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Summer Prep for Fall Semester

Vicki Nelson

Starting college is a major transition in a student's life (and for parents, too) and there’s lots of advice available about how to get ready. But what about heading into year two or three or four?

Returning to college for sophomore, junior or senior year is very different. The summer should be calmer and less anxious, but there is still plenty for your student to think about and do.

Some preparation over the summer (when free time is more plentiful and the pressure is off) can make the beginning of fall semester a whole lot easier.

10 Summer Action Items for Returning College Students

  1. Review and update contact information in their online student account.
  2. Does your student have a health care proxy? A HIPAA release form (medical information)?
  3. Make an emergency plan. If there is a campus emergency, or they have a personal emergency, what will they do? Make sure your student knows where they will go, how they will get there, what they need to take, and who they need to notify.
  4. Clean up any “old” business from last semester, such as incomplete courses or financial issues.
  5. If your student will be studying abroad or on domestic exchange, plan and shop now. Is their passport in order? Visa secured? Do they need special clothes, equipment or luggage?
  6. Students of all years should have proper business attire so they’re ready for job and internship interviews and other career-related events on campus. Summer is a good time to shop, and also to update their resumé.
  7. Review degree progress. Look carefully at all requirements (general education and for the major) and sketch out a plan for getting things done. How many credits will they need each semester? Make sure to take important classes as early as possible, especially if they will study abroad. Check pre-requisite classes that need to be completed before others can be taken.
  8. Make any necessary schedule changes. Avoid the need to make changes once classes begin.
  9. Order textbooks early to get the best prices and guarantee they’ll arrive on time. (Save money by renting or purchasing used textbooks.)
  10. Address lifestyle changes for the coming year. Will your student have a car? Live off campus? Find a job? Is there paperwork to do?

Game-Changing Conversations

  • Chat with your student about their major. Many students change their mind once they begin to study a subject. Whether your student was undecided or wants to change majors, they should be moving toward something (sophomore year is when most students must declare a major).
  • Ask about their academic and personal goals. Sophomores and juniors are sometimes surprised by how much harder upper-level classes are. Talk about this, and about how different it will feel to return to campus this time around. Most students can’t wait, and are pretty happy not to be first years any more, but sophomore slump is real.
  • While you’re at it, discuss what your student might do differently this year to enhance their experience or give it a new focus. Will they participate in new activities, take on a leadership role, join a professional organization?
  • Ask your student about their dreams (maybe share a few of your own). How is college fitting in with and feeding those dreams so far? Help them make connections between now and someday.
Vicki Nelson has more than 35 years of experience in higher education as a professor, academic advisor and administrator. She has also weathered the college parenting experience successfully with three daughters. She established her website, College Parent Central, in 2009 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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