University of Wisconsin–Madison

Second Year: Academic Exploration

With freshman year behind them, sophomores can focus more on academics and begin thinking about a career path.

Sophomores can feel the pressure of making academic decisions, especially as they see their classmates doing so. While academic decisions are really up to your student, it helps to have a team of people — parents, advisors, and faculty members — working to eliminate much of the stress and assist in making educated decisions. Ask guided questions that help your student identify interests and narrow the choices.

Advisors are always available to help, and working with an advisor as early as possible can make the process easier. Your student may want to talk to more than one advisor to gain different perspectives, styles, or expertise. Advisors are trained to ask questions that help students visualize future careers and decide for themselves. After talking to advisors, students can begin forming academic plans that match their goals and guide them toward achieving those goals.

Sophomore year is also an ideal time for students to find classmates with similar interests. Joining clubs and other organizations makes it easier for students who are less sure of how to meet others. And participating in study groups in their chosen majors can benefit students throughout their college experience.

Interacting with faculty is another valuable tool in academic exploration. National data show that student success is largely linked to connections — particularly connections with faculty members. Having a diverse group of people to turn to is invaluable to students and can also prepare them for a future of networking with others.

Students often have a tentative choice for a major by the end of sophomore year, although some decide earlier or later. Having a tentative choice, though, encourages students to ask additional questions and gather more information before officially declaring a major. The Career Exploration Center and other school or college career offices on campus can be a great resource for students still exploring options.

While it’s easy to be overwhelmed by so many different options for a career path, you can remind your student that having choices is a good thing. Sophomore year can — and should be — an empowering time.