The Middlework of College

There is a lot of work that happens, for both you and your college student, as they transition into college during the first year.  Both you and your student have a lot to learn about the school, and you need to work on new ways of relating to each other as well.  When your student is a senior, there is a lot of work that happens as your student gets ready for the transition out of college into the world of work or graduate school.  There may be work for you as well, if your student may be moving back home again.

Sometimes lost in all of the transitional work as students enter or prepare to leave college may be the sophomore and junior years when so much of the middlework of college happens. The major transition to college is over and the stress of senior year has not yet begun.  Although at times this period may seem somewhat awkward, these years represent half of your college student’s career, and they represent much of the foundation of your student’s education.  It is during these years that your student continues their exploration of who they are, choose or confirm a major, and begin to solidify their experiences.  As college parents, it is important that we remember that although these may sometimes feel like “quiet” years compared to the turmoil of beginnings and endings, important things are happening during this time.

This might be an important time to have a conversation with your student about these non-transitional years.  Your student may be feeling as though nothing is happening or that they are not getting anywhere because the excitement of that first year has worn off.  This is a time when many students may consider transferring to another school because they feel stuck.  Sophomore slump is very real for many students.  Helping your student understand that this is an important time and that they are making progress during this time may help them “stay the course.”  Here are a few things you might discuss with with your student.

  • This is the time that your student should choose their major. Many schools require that students commit to a major by the end of sophomore year.  Your student may know exactly what they want to do, or they may need to explore their options.  This is a good time to settle into the work of determining and confirming their chosen field of study.
  • Once your student has chosen their major, this is a time for continued advancement and development in the field. Courses probably have increasing depth.  Your student will learn more about the field and may determine an area in the field in which they would like to specialize.  It is time to dig into an area of interest.
  • This is a time when your student can begin to see connections between many of the courses they are taking.  Seemingly unrelated classes may begin to make sense in relation to each other.  Your student can do some important work of “connecting the dots.”
  • This is the time when your student may also choose a minor – a second area of study for some focus.  They won’t explore this in the same depth as a major, but they may want to focus on a secondary field.
  • These years may be particularly difficult academically as your student enters more upper level classes.  It is a good time for them to be aware of maintaining a strong GPA.  Sharpening study, organizational skills, and good time management will help.
  • These middle years of college are a good time for your student to expand their horizons outside of the classroom as well as inside.  They may have more time, and/or confidence, now to participate in campus activities and organizations.  They may branch out and explore new interests, take advantage of opportunities and performances on campus, make new friends, deepen existing friendships, learn more about their values as they develop a strong personal identity.
  • This is a good time for your student to develop strong leadership skills.  They may take a leadership role in clubs or organizations, they may become a peer tutor or teaching assistant.  These opportunities will help your student develop important skills and also build their resume.
  • The middle years, especially junior year, may be a good time for your student to explore opportunities beyond their campus.  Some students begin internships or clinicals at this time.  It is a time for many students to consider a semester or year abroad, or to consider some other off-campus field experience.
  • This is an important time of self-assessment for your student.  They may question goals, aspirations or values.  They may question their abilities as coursework becomes more difficult.  Your student may discover a passion for a new field and make a major change in career direction.  You may need to help your student be comfortable with questioning their path.  This time of exploration can be some of the most important college work.
  • The middle years of college may be the time when your student truly begins to start thinking like a college student rather than a high school student. The transition is completed and they are beginning to feel more in control of their life.  This can be both an exhilarating and frightening feeling.

As a college parent, the middle years of college may sometimes seem mysterious.  The changes that occur, and the work of college, are less obvious and transparent.  Your student has settled in, but still has much work to do.  They may begin to develop an extended support network at school, which may relieve some parents and trouble others.  It is important to understand that this is natural and appropriate.

There is still work of college parents to do during these years, but it is new, perhaps less transparent work.  Researchers Laurie A. Schreiner and Jerry Pattengale have suggested four goals for students during this time: achieving competence, developing autonomy, establishing identity, and developing purpose.  As parents, we can help point our students in the right direction, and then watch with pride as these characteristics develop.

Related Posts:

How College Parents Can Help Their Student Avoid a Sophomore Slump

When Should My College Student Choose a Major?

Why Your College Student Should Consider an Internship

Are College Extracurriculars Really “Extra”?  Why Your Student Should Participate

Understanding Why Your Son or Daughter Wants to Study Abroad


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