt:

1. Short Message Service Marketing

SMS marketing is an opt-in service that allows you to text students and stay in touch the whole summer. With an incredible open rate of more than 95 percent, SMS allows you to send personalized messaging that welcomes students to your institution and the college they’ll attend. Let them know about deadlines, documents, and upcoming events. Invite them to log into their student portal. And be sure to include relevant calls-to-actions to keep students engaged.

2. Email Nurturing

Email is another way to communicate and nurture students throughout the summer. Develop segmented email campaigns that provide personalized information and reminders about important dates, financial aid, housing, and orientation. Personalized emails help students feel valued, supported, and part of their new community.

3. Website Chatbots

Your website is your virtual campus and chatbots can be your students’ personal tour guides. Leverage AI-powered chatbots to provide 24/7 info to students who don’t want to call and speak to an actual human. Especially for first-generation college students, they may feel embarrassed to ask questions about financial aid, housing, and course selection. By leveraging data from interactions and applications, chatbots can personalize responses based on the student’s interests, academic background, and preferences. Chatbots give students an easy way to ask questions and stay in touch and offer you insight into what obstacles they may face. Georgia State University implemented chatbot “Pounce” and reduced summer melt by more than 20 percent.

4. Content Marketing

Create personalized, engaging, relevant, and informative content, to build and maintain strong connections with incoming students, address their concerns, and build excitement for the upcoming academic year. From news items and blog posts to videos and virtual tours, tell the story of your institutional brand and remind students why they said yes in the first place. Just a few forms of content to consider:

  • A series of personalized welcome emails from the college president, deans, and student ambassadors
  • Blog posts that highlight student life, campus traditions, and various student organizations
  • Tip list infographics that provide checklists for such college-readiness realities as packing, preparing for academics, and making new friends
  • Virtual video tours of campus that introduce students to the lay of the land
  • Live chats with faculty, advisors, staff, and students that can be the start of personal connections
  • Financial aid webinars explaining financial aid packages, payment plans, and scholarship opportunities
  • Student success stories and alumni spotlights that help your future student aspire to greatness
  • Parental newsletters to keep mom and dad in the loop

kids using social media

5. Social Media Marketing

Build an online community that your future students will want to join by using platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Create engaging and relatable content for students and their parents that showcases student life, campus events, and testimonials from current students. Interactive content such as Q&A sessions, live streams, and student takeovers can foster a sense of belonging. You can also use social media to build out a countdown clock or send out reminders for key dates like orientation, move-in day, and the first day of classes.

Measuring and Adapting Summer Melt Strategies

A key benefit to digital marketing is its measurability. Monitor the level of engagement your efforts produce by tracking metrics like email open rates, click-through rates, social media interactions, and website traffic. Collect feedback through surveys to identify the needs and concerns of prospective students and help you refine communication strategies. Adapt and adjust campaigns that aren’t working well and always be willing to try something new.

Do you have a problem with summer melt? CloudControlMedia has strategies for engagement that help you reduce its occurrence. Contact us today and we can discuss customized campaigns for your institution.

~Linda Emma