Auryana Curetan, Adriana Jones and Amy Sumah are seniors at Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Prince George’s County who attended the school district’s workshop April 20 on to gain clarity on the college enrollment process.

High school graduates of Prince George’s County Public Schools are in line with national statistics on the “summer melt” phenomenon, according to its Office of College and Career Readiness. The term “summer melt” means that almost half of current year high school graduates won’t enroll in an institution of higher learning in the fall.

Between 35-45 percent of the county’s students who plan to make the transition from high school to college fail to enroll in their intended institution or choose to pursue jobs instead.  The school system,  seeking to close the gap between high school graduation and college enrollment, held a free “I Was Accepted to College, Now What?” workshop for seniors and families at Largo High School April 20.

“They complete their application, they complete their paper work but somehow do not end up in a college seat in the fall,” said Byra Cole, a college readiness specialist with the office. “It’s really the follow-up. It’s a disconnection from high school. Every day there’s a teacher reminding you what’s next in the process. Some of the documents come after they have graduated from high school.”

Cole said high school graduates deal with a wide variety of barriers to college including confusion with requests by their intended institution, failure to officially commit to a college, forgetting to turn in paperwork, missing important deadlines, struggling with housing applications, inability to pay enrollment fees; or suffering from sudden life events.

But a major cause of trouble stems from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  “After FAFSA, a student will get an email from the federal government saying their EFC ,” Cole said. “Most students and parents do not know that exists. Once they get that, they need to put the real tax information, because a lot of times they estimate it, and the schools then take that and create a very important document called the financial aid award letter.”

The award letter indicates the amount of money each school will offer the student. Students can then compare award letters to determine which school makes the most financial sense. Many high school graduates miss this crucial step and find out late in the enrollment process that they may not be able to afford their intended college and opt for a two-year college or not to attend school at all.

“There is a group that says, ‘I just can’t afford to’, so they just go into the workforce,” Cole said. “Without any skills, just a high school diploma and some volunteer work, I would assume that the industry would be someplace in fast food and stores.”

Parental support is vital to lessening the summer melt, Cole said. The county has a large parent population of immigrants, but also has second and third generation parents who are far removed from the college admissions process. “They are a part of this process,” she said. “How they respond and what they do and don’t do makes a difference.”

Amy Sumah, a student at Charles Herbert Flowers High School said that her high school did not giver her any help during the process. “Generally you have to figure it out by yourself,” Sumah said.