Every year brings challenges, but sophomore year is especially tough for many students. The novelty of college has vanished, along with last year’s hall counselors. Classes get harder. Friend groups and identities shift. Big decisions about majors, study abroad and other opportunities loom on the horizon. This is existential stuff. Many students struggle with self-doubt. They don’t get enough rest or exercise. They become isolated, anxious or depressed.
This is hard for you, too, because you can’t do much about most of the challenges. Of course, you will remind them to eat well and to get as much sleep and exercise as they can. But you can do two other things that will help your young person survive, and even thrive, in their sophomore year.
Help them strategize. Success last year depended on tactics – staying on top of what had to get done today or this week. Success in sophomore year begins to depend on strategy. Students still must keep up with daily work. But they also must begin thinking about next semester and next year. Will they study abroad? When should they begin looking for internships? What about an independent research experience?
Don’t let these questions panic you. Every student does not have to do all of these things. But sophomores do have to begin organizing the building blocks for the last half of their college careers. You can help by providing longer-term perspective. You’re accustomed to managing daily and longer-term projects. You have experience making sure that you don’t miss steps today that are critical to some future opportunity or project. And you have life experience. You have a broader sense of what experiences and opportunities are more important than others.
Share this wisdom. But pick your tone and your time. “Have you thought about…” or “It might be a good idea to…” lands more lightly than “Why haven’t you…” or “Did you remember to….” And the week of mid-terms or finals is not the time for any of this. Raise these issues when they’re flying high, feeling good about a paper, test or extracurricular achievement. You’ll sound like you’re encouraging them to seize another opportunity rather than nagging.
Help them be honest with you and with themselves. Every new year brings a trove of budding physicians, novelists and business magnates. Davidson students tend to be disciplined and goal-oriented. They are accustomed to developing a plan and seeing it through to the end. For high-achieving young people, changing long-established plans can feel like a kind of failure.
Changing course has nothing to do with failure. It has everything to do with expanding self-knowledge. Davidson will help your young person discover where his or her true strengths and passions lie. Give them permission to follow those passions and to build on those strengths. Changing course is not just okay. It’s supposed to happen. Hearing this message from you makes it easier for your young person to say it to themselves.