As you send your high school student off for her freshman year of college and you worry about how she will manage, it is almost impossible to imagine the college senior that you will have in four years. It may help to remind yourself of the child who began high school four years earlier. Could you have imagined then, what she would be like four years later as she graduated from high school?
Students mature during their college years, not only because times passes, but because they experience many different influences and demands. We’ve discussed in many posts about the importance of helping your college student learn to advocate for himself and take responsibility for his actions and decisions. It is not always an easy thing for us, as parents, to remember the important long-term goals over the immediate impulse to “fix” any problems.
There is a definite rhythm to the college years. Some students move through the years, and the sequence, flawlessly, and other students may hit roadblocks or move forward and backward on occasion. For parents, it is helpful to keep in mind that there is a natural rhythm and growth. Your student’s needs and goals during each year and/or phase of the college journey may change. Your student may or may not be aware of the changes, but if you can keep them in mind, you may be better able to help your student at each stage of the journey.
Freshman Folly – The freshman year is a time of transition. Your student may spend a good part of the year learning how to manage his responsibility and independence. He will make new friends and try new things. He may navigate changes successfully or he may make mistakes and less than perfect choices. This may be a year of experimentation, and as in all experiments, some may yield better results than others. Your freshman also may have more options available to him and more room for academic experimentation. He may not yet have chosen a major and so will want to take several different types of classes as he explores. He may discover new areas he has never considered before. There is often time during the freshman year for experimentation, exploration, and some seemingly foolish choices.
Sophomore Slump – Your college student may experience a slump of sorts during the second year. She is no longer one of the “new” students on campus and special attention is now going to the new class arriving. There is an assumption that students have settled in by their sophomore year and are more on their own. The end of the college journey still seems a long way off, and students begin to take more upper level work which may prove more difficult. For some students, this is a time when transferring to another college looks enticing. It may be an important time to talk to your student about her dissatisfaction and whether a change will really help. For many students, the end of the sophomore year is also the time when they will need to declare a major and the decision may be intimidating. This is the year when students must settle into the middlework of the college experience.
Junior Jitters – Junior year may begin to bring both confidence and nervousness for your student. He may feel confident in his abilities to navigate and manage the college experience. He may be moving into more leadership roles on campus. Junior year may be a wonderful year of blossoming and a growing sense of purpose. However, junior year may also bring some nervousness for your student. This is often the time when your student will settle into the meat of the material in his chosen major. He may have second thoughts about his choice or commitment. Your student may choose to study abroad or participate in another off-campus experience which will add to his uncertainty. He may be trying to arrange an internship or summer experience related to his career. Your student will also begin to realize that he has passed the half-way mark of college. Has he learned enough? Will he be prepared for a career? Will he find a job? Will he ever hear from his friends once they graduate? All of these questions begin to create an uncertainty and nervousness this year.
Senior Segue – In music, a segue is a transition from one section of music to another without a pause. During the senior year of college, much emphasis will be on the transition to career and work or graduate school. Your student may feel that she has just barely made the transition into college and it will be time to transition once again. Many students are literally terrified as they face the abyss that seems to loom after college. The message is reinforced throughout the year. Students often complete their “capstone course” in their major, completing their study of their field. Career Offices hold workshops on resume building, interviewing, and dressing for success. If your student is considering graduate school, she will be completing applications and taking qualifying exams. Students experience a series of “lasts” as their do things for the final time. At the time in the spring semester when other students are choosing their classes for next fall, your student may especially experience the reality that she will not be returning next year. Your student will be simultaneously elated and terrified, but be ready to move on.
Of course, each student will experience the rhythm of college differently. Some students may not experience the sequence in exactly four years. Some students will find a particular stage difficult and others may find the same experiences exhilarating. You may stand back and observe your student’s development, or you may feel that you need to step in and help your student navigate a particular phase. Knowing the natural rhythm will help you, as a coach, to help your student understand that what he is experiencing is natural and normal.