As Your Student Prepares for Junior Life

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Dear Parents and Families of the Class of 2021,

I hope that you’ve had a good summer and that you’ve had a chance to spend at least a little time with your busy rising junior! As we prepare to welcome back the students for the fall, I’m writing to share a few thoughts and resources that may be useful to you as your student starts the year.

For about half of you, this is the year when your student isn’t just studying at Williams—they’re studying “away” as well, either in the United States or internationally. Off-campus study is an important opportunity for many students to take their classroom work further through new connections to place and culture—whether in the oceans through Williams’ Mystic program or much farther afield. There’s much more information here about Study Away and what your student should expect and prepare for. In addition, please note that Williams offers important emergency services for students who study away through International SOS. Please click here for more information, and remind your student to register for this service before they head off on their global adventure.

Whether or not your student is studying away as a junior, Williams offers additional funded travel and study opportunities for them beyond this academic year. The fellowships program provides fully-funded travel and study for dozens of students both during summers and after graduation. It’s very much worth checking out and talking over with your student.

In addition to being a time to consider study abroad and fellowship opportunities, the junior year is a pivotal time for other reasons as well. This is the first year that students have a declared major. Their academic advisors are now members of their major department or program and assume the role of helping them determine a path that will encourage them to learn deeply in the field. The goal of such focused study isn’t only learning all about a subject but also practicing its methods of discovery and analysis to create new knowledge. Alumni tell us that whether or not they end up working in a field that “matches” their major, the fact that they have learned to create new knowledge, and to critically reflect on both the methods and the outcomes of such discovery, is key to the success of their work in the world.

This also may be the first year that your student dives into a tutorial or small seminar, which offer great opportunities to regularly present in a small group setting where their ideas will be analyzed, discussed and challenged. If your student seems to be shying away from such opportunities, now’s a great time to encourage them to seize one, even if it seems a bit daunting.

By the time they graduate, students describe such intense interaction with faculty and each other as crucial to their learning and to their growth as scholars and as people.

Junior year is also a great time to forge stronger connections with the ’68 Center for Career Exploration, where skilled professionals help students envision—and experience—opportunities in a very wide range of post-Williams paths.

While students are absorbed in their majors, and starting to imagine some possibilities after Williams, it’s also good to remind them that half of their college education still lies ahead of them. Encourage them to keep exploring—getting to know new people, taking classes in new subjects, trying new activities, and exploring the Berkshire community.

I hope that some of these ideas may prove helpful to you and to your students. As always, you can find more information and answers to frequently asked questions at families.williams.edu if you don’t find what you need there, just reach out to us.

I wish you a happy end to summer and some good conversations with your students.

With best regards,

Marlene Sandstrom
Dean of the College and Hales Professor of Psychology