It’s summer, and your college student now has a year of college behind them. You may be breathing a sigh of relief remembering how busy you were at this time last year trying to help your student get ready to head off for the first time. There was so much to do last year – and so much stress for everyone!
This year it feels as though everyone can finally relax. Your student knows what to expect when they go back to school in the fall, and it may feel as though you’re not needed this year.
You’re not quite off the hook yet – and neither is your student. Actually, there are quite a few things that your student could be thinking about and doing this summer to help make the second year of college begin smoothly – and to avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump.”
Of course, your student needs time this summer just to kick back and spend time with friends, but in between their summer job and all of those fun summer plans, these few months before sophomore year are an excellent time to build on the experiences your student had last year and to anticipate the year to come. Sophomore year may not be as scary as the first year seemed, but it has its own rhythm and expectations. A little time and energy spent now will pay off in the fall.
Look backward to move forward
With a year of college under their belt, your student has gained a good bit of wisdom or “college knowledge,” but that knowledge will be most useful if your student reflects on what they’ve learned and how to apply those lessons. They may need some guidance from you to do that. Here are a few questions that may help.
- Classes and grades – This is a good time to think about last year’s classes. How did they go? Why were some more successful than others? Did you learn anything about the styles of teaching and learning that work best for you? Were your study skills solid and did you spend enough time on schoolwork? What would you like to change next year?
- Friendships – It’s natural for friendships to change and shift as students go through college. Sometimes those close friends from the first year drop away and are replaced with people with more shared interests and similar values. How did it go last year? Do you have some good friends to start the year with? What can you do to make some new friends and/or deepen existing friendships? Are the people you “hang around with” those who share your values and help you be the best person you can be?
- Social life – College is about academics, but it’s also about fun and engagement. Did you get involved in interesting activities or groups last year? Are there some new ones you hope to try next year? How was the balance of schoolwork and play? Are there changes you need to make in how you manage and spend your free time?
- Career aspirations – Since most schools require students to declare a major by the end of sophomore year, this will be an important year for confirming or changing your major. It’s not necessary to zero in on a career yet, but having a sense of direction can help.How do you feel about your career goals and your major now that you’ve had some classes in that area? Does this still feel like the right major? Or, if you’ve been undecided about a major, how have you explored possibilities? Have your ideas about careers changed
- Personal finances – Now that you have experienced a year of college, you may be in a better position to consider the costs you will encounter moving forward. How did spending money work? Did you work while in school this past year? Were you able to balance that with classwork and activities? Did you have enough spending money? Where did you spend most of your money? Do you have a budget? Will you make any changes this year?
Using some summer “downtime” to anticipate the second year of college can help your student begin the year purposefully. Having a sense of direction and feeling prepared can help keep your student motivated and help eliminate, or at least reduce, sophomore slump. Beyond just helping your student reflect on their first year, help them get a few things done this summer to get them off to a great start in the fall.
- Confirm/change major – If your student is happy with their chosen major, they may be all set. But if they are considering a change, summer may be an ideal time to do that. (Your student may be able to do that online or may need to reach out to a registrar.) This will mean they can begin the fall semester already on the radar of their new department and can use the first weeks of the semester to talk with professors in their new area of study.
- Check their fall schedule – If your student is changing major, they may need to make some changes to their fall schedule, but even if they are remaining where they are, this is a good time to review that schedule and make sure it still looks appropriate. Students may be able to make changes themselves over the summer or they may need to contact an advisor or advising office. It will be easier to make changes now rather than during those hectic first days of the semester.
- Investigate possible minors – Many students choose to add a minor to their course of study to deepen or complement a major. As your student approaches their second year, this can be an excellent time to explore options.
- Career exploration – Perhaps your student is comfortable with their major but isn’t sure what career options they will have. Summer can be an ideal time to contact the Career Office and have a conversation. Offices such as this are often quieter during the summer and may have more time to answer student questions and suggest resources.
- Informational interviews – This can be an ideal time for your student to talk to some people working in the field they are considering. Most professionals are happy to spend 20-30 minutes sharing their experiences and advice. One of the questions your student can ask at this point is what courses someone would recommend for a student aspiring to their job. This can help give your student more direction as they choose future courses.
- Future experiences – This is a good time for your student to consider the big picture of their next 3 years at college. Do they hope to study abroad, complete internships, or study away? Do they hope to hold leadership positions while in school – club officer, student government representative, departmental assistant, resident assistant, etc. Many of these goals require planning ahead and taking small steps along the way can make the path easier.
Reflecting on that first year of college and taking some action to plan ahead for the second year can help your student feel more in control of their college experiences and more engaged in their educational program. Help your student consider what they can do now to “level up” their second year of college!