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Tapping Into Transition and Bridge Programs to Address Summer and COVID Melt

Kathy Chau Rohn

Doctoral Student, Educational Leadership & Higher Education, Boston College

The transition to college is fraught with challenges, particularly for students who have been underrepresented and marginalized in higher education. Far too many students who plan to attend college do not matriculate or do not persist. Lack of support or knowledge, problems with financial aid, and insufficient academic preparation could all contribute to this summer melt phenomenon. College transition and support programs, however, can potentially mitigate some of these issues during a pandemic that has severely affected postsecondary enrollment for students attending high minority and high poverty schools.

There are a wide range of transition and support programs. Some are mandatory while others are optional. Some programs are free and some are not. They exist at two-year and four-year colleges, can be of varying lengths and intensity, can serve specific student populations, and can have different goals. Of these, summer bridge programs in particular have gained momentum and have the potential to address issues related to summer and COVID melt. Held during the summer before a student’s first year of college, summer bridge programs support students in their transition from high school to college. They provide the opportunity for students to explore available resources at their college, acclimate to their new environment, form relationships with peers, faculty, and staff, develop self-efficacy, and build essential academic skills.

High school counselors can and should discuss these programs with their students when guiding them through the college selection process. On the other side of the desk, higher education professionals can and should reach out to, and build relationships with students and high school counselors to encourage participation. In 2020, many summer bridge programs moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic, making them potentially more accessible to students.

While there does not appear to be a comprehensive list of summer bridge programs in the United States, students can use the following search phrases to find out if the colleges they are interested in or have been accepted to have a program that fits their needs and interests as they transition to college. 

  • “Summer bridge program” and “(insert college name)”
  • “Transition program” and “(insert college name)”
  • “Summer transition program” and “(insert college name)”
  • Or, many public school systems have a web page dedicated to college transition programs offered across their campuses 

For students who have attended a summer bridge program, particularly during the summer of 2020, what was your experience like? For those who run summer bridge programs, what did you learn when adapting them to a virtual format? What advice do you have for other institutions running programs this summer? College Counseling Now would love to hear more about your perspectives and experiences!