As parents, we worry about our high school senior’s transition to college. We know that this is a big step and we hope that our student is prepared. We know that there is work to be done during the summer before that freshman year. We’ve written earlier posts about some important conversations – and then even more conversations – for you to have with your student during that summer before college.
But even after your student has made those important first transitions to college, there are more changes ahead. Each year of college brings its own phase of development, and the phenomenon of the “sophomore slump” is very real for many students. Parents may be less comfortable with knowing what conversations they should be having with their student who may be moving on to the second year of college, but the work isn’t done.
As your student moves past the first, transitional year, it may be important to talk with him about what to expect during that potential sophomore slump. Knowing that the second year of college may be significantly different and preparing for some changes will arm your student and possibly prevent some difficult times. However, this is a good time to have some specific conversations with your student now that he has some perspective on college life and studies. We’d like to suggest seven possible topics. Of course, not all topics are appropriate for everyone. We’ll cover three of those topics in this post and the final four in our next post.
- Talk to your student about her major. Sophomore year is often when students are required to declare a major if they haven’t already done so. This will vary by school, but it is by sophomore year that students should begin to focus their studies and often need to formally declare. Perhaps your student knew heading off to college what she wanted to do. Is that major still where she wants to be? If not, has she made a change? Does she have a new direction? Some students may find that what they thought they wanted is no longer what they want, but they have not yet found a new direction. Talk to your student about how she is exploring possibilities. Ask whether her schedule reflects her change or possible change. Ask whether she has discussed her options with her advisor.
If your student was undecided entering her first year, has she made a decision? Ask the same questions about how she is moving toward that decision. Sophomore year should be the year for settling into a major. Make sure that your student is taking action in that direction. This can be a stressful decision for some students, so make sure that she knows that she has your support.
- Talk to your student about his career aspirations and his future. This can be an exciting topic for your student, or it can be frightening. Looking very far down the road may feel overwhelming, but it is important that they begin to connect what they are doing now to where they ultimately want to be. Ask your student about his dream job and career goals. It may be important to help him understand how his major and his career goals relate. A particular major may lead to many careers, and many majors may lead to a particular career. Your student may not yet know what he wants to do, but he knows what he likes to study. That is fine. Or your student may know what he wants to do, but isn’t sure what to study to get there.
Help your student do some dreaming about his future. Encourage him to imagine where he sees himself in a few years. Then help him think about how he can find out more during this second year of school. Should he work with his Career Development office? Can he talk to professors about possible careers in his major? Can he shadow or interview professionals, work toward an internship, work at a part-time job in the field? Your sophomore student doesn’t need to know his ideal career yet, but he should be thinking about how to find out more.
- Help your sophomore student think about her connections on campus. Students who are engaged and connected on their campus have a greater chance of being successful students. Now that the initial transition is over, what connections can your student cultivate? Who are the peers who can help your student be successful and support her goals? Who are the professors and staff members who can best mentor her? What activities and organizations does she enjoy participating in and perhaps developing potential leadership opportunities in?
Help your student think proactively about how, now that she has settled into her new school environment, she will work at building a life and social network there that will help her be the person that she wants to be for the next three or four years of her life. First year college friends are often friends of “convenience.” They are the students who live nearby or attend the same classes. By sophomore year, your student may begin to connect more closely with the students with similar interests and values. Your student’s choices about her connections may have a significant influence on her experiences and direction.
As with so many of your important conversations with your college student, choose your time and place carefully. Be careful that your student doesn’t feel that you are interrogating her and remember to spend more time listening than talking. Pointing your student in the direction of some of the things that she should be considering may be all that you need to do. Your student may not be ready to answer these questions for you, but if you encourage the thought and exploration of the issues, you will help your student move forward.
In our next post, we’ll explore four more important sophomore topics and conversations.