High 'Summer Melt' Rate May Yield More Financial Aid

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
June 12, 2009

Concerns about families' economic situations have led many college officials to anticipate a high "summer melt" this year--when students who put down deposits in the spring don't wind up attending the institution in the fall.

Mark Huddleston, president of the University of New Hampshire, told Foster's Daily Democrat that even though 3,200 students sent in deposits for the fall 2009 class, that number can change. Usually the university's melt rate is between 5 to 6 percent, but last year it rose to 8 percent.

"In this economy," said Huddleston, "I think we'd be willing to bet that number will again be at about 8 percent, if not higher."

Similarly, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that Reed College in Portland is also concerned about the problem. Colin Diver, president of the school, said that while typically summer melt occurs when students opt to attend different schools or take a year off, this year many may not attend in the fall because of serious financial constraints.

"Money is tight," Diver said. "'My father just lost his job, my mother's been cut back and put on furlough, our home doesn't have the equity it used to have'--whatever."

At George Washington University in Washington, DC, officials echoed similar concerns. "We are not sure if the historical summer melt will sustain itself with the rate of unemployment and the economy," said Robert Chernak, senior vice president for student and academic support services, who was quoted in The GW Hatchet. "There will certainly be GW families that are affected, so there is an unknown about the summer melt because we haven't had a situation quite like this one."

But some financial aid experts see the summer melt rate as a rare opportunity to possibly receive more financial aid. That's because any funds designated for students who decide not to attend a college in the fall are automatically placed back in a financial pool--and may very well be available to those who know how to ask for it.

"In the past students would apply to five or six schools, now they're applying to 20 schools--and their financial aid packages are on the table," explained Alisa LeSueur, a certified college planning specialist with the National Institute of Certified College Planners, who was quoted on FastWeb.com. "So once the student decides not to go to the other 19 schools, that money goes back into the pool."

LeSueur advised students to write a letter to a college's financial aid office asking if any more money is available. If any financial circumstances have changed--such as if a family member has been laid off--LeSueur said to be sure to mention that.

Above all, be polite. "When you approach the financial aid office," she said, "approach with hat in hand--never demand."

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