College and University Blog

Summer Melt: Aim for Extra Cash for College

“Summer melt” is a little-known phenomenon that happens every year. Unlike the name suggests, it has absolutely nothing to do with ice cream left outdoors in July.

It’s the term used to describe what happens when students who submitted enrollment deposits to hold their place decide over the summer not to attend the college after all.

Understanding the Summer Melt

Summer melt can benefit potential students because it leaves financial aid dollars on the table. Money that was previously promised to students who were planning on enrolling that fall yet changed their minds for one reason or another is put back into the school’s pool of resources, making it available for someone else.

As Audrey Kahane at the Simi Valley Acorn explained in 2010, prestigious colleges can easily admit students from their waitlists if others change their mind at the last minute and forfeit their deposits. Less selective colleges, though, may have trouble meeting enrollment goals. These schools extend their application period and accept applications for the fall semester throughout the summer in hopes of having enough students … and enough income from the students’ tuition money.

Even though the fall semester seems right around the corner, especially during the summer months, students can typically find additional financial aid from colleges struggling to meet their enrollment goals. Financial aid and scholarship money can be offered at the last minute as earlier enrollment commitments change their mind.

The Summer Melt’s Effect on Colleges

Colleges have traditionally been able to predict their incoming freshmen classes fairly accurately, but the troubled economy and students’ uncertainty to pay for college—combined with the growing trend of students placing deposits at more than one school and rescinding on their agreement to attend—have schools up in arms.

Students’ uncertainty on where they’ll be attending college isn’t easy on them, but it also creates plenty of anxiety for the colleges. Kevin Kelly, director of admissions at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, described the thinking of some wait-listed students for the Boston Globe in 2008. “Here’s the deposit, but if X, Y, Z calls, I’m out of here in a heartbeat.”

“In some cases, the summer melt could become the summer flood,” said David Hawkins, director of Public Policy and Research for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “Students are still hedging their bets, and colleges are definitely concerned.”

Students Become More Important to Colleges

“The later in the year we get, the more valuable each student becomes and the harder they are to replace,” Lynn Nichelson, director of financial aid at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois, told Dave Carpenter of the Associated Press in 2008. “The quality student is in demand all over the place.”

Valerie Broughton, a Minneapolis-based educational consultant who was previously an administrator for several universities, says that colleges are turning to their wait lists more than ever before as a consequence of the trend of doing away with early-decision programs, resulting in a last-minute scramble for students.

“In terms of parents paying, there’s more stress than I’ve ever seen,” Broughton told the Associated Press. Many students and their families wind up considering or changing to less expensive colleges or universities than they’d planned on attending.

Use the Summer Melt to Your Advantage

Financial experts remind families that as colleges scramble to meet their enrollment goals, they may be willing to cooperate with students who haven’t yet made up their minds on one school or another. As puts it, “You have nothing to lose by asking for more financial aid, so take advantage of the summer melt.”

“To fill their seats and bring in those qualified students, private colleges and universities, in particular, are more willing to sweeten the pot a little this year,” Chuck Moore, a college consultant in Louisville, Kentucky who teaches a program on college affordability to high school guidance counselors, told Bankrate.

Moore suggests that students contact their assigned financial aid officers to see if they can qualify for additional money for school. “You’re never going to get a lesser offer by asking for additional money. Just ask. If you are a good academic student, and they know you have a better offer from a university they compete with, they may come up with more money,” he advises.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.