Encouraging Active Self-Reflection and Exploration

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Fall break is the perfect time to check in with your student. Pausing to think about academic, co-curricular, and career development choices will position your student to make the most of their time at Colgate — and to find a meaningful path forward.

Your student will be faced with many opportunities over the next few months — choosing spring classes, selecting an academic major (for sophomores), considering student organization involvement, and working through their four-year career development plan. Ideally, we want students to evaluate opportunities through the lens of these questions: 

  • What are my strengths, interests, values, and aspects of my identity that factor into my decision-making? 
  • How am I starting to shape my own narrative?
  • Do I know enough about the world around me to make an informed decision about what I am pursuing? 

To your student, these may seem like big, existential questions. But in reality, to be on their current path, they have already shown success applying this knowledge in high school and at Colgate. 

Over the last month, all first-year and sophomore students have been encouraged by Career Services to complete self-reflection exercises populated for them through Moodle, Colgate’s online learning management system. Regardless of their class year, these reflections are powerful. Invite your student to talk with you about what they specifically enjoyed about a class or new experience. Ask them about a time when they really connected with a person or environment. Or, reflect with them about when they found a situation, relationship, or environment not to be enjoyable. 

Helping your student articulate why they did or did not feel fulfilled in past experiences is an important starting place. From there, encourage them to apply this new awareness when they find themself evaluating a new opportunity, such as next semester’s classes, whether to join a club, or to what kind of internship they might apply. Likewise, this content may be illustrative as they decide whether to pivot from a circumstance that has not been a good fit. Exploration is part of the liberal arts experience. Certainly, both their self-awareness and knowledge will grow over time. Ultimately, tapping into this foundation will lead them to make more intentional decisions as they tackle complex questions such as selecting a major, thinking about career interests, or deciding on graduate education. 

For nearly all of our students, navigating college and career development is a new adventure. No one expects your student to have all the answers, but rather, to be an active partner in the process. Faculty members and administrators are here to guide students and to introduce them to Colgate’s deep resources. If your student is not sure where to start, their CL (residential life student staff member), another more experienced peer, or their administrative dean can point them to the office or person who will help them think through their question. For example, career advisers are ready to guide them through exploring potential paths; their faculty academic adviser is there to help them consider course or major selection; administrative deans or CLSI staff members will engage them to think about finding a sense of belonging through student involvement. These individualized connections we forge with students help them make the most of their time at Colgate. 

Although they may not always show it, I imagine that your student values your input. The next time you have the chance, please encourage them to dive into this self-reflection work and to seek out the many wonderful professionals across campus. Your student may be surprised at just how warmly they will be welcomed into these conversations.

— Olsen is assistant vice president for career initiatives.