The Middlework of College
There is a lot of work that happens, for both you and your college student, as he transitions 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 her exploration of herself, chooses or confirms a major, and begins to solidify her 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. He may be feeling as though nothing is happening or that he is not getting anywhere because the excitement of his 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 he is making progress during this time may help him “stay the course.” Here are a few things you might discuss with him.
- This is the time that your student should choose his major. Many schools require that students commit to a major by the end of sophomore year. Your student may know exactly what he wants to do, or he may need to explore his options. This is a good time to settle into the work of determining and confirming his chosen field of study.
- Once your student has chosen her major, this is a time for continued advancement and development in the field. Courses probably have increasing depth. She will learn more about the field and may determine an area in the field in which she 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 he is 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. He won’t explore this is the same depth as a major, but he 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 her 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 her horizons outside of the classroom as well as inside. She may have more time, and/or confidence, now to participate in campus activities and organizations. She may branch out and explore new interests, take advantage of opportunities and performances on campus, make new friends, deepen existing friendships, learn more about herself and her values as she develops a strong personal identity.
- This is a good time for your student to develop strong leadership skills. He may take a leadership role in clubs or organizations, he may become a peer tutor or teaching assistant. These opportunities will help him develop important skills and also build his resume.
- The middle years, especially junior year, may be a good time for your student to explore opportunities beyond her 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. He may question his goals, aspirations or values. He may question his abilities as coursework becomes more difficult. He 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 himself and his path. This time of exploration can be some of his 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 she is beginning to feel more in control of her 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. He 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.