My College:

Summer Before Sophomore Year

Vicki Nelson

The summer before the first year of college is a pretty frantic time for families. There’s a lot to do to get ready, and plenty of checklists to guide us. Year Two sure is different (way fewer checklists!).

The college still cares about returning students and their continued success, but as attention turns to incoming first-year students, rising sophomores lose their “special” status. Typically they receive less communication from the school which may lead to them feeling a bit detached from the whole college experience over the summer.

It's important to maintain a healthy balance — in this case, between a well-deserved break from academic pressures and using the summer months to move forward. Your student definitely deserves time to unplug and have fun, but after that, consider some ways to keep them engaged and excited to begin their sophomore year. Here's your strategy.

Start by Reflecting on the Year Past

Suggest that your student think about the lessons of freshman year in order to build on them. Some conversation starters:

  • What classes did you love? Which ones didn't thrill you? Why?
  • What were your grades like? Are there reasons they were good — or not so good?
  • If you could relive the year, what would you do differently?
  • Can you sum up the biggest lesson you learned this past year in a sentence? What can you do with this information?

Next, Look Ahead

Now your student can lay the groundwork for a great second year. Using just a few of the following suggestions can arm your student for sophomore success.

  • Confirm their major. If they haven't already, most likely your student will need to declare a major sophomore year. If they're still undecided, or have changed their mind, do they have a plan for exploring options? What can they do over the summer to investigate potential fields of study?
  • Think about a possible minor. A minor can be a great companion to a major and set a student apart from the competition. What minors are available at your student’s school?
  • Look at the big picture. With a better understanding of the college curriculum and requirements, your student can map out a plan (always with flexibility built in) for courses for the remaining college years. Consider requirements, course availability, and course sequencing when planning.
  • How about a summer class? Perhaps at a school close to home. This can give your student a few extra credits, help them complete a requirement, and keep them in “study mode” to smooth the transition back to campus in the fall.
  • Pre-order textbooks. Avoid the rush at the start of the semester — and possibly get better prices.
  • The more relaxed mood makes summer an ideal time to talk about career aspirations. What is your student's dream job? What steps are they taking to make that dream a reality?
  • Are there questions for staff at the campus career center? This might be a good time to contact them since they may be less busy during the summer months.
  • Suggest that your student join a professional association related to their major or career. Most have student memberships at reduced rates. Membership will allow your student to become more familiar with professional expectations in their chosen field as well as view potential job postings.
  • Summer is also a perfect time for informational interviews with people in your student’s chosen field, networking opportunities, job shadowing, and internships. Gathering information over the summer may give new perspective to next year's classes.
  • Finally, recommend that your student clean up social media accounts or set up a LinkedIn account in preparation for internship and job searches.

Other Summer Projects

  • Encourage your student to look for possible leadership opportunities and new activities — either at home over the summer or when they'll be returning to campus in the fall. Many employers rank leadership among the top qualities they look for when hiring.
  • If they're considering study abroad in the next year or two, summer is a good time to do research. What are the options? What is the process? Can they take a language class right now?
  • Discuss finances and your family's values around money. Does your student have a budget and plan for after college? If not, make time this summer to discuss ways of keeping track of spending and long term goals.

Students who use the summer wisely don't view college as a nine-month experience followed by three months of “down time.” A break is important — but when they stay engaged they're primed to take their sophomore experience to a higher level.

Vicki Nelson has more than 35 years of experience in higher education as a professor, academic advisor and administrator. She also weathered the college parenting experience successfully with three daughters. She established her website, College Parent Central, to help college parents achieve the delicate balance of support, guidance and appropriate involvement as they prepare for and navigate the college journey with their student. Vicki also serves as co-host of the College Parent Central podcast.
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