As Your Student Prepares for Sophomore Life

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Dear Families of the Class of 2022,

I hope you have had a good summer and that you’ve had a chance to catch up with your student after their first year at Williams. I’m writing as fall approaches, with a few thoughts that may be helpful as your student enters their sophomore year—a year that holds great potential and provides students the chance to consider new opportunities from leadership development to study away to summer fellowships.

What’s different about sophomore year from first year? Some differences are obvious to students. Sophomores know how to do their laundry on campus, live with a group of neighbors they’ve “picked in with,” and have “graduated” from their entries and JAs. Sophomores have some academic requirements they have to complete by the end of this year, too, like declaring a major and completing a writing intensive course. But, much of what’s different for your student about this year will depend on what they choose to change from their first year. For that reason, now is a great time to talk to your rising sophomore about their reflections on their first year and their hopes for the year to come. Here are some possible questions to explore:

  1. Are there things you hoped would happen academically for you last year that didn’t? (Examples might be finding a new interest or inspiration, working intensely with a professor, becoming a great writer, figuring out the library, making connections across different areas of study, or learning an instrument or a language,) Do you have ideas about ways to get closer to those goals this year?
  2. What would you like to have go differently from last year in your life outside the classroom? Is there advice you’d like to have as you make those changes? Do you know whom to ask?

For the first question, it’s interesting to hear students reflect—now with a little distance from the intensity of finals— on which classes they loved and which ones they struggled in (those may be the same courses!). They may be forming an idea about a possible major (Williams students declare their major in April of the sophomore year) or they may not yet have a clear idea of what field they’d like to choose. Whether or not they do, now is a good time to encourage them to take advantage of our many sources of guidance in navigating their academic path. They still have their academic advisor from last year, but at this point they can (and should) be developing a wider team of staff and faculty who can provide advice. They can talk with a favorite professor from last year, someone they’ve gotten to know in the Dean’s Office or ’68 Center for Career Exploration or Davis Center or library or the chair of a department they’ve started to explore. Encourage your student to get to know a professor this semester, by visiting their office hours, taking them to coffee, talking with them about ideas or goals or hopes. Email is a great, low-stress way to reach out to a faculty or staff member and set up a get-together.

Still in the realm of academics, now is a good time for students to reflect on the ways they would like to support their own academic thriving. Students often say they know about the academic resources the college offers, but they don’t get to them as often as they want to. And in general time management is one of the big challenges of adulthood that students start to tackle in their first year of college. Ask your student whether there were things (talks, writing workshops, tutoring sessions …) they wanted to get to but didn’t make time for, and whether they have ideas about how they might get closer to spending their time in a way that reflects their priorities. (That doesn’t mean they have to work constantly—spending time with friends and on other fun activities is another important priority to have, in the right balance.)

One last academic point: Williams students, being the smart and accomplished people that they are, have told us that they often feel they need to do as many things as possible, all at once. While some students thrive on that, it isn’t a necessary or wise route for most. Slowing down to give substantive time and attention to a few things (choosing one or two extracurricular activities they are really excited by, for example, or allowing time to dive deeply into a course) is for many students the crucial change that helps them make the most of their college education. Similarly, many sophomores believe that they need to double-major in order to make the most of their academic lives here. While having two majors is permitted, I definitely don’t recommend it unless the student is absolutely passionate about two subjects. Students are almost always better served by having a single major and then having flexibility in the rest of their courses, which they may use to take some clusters of classes in other areas they are very interested in, to explore broadly all over the curriculum, or both. Students often pursue careers and even graduate work in fields in which they didn’t major. And, professors regularly write recommendations that speak to the talent and skills of students in their courses, whether they were majors or not.

Finally, on the question of reflection before sophomore year, it’s worth asking your student whether their social life went in the way they’d hoped. Sometimes students find they were drawn into a group of friends who don’t share their values, and as a result have ended up engaged in activities they don’t want to continue or have missed out on activities that interest them. Students may feel trapped—thinking that they’ve made these friends now and so these will be their “college friends,” even if that’s not working well.  It’s helpful to talk with students about the fact that they have three more years here, and that they can make the most of this remarkable community if they extend themselves and build new friendships throughout that time.

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, or if you don’t find what you need there, just reach out to us.

I wish you a good end to summer and some good conversations with your students, whatever they want to talk about.

With best regards,

Marlene Sandstrom
Dean of the College and Hales Professor of Psychology