As Your Student Prepares for Senior Life

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Dear Parents and Families of the Class of 2020,

I hope you have had a good summer and that you’ve had a chance to spend some time with your student in between all of their other activities. The arrival of senior year comes up suddenly for many families—time passes so quickly in these busy years of so much change and growth. I’m writing today with some thoughts as your students move into this final year at Williams. I hope they may be helpful to you.

Senior year is a complicated mix of present and future for most students. They tend to have their eyes on the horizon, considering and planning their next steps after college. One of the most common misunderstandings seniors have is that they have to first figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives and then choose a job or graduate program accordingly. While it’s true that a few students’ passions are so clear that their first post-college step is into the exact field where they will ultimately spend their whole career, most of our graduates’ professional lives follow a more winding path. It’s good, too, to remember that students with every major go into a wide range of careers. The data on Williams alumni’s careers as they relate to their majors is beautifully depicted here, and students are encouraged to reach out to alumni to learn more about the lives they’ve made after Williams and to glean some advice about next steps. My general advice to the parents of seniors is that it is never too late to get started, and a conversation with a career advisor is a great way for your student to jump-start their post-graduate decision-making. If your student has not yet had the opportunity to meet with the friendly staff at the ’68 Center for Career Exploration, the fall semester is the perfect time to schedule an appointment.

While students have their eyes on life after Williams, it’s sometimes easy to forget that a quarter of their lives in the Williams community still lies ahead of them. I often encourage seniors to reflect back on their hopes as they started their first year. Did they want to take a philosophy course? Learn to bake or step dance or kayak or speak another language? Make a friend from another continent? You might encourage your student to think about what’s left on their hope-to list, and to recommit to the things that seem most important. Williams Convocation, on September 7, will offer seniors a chance to think about these questions together, while hearing from alumni who have made particularly notable contributions to society. Last year’s Convocation address, by Cheryl C. Robinson Joyner ’85, chairman of PARA Music Group, was a great one.

Academically, this year is the one in which many students do independent work: reading original sources, doing experiments, and creating new knowledge. Whether or not your student is doing a senior thesis, they’ll likely be struggling with questions that no one has fully answered before. This kind of independent work is both rewarding and challenging. You’ll almost certainly find yourself on the phone with your senior encouraging them to stick with it—perhaps almost as much as you did back in their first year of college. And, of course, whether or not they thank you, they’ll be very glad for that support.

Finally, a note about life off campus. About one in five seniors live off campus, in apartments they share with other students. Nearly all seniors have friends living off campus, and their social lives often center there. We tell students moving off campus about their rights and responsibilities as members of the Williamstown community, and sometimes they are surprised by how different it is from life on campus. Whether or not your senior is living off campus, it is worth talking over these issues with them. (After all, in less than a year they’ll be off-campus for good!) You might ask whether they know the resources available to them for assistance in town if they are at an off-campus event that goes awry. Do they understand the responsibilities they hold if they are leaseholders, not just for their own behavior but also for the actions of their guests? Have they thought through what would be appropriate in communicating with neighbors who may be older or have small children? These steps toward life apart from the protected campus community are valuable opportunities for many students as they get ready for their lives after graduation. They’ll really benefit from your guidance starting out.

I hope some of these thoughts might be useful to you and your student this year. As always, you can find more information and answers to frequently asked questions at families.williams.edu, or if you don’t find what you need there, just reach out to us.

I wish you a good fall and look forward to seeing you at graduation, where it will be my great honor and pleasure to read the name of your student as they cross the stage.

With best regards,

Marlene Sandstrom
Dean of the College and Hales Professor of Psychology