Every spring, millions of high school seniors throughout the US graduate with the intention to attend college. But by fall, an astounding number of them end up not pursuing higher education. Summer Melt, as this phenomenon has been called, is even more evident among first-generation students from low-income backgrounds. Studies have shown that despite having strong support and guidance towards college enrollment during high school, many students often fall back in the months after graduation. They get discouraged and overwhelmed by confusing financial aid award letters, complex tasks, lack of guidance from adults who have gone through the same process, as well as bad experiences with asking for support from adults.
At EPAAF, we see how hard our students work towards completing secondary education and getting accepted in the colleges and universities of their choice. And that’s why even though Summer Melt is a disheartening reality, we are determined to see our students to and through college.
In the summer of 2018, our EPAAF team—Elisabeth Landa (Executive Director), Nancy Alvarez (Family College Access Coordinator), Amy Wong (College Success Coordinator), and Co Tran (Volunteer Coordinator/Development Associate)—sat down to discuss how we can better facilitate a smooth transition of support services for students after they graduate from EPAA. The team decided on the following interventions as part of our anti-Summer Melt campaign:
Senior Seminar support
Amy offers support to students for their Senior Seminar course, building rapport before their graduation. She works closely with the EPAA team to ensure that she will be able to support the students during the summer.
After graduation, Amy reaches out to arrange meetings with every single student bound for their first year in college. The meeting agenda depends on the specific needs of each student, but they generally cover troubleshooting financial aid/calling financial aid offices, finding support services, identifying student organizations and community centers, choosing courses, contacting potential campus advisors, and discussing their feelings about college. We have found that after the initial meeting, many students often schedule follow-up appointments with Amy throughout the summer.
Each year, EPAA and EPAAF host a College Send-Off for all seniors. As part of the day’s activities, the students form groups based on which college they are attending. An EPAAF scholar, usually a third or fourth-year college student who is attending the same school as the other group members, leads each group. The EPAAF scholars share their experiences, struggles, and learnings from the transition to college. This discussion helps affirm for the incoming freshmen that while there are challenges, they are only a natural part of the process and are possible to overcome. The event is also a great opportunity for the scholars to share tips for college life and to form a bond with their fellow alumni.
EPAAF also hosts several College Send-Off workshops on financial literacy, self-care and mental health strategies, and job applications.
EPAAF continues its support for the scholars while they are in college. Amy conducts regular check-ins with each student, covering academics, social-emotional wellness, and finances. EPAAF also cultivates a strong relationship with the parents of each student and empowers them to take part in their children’s college experience. And in August, EPAAF launched a one-on-one mentorship program that pairs first-year students with experienced mentors who can help them make it to the next year of college and also gain insight into their chosen career fields after graduation.
Through these interventions, we have seen many of our students persist through college. We are very excited to see what our scholars are going to achieve during this school year, and are grateful to have the support of an entire community as we help them build lives of choice and opportunity.