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Adele Scheele

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The Second Year Of College: A Parent's Guide

Posted: 08/26/11 04:23 PM ET

As a parent, your job is to help your child use college as a laboratory to discover his or her interests and develop a full set of academic and life skills.

In the freshman year, your child began the process of learning to separate from you, get oriented to new surroundings, develop effective study habits, and make good choices when it came to choosing friends and activities. No easy task. Depression and weight gain are not unusual telltales of the first year.

Sophomore, a term from the Greek meaning both wise and foolish at the same time, suggests that your child has got the hang of it but still has a lot to learn. You can help by encouraging your student to play the field thoughtfully, in a new way. Here are six strategies you can use:

  • Suggest taking electives that spark interest, no matter how related they may or may not be to a specific major. Ask your child to imagine a dream job. Even though it's not based in reality, taking courses and getting involved in research that leads toward that discipline provides testing ground. Students typically don't know what they want to major in yet, an understandable position in a world of so many choices; a study shows that undeclared majors might be more intelligent. If your child has already selected a major, still encourage electives that will expand that choice.
  • If they haven't already done so, insist that your child become involved in a club or activity. If they have, suggest that they increase their participation by assuming a leadership position within an existing organization. If that first activity wasn't fulfilling, tell them to try another. Encourage engagement in activities to tap interest, energy, self-development, and connections on campus.
  • Try to influence how your child chooses topics for assigned papers and projects. Instead of doing the quick and dirty, suggest using themes from their growing list of interests. Linking the assigned topic to something of personal interest will create a deeper level of experience. Finding a purpose and finding a path will let your child explore something that just might lead to discovering a life's work. That certainly beats just getting a grade.
  • Encourage your child to have conversations with professors. Steer them away from only asking for a better grade. Instead, direct them to talk about the field of study in general, how to improve or learn more, and ask for suggestions and advice for further study. Professors open many doors if a student engages them. You're paying for these courses -- so get your money's worth by making use of them.
  • Inform your child that both academic departments and career centers offer summer internships. Encourage them to sign up for one or two. Especially in this job market, it's important to start making connections within the industry that beckons, as well as one that seems logical. It might be the same, or it might be different. Having a couple of internships helps your child isolate what he or she might want to do, as opposed to should be doing.
  • Encourage them to investigate a junior semester abroad (or even in another state), because arrangements for these programs are made in advance. Finding out about these programs-- what they are, where they're offered, what expenses there are besides tuition (which often remains the same), and even scholarship options, will help determine a great choice. Suggest setting up an appointment with the study abroad office and asking for success stories, along with names of students who can share their experiences. Even if you haven't traveled much yourself, know that most people who study in a new place describe it as a life-changing experience.

When you meet resistance, remember the origin of the word "sophomore"-- that smart/foolish developmental stage. Remind your child that each year in college presents possibilities to shape his or her future. Yes, you lay the foundation in the first year, but you have to build on it each subsequent year in order to take advantage of each succeeding opportunity.

Coach them to make their luck happen.

For additional tools and advice for your college student, check out Dr. Adele's book, Launch Your Career In College.