There is a lot of focus on the new college student and both the student’s and parents’ transition to the world of college. Entering college is a major life experience for both the first-year student and for his parents. Underestimating the enormity of that shift may cause difficulties, so colleges run orientation sessions for both students and parents, authors write books for both students and parents, and colleges run special programming for first year students.
However, once students get past that first year of college they are often on their own. Students are expected to have settled in and “know how to play the game”, and parents are often more comfortable with the idea of their student being away and navigating the world of college. Unfortunately, some students do experience a sophomore slump in spite of a good first year experience and in spite of parental and college efforts to prepare them for the differences and changing expectations.
We’d like to offer a list of seven things that your returning student (sophomore, junior or senior) might want to consider to give a new focus for his year and to raise the level of his college experience.
Your student may already be doing some of these things, but now that she knows her college better and has made it through that first transitional year, she might want to think about what’s next.
- Get involved in a new activity. Many students are reluctant to become too involved during their first year of college. (We hope your student has been involved in some things since that often increases student satisfaction with the college experience.) Now that your student is more comfortable navigating college, she might want to try something new. This is a chance to learn new skills, meet new people, try a new area of interest, or take an existing interest to a new level.
- Take on a leadership role. Your student may volunteer to take a leadership role in a club, run for student government, become a resident assistant, peer tutor, or take on other responsibilities. College is a wonderful place to learn and practice leadership skills.
- If your student has not already done so during his first year, he should visit the Career Office on campus. Whether he is a sophomore, junior, or senior, the earlier that he investigates the services offered by his Career Office, the more he will be able to take advantage of those services. This office may help him choose a major, work on a resume, find internships, and eventually look for that first post-college job.
- Find a new approach or new place to study. Hopefully, your student had a successful first year academically. But whether or not she reached her academic expectations, there is usually room for improvement. Now that your student understands the demands of college work, giving some thought to the changes that she can make in how she approaches her studying may give her a fresh academic start.
- Connect with one or two professors in his major department. As your student moves through his college career he will get to know many professors. Encourage your student to cultivate a relationship with one or two key professors in his field of study. These one or two people will provide important guidance, perhaps research or seminar opportunities, and be a great source of career advice and possible recommendation letters.
- If she has not already done so, encourage your student to sit with her academic advisor to create a four-year plan. Many students spend much of their first year completing all-college requirements and exploring possible majors. By the second year of college it is important to begin to think about all that will need to be done and to plot out how it will happen. Are there requirements for the major or potential major? Is she planning to study abroad? How will that affect course selections? Are key courses offered every year or on a rotating cycle? What will shift if she changes major? The plan may change or need to be modified, but having a plan is important.
- Investigate off-campus experiences. In addition to the required or recommended courses that your student takes, an important component of his college education may include some off-campus experiences. These experiences may be for credit, or may be undertaken simply for the learning experience and/or as elements of a well-rounded resume. Early planning will help your student best take advantage of possibilities. He may want to consider a year or semester studying abroad, a school year or summer internship, a semester exchange at another college, off-campus community service or job shadowing opportunity. These experiences will help him to make connections between his classroom experiences and the “real world”.
The first year of college is a time of transition and change. As students return to campus for subsequent years they can settle in and take even more advantage of all that the institution has to offer. Encourage your college student to explore those “next level” activities to enrich his college experience.