Reflecting on the First Year of College

Your student made it through that often tumultuous first-year transition to college – perhaps smoothly or maybe with a few bumps and bruises along the way.

Next stop – sophomore year. But first, there’s work to be done.

It’s time for your student to reflect and make meaning of their first-year experiences, consider the lessons learned, and uncover the wisdom that can help them navigate the next three years.

New sources of information

Your student has grown. Their experiences have given them new sources of information about themselves and about college, but they may not yet have connected all of the dots. Now is the time for your student to consciously integrate this knowledge into their sense of who they are and how they can move forward deliberately and with a stronger sense of purpose.

The summer before sophomore year is an ideal time to talk with your student about their first-year experiences. You may be able to help them clarify how sophomore year can be different because of first-year lessons.

Your role: facilitator

How do you fit in?

Perhaps the most difficult part of your job is not what you do, but what you don’t do. This is not the time to tell your student what you’ve observed or what you think they need to do or change. It’s possible that you can see clearly where they went wrong (or right!) and you know how to fix their problems. But it’s your student who needs to do the work of reflecting.

You can help that happen. It’s time to be a sounding board for your student.

Be a guide. Encourage your student to think about their experiences (the good and the bad) and what they’ve learned. Give them the option to talk about it or not. They may not want to share everything with you. That’s OK.

The process may unfold slowly, over time. Reflection can be hard work and won’t happen all at once. Gradually, your student will emerge with new understanding.

What to think about?

The lessons your student learns will depend on how that first year of college went. There may have been significant challenges and significant successes, great highs and devastating lows. Start by encouraging your student to think about three primary areas – getting to know themselves, building relationships, and taking action.

There will be time for specific action plans later (I’ll spend more time studying, I’ll get more sleep, I’ll get involved on campus.) but this is time for the broader, more basic questions.

Learning about self

Your student might think about –

  • Their values and what is important to them. Have their values been challenged?
  • Freedom and independence – being in control and taking responsibility for your life. Does it feel empowering or frightening?
  • Their ability to be resilient and to persevere and bounce back from difficult situations.
  • Knowing when it’s important to say “yes” and when to say “no.”
  • What it’s like to encounter new ideas and people. Has their view of the world changed?

Learning about relationships

Your student might think about –

  • Their friendships – new and old. What makes a good friend? Which friendships fell apart? What made some friendships grow stronger? How can they nurture new friendships?
  • Communicating with others – family, friends, roommates, professors. Have they learned any new ways to make connections, to deal with conflict, to reach out to faculty and advocate for what they need?
  • Has their communication with family changed as they’ve become more independent? What might improve it?

Learning about taking action

Your student might think about –

  • Whether they feel in control of their life and take responsibility for their actions.
  • How they manage their time, plan for the things they need to do, and then stick to the plan.
  • How comfortable they are with being flexible and “going with the flow.” Do they know when to alter their plans if necessary?
  • Taking good risks and knowing the difference between those good risks and not-so-good risks.
  • Being in charge of their own finances. Have they learned anything about their spending habits and how to make decisions about priorities?
  • Are they comfortable asking for help when they need it? Do they know the resources available on campus to help them?
  • If they had it to do over, what would they change?

Your student may not want to think about all of these questions, and there may be others they want to consider. But taking some time to reflect and think about the wisdom they have gained during this transitional year will help your student begin next year with a strong sense of purpose and direction.

Related articles:

Sophomore Conversations: Settling Into College Life

How Parents Can Help Their Student Avoid Sophomore Slump

The Middlework of College


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