Dear Sophomore Families,
It is my pleasure to introduce myself to you and to congratulate your student as they prepare to begin their sophomore year: a year that holds great potential and provides them the chance to consider new opportunities from leadership development to study away and summer fellowships.
What’s different about your student’s sophomore year from their first year? Sophomores typically 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 also have academic requirements they have to complete, and they will declare a major. Now is a great time for your student to be reflective about their first year experiences and to begin to get excited about the year to come. You can be a supportive part of their reflections by inviting them to have an informal conversation with you about their return to campus. Here are some possible questions for your student to explore:
- Are there academic experiences that they would like to fulfill in their 3rd and 4th semesters? Students may have had classes they loved and also had classes they struggled in (those may be the same courses!). They may be forming an idea about a possible major or they may not yet have a clear idea of what field they’d like to choose. Now is a good time to encourage them to take advantage of new opportunities to navigate their academic path. Examples might be finding a new interest or inspiration, working intensely with a professor, becoming a stronger writer, making greater use of the library, learning about educational accommodations at the Office of Accessible Education, making connections across different areas of study, or learning an instrument or a language. Your student still has 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 and support. They can talk with a favorite professor from last year, the chair of a department, or someone they’ve gotten to know in the Dean’s Office or ’68 Center for Career Exploration. Now is a good time for students to reflect on the ways they would like to support their own academic thriving.
- Are there different experiences they would like to have in their life outside the classroom? Do they know who to ask about finding new ways to experience campus life? For example, were there talks, writing workshops, or tutoring sessions that your student wanted to get to but didn’t make time to attend. You can also ask them whether they have ideas about how they might get closer to spending their time in a way that reflects their priorities. Encourage your student to get to know a professor or staff person this semester by visiting their office, inviting them to a Lyceum or Doddceum Dinner, taking them to coffee, talking with them about ideas or goals or hopes at supportive places like the Davis Center. Email is a great, low-stress way to reach out to a faculty or staff member and set up a get-together.
- Do they have a plan to care for their wellness and/or mental health? Time management, health and wellness, and self-care are big challenges of adulthood that students started to tackle in their first year of college. 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 important interests, including themselves, is for many students a crucial change that helps them make the most of their wellness and their college education.
- How are they creating sustainable social relationships? It’s worth asking your student whether their social life last year went in the way they’d hoped. While many students’ first social experiences in college are exciting and rewarding, sometimes students find they were drawn into a group of friends who don’t share their values. As a result, as they enter into their sophomore year, your student may have anxieties about continuing these interactions. Oftentimes students may feel trapped into thinking that because they’ve made these friends they have to keep their “college friends,” even if those past interactions were unhealthy or unsupportive. It’s helpful to talk with your student about healthy relationships and to remind them that they have three more years at Williams: friends can change and there are opportunities to develop new friendships. Help your student to think of their social interactions as a way for them to build a sustainable community. Your student can make the most of this remarkable community at Williams if they extend themselves and build new friendships throughout their upper-class years.
I always tell sophomores that I want them to operate from a place of strength. As your student becomes more independent in their living and learning experiences, they should know that I and my colleagues are here to help support and encourage them as they seek to develop a stronger sense of individual and intellectual purpose. These are just a few conversation starters that may prove helpful to you and to your student. As always, you can find more information and answers to frequently asked questions at families.williams.edu.
I wish you a good end to your summer and good conversations with your students.
Tamanika Terry Steward
Dean of Sophomore Year Students and Director of Transfer and Non-traditional Student Services