The College of William and Mary’s First Year Experience program is helpful only to the extent it presents new information to students. Out of the three programs that freshmen are required to attend their first semester, I only found one helpful. Most of First Year Experience is a repetition of the endless amounts of information dumped on freshmen during orientation. While these reminders could be needed, they could just as easily be facilitated by resident assistants through emails or hall meetings.
However, First Year Experience does have some value. For me, my hall’s diversity session was a great way to get to know my hallmates and learn that my perceptions and assumptions are very often incorrect. I learned that I cannot rely on an idea of who I think someone is, but rather, I need to take the time to get to know them. I value this part of First Year Experience over the others because it felt separate from orientation, like a next step, instead of a repeat of the other presentations.
Therefore, if the College’s new Sophomore Year Experience, set to begin with the class of 2023, is going to be effective, it needs to offer something new for students. I imagine sophomores face different challenges than freshmen. They have a better sense of what the College is all about, how it operates and how they fit in that community. However, sophomore year is still a new experience, and Sophomore Year Experience should target the process of navigating that experience.
For example, many students pick a major their sophomore year, a decision that can be daunting. More generally, sophomore year has a different focus than freshman year.
Now that students feel more settled on campus, they face questions on what they need to work on, what goals should they be striving for and how can they strengthen the relationships they built the year before. Sophomore Year Experience needs to be centered on these new questions, not the same questions students have already spent a year answering.
Arguably the biggest change that will come with the new Sophomore Year Experience program is the requirement that students stay on campus their second year in addition to their first. While 75 percent of sophomores already elect to stay on campus, this will eliminate options for students who no longer want to be in a dorm. While this may be limiting, I think it might also be liberating. Figuring out housing arrangements will be less of a chore for second-semester freshmen attempting it for the first time.
Knowing that they must stay on campus will take away the stress of considering off-campus housing, therefore streamlining the process to only having to go fill out the College’s housing contract. Additionally, staying on campus may help sophomores to expand their sense of community.
Sophomore Year Experience has the potential to help sophomores streamline their focus and become more comfortable with their life at the College as long as it avoids unnecessary repetition and information dumps and instead focuses on students’ relationships and current needs.
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