University of Wisconsin–Madison

Second Year: Finding Purpose

Being a sophomore offers your student an opportunity to learn beyond the classroom, exploring academic interests and identity. Research shows that many students recognize sophomore year as a key time for discovering a sense of purpose.

And with good reason: your student has gained confidence during the first year, formed friendships, and become more familiar with campus. All of these aspects free up time for your student to focus on the bigger picture, to think about life beyond college and who they are other than “just” a student.

Sophomores often reflect upon spirituality, identity, and relationships. They begin to question their own values and beliefs, and to see themselves as adults. We encourage you to recognize that your students are still in transition and to ask them questions that aren’t directly related tied to their education, such as:

  • What motivates you?
  • What are your personal goals? What do you hope to accomplish beyond academics?
  • What makes you feel inspired and invested?
  • What experiences make you feel connected to the UW? When do you experience a sense of belonging?

Having a sense of purpose can motivate your student to set goals and make plans to reach those goals. These plans can be ones that can make your student feel happier and do better academically. As students select their academic home, it can help to think about which majors not only teach them about a particular field, but also help them better understand themselves. You can help in this journey by asking questions and sharing your own experiences and stories about what you believe is your purpose.

As sophomores, students generally think more about why they’re in school and contemplate the purpose of a higher education. They may think more globally about issues, possibly considering their impact now and in the future. Students also may strengthen connections with faculty members as they become more comfortable talking about issues and topics not directly related to class.

Reaching out to others for advice and feedback can be part of your student’s approach to finding a sense of purpose. But, as a parent, you can feel confident that you still play a pivotal role in support and guidance. In fact, one study found that 41 percent of students are in touch with their parents every day. When talking with your student, you can be supportive by:

  • Recognizing the second year is an important time for your student, just as the first year presented milestones and challenges.
  • Empowering your student to seek out tools and resources, like University Health Services and academic or career advisors.
  • Asking your student how they became interested in a particular course/subject, rather than asking why.
  • Encouraging your student to think about the experiences they want to have beyond the classroom.
  • Remembering that seeking purpose and asking questions are a normal part of the learning process.

Sophomore year is an exciting time for both your student and you. You can reflect on lessons learned during the first year of college and look forward to — and invite conversations about — what is yet to come.