Tip of the Iceberg: The Role of Summer Melt in the Postsecondary Pathway

“Summer melt” may be defined as when students who appear college-ready change their mind over the summer and decide not to enroll. The focus on summer melt has been a useful corrective to traditional approaches to college choice, yet it has drawn attention away from the dynamic process of decision-making in which high school students engage. Summer melt, perhaps, may represent a small part of a greater problem—a weak or volatile commitment to college enrollment. Using Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS), this study finds that, in the broader context of the postsecondary pathway, summer melt is a relatively rare occurrence and that socioeconomic inequalities are largely driven by differences in college intent. Compared to college enrollees, summer melters are on unstable academic and behavioral trajectories, suggesting that they revisit their college plans long before the summer months. Implications for research on educational transitions and interventions are discussed.