When I started my sophomore year, it was hard to believe that all the excitement I had felt as a freshman had suddenly evaporated.
I had not wanted to leave college for summer break when my first year ended because I was so in love with my school. I was challenged by my courses, surrounded by great friends, enjoying my taste of independence. People had warned me about the dreaded “sophomore slump” but I didn’t believe I would be affected. All the brouhaha surrounding that second year seemed irrelevant when I was counting down the days to September.
Yet, when I returned, I realized that they were right. Sophomore year became the hardest one of my college career.
What is Sophomore Slump?
I have spent a lot of time trying to analyze what made sophomore year so difficult for me and for many of my friends.
For one thing, the newness of college was gone. Your first year at school is full of orientation events and icebreakers and meet n’ greets. You may have made fun of them while they were happening, but the absence of conveniently scheduled socializing events and hand-holding doesn’t go unnoticed sophomore year. Now, your RAs and administrators don’t make such a big deal about you. You are expected to know what is going on even though there is still much to learn.
The Symptoms of the Slump
Another thing that was difficult for me was the fact that all of my friends were suddenly spread throughout different dorms. At many colleges, first years are concentrated into a few specific buildings. During my freshman year, my friends were just an elevator ride away when I was looking for someone to watch “Project Runway” with, or in need of a hug. More importantly, I constantly ran into them as we were coming and going.
Sophomore year, seeing the friends I had made meant scheduling in advance, or walking back alone to my dorm room late at night. It was doable and not difficult, especially since we all lived on the same campus, but the atmosphere my social life was embedded in noticeably changed.
Even academics in college felt different sophomore year. By our spring semester, we all had to declare our major, and that was a source of stress for many of my friends. The decision was surrounded by questions like “What do I want to do with my life?”; What am I passionate about?”; “What kind of lifestyle do I want to lead?” The answers to these thoughts were overwhelming and ever-changing.
Finally, sophomore year felt like being stuck in limbo. As Samantha Stainburn describes in “The New York Times”, being a sophomore feels like being an overlooked middle child. You are still not advanced enough to take the fascinating top-level courses and continue to sit through a fair share of introductory lectures. You’ve been involved with your club for a year, but you aren’t important enough to take a real leadership role.
So, what can I do about this?
The challenges of sophomore year are numerous, but not undefeatable. There are a few steps you can take to making the year feel more enjoyable, while finding emotional support when you are feeling down:
Shop around for an interesting class.
Even though you may not have the requirements or experience necessary to take some of the more challenging classes, search around for a course that you will feel excited to go to every week. Ask friends about the best class they’ve taken in college so far, read professor reviews.
If you are really interested in taking a higher-level class, talk to the professor. Sometimes, if you explain your interest and experience, professors can make certain accommodations and allow you into the course. It’s always worth a shot to ask. If the professor doesn’t let you take her class, you can always come back next year, and you’ll have made a great first impression.
For more information on how to find and take great classes, check out this article: A Guide to Picking College Courses
Try something new.
The best way to get back to that feeling of newness from freshman year is to, well, do something new. Try out for a play or a musical. Join a cultural club that can inform your study abroad decision. Volunteer your time with a community service group. This will introduce you to people you hadn’t yet met and put you in touch with a part of yourself you may have been neglecting as a freshman.
Anchor yourself to older and younger classmates.
Talk to students in different years. If you speak to younger students, their enthusiasm will be contagious and you’ll get to participate in one of the best parts of college, recycling your own experiences in to advice that can guide someone.
Older students will be able to give you their own wisdom. Maybe some of the people you’ve met in class or in your clubs have also gone through a sophomore slump and have advice and empathy they can share.
Make time to see your first year friends.
Keep in touch with your friends by creating regular meeting time, like deciding that every Wednesday you will have dinner together at the dining hall, or you’ll meet after your morning classes for coffee. The effort you put into maintaining your social life will be good practice for life after college, when your friends will be even farther away.
Remember, relationships and friend groups are fluid. Don’t be too disheartened if you feel like the connection with one of your friends has been lost. Put yourself out there to meet new people, and maintain the connection with the people you care about most.
Go to counseling.
Many school offer opportunities for students to go to counselors and talk about their feelings. This is a great way for you to find emotional support and tools to deal with the challenges you are facing. While going to counseling can carry a stigma or be intimidating if you are unfamiliar with the process, having an empathetic ear at a hard time can be just what you need to get out of your rut. Inquire about counseling opportunities at your specific college.
Look for school specific programs.
Some colleges are beginning to create programs that try to target sophomores to give them additional support. For example, Ohio State University has faculty members regularly visit sophomores to provide guidance and encouragement. A similar program is run by Purdue University, where administrator’s have created sophomore-only learning communities. Ask the administrators at your school if similar programs exist, and if they don’t, you may just be the right person to create one!
Talk to academic and career advisors.
If what you are struggling with the most sophomore year is picking your major and answering questions about how this will affect your career path, seek out help from the experts. Your academic and career advisors will have plenty of wisdom when it comes to the long-term effects of your choices.
Get off campus.
Sometimes, you just need to get a little bit of distance from college so you can recharge your batteries and regroup. If sophomore year has really got you down, try to get involved in the larger community of your town or city. You can find a class off campus that is intriguing to you, or even just go for a walk in a nearby park. A time-out might just be enough to have you feeling refreshed.
Accept your feelings.
The more you get angry or frustrated at yourself for feeling down, the more anxious you will be when it comes to dealing with your slump. While people talk about college being the best four years of their lives, that doesn’t mean you will be happy every day of your experience.
College is also a time of growth and of forming your identity, and while doing so can be challenging, the results in the long run are well worth the work. As soon as you accept that it’s OK to question whether you are in the right place, or to feel discouraged, the extra anxiety around those feelings will subside and the root discomfort will become easier to manage. Remember, feelings don’t last forever, so even if you feel down today, that doesn’t mean you’ll be struggling down the road.
Even though my sophomore year was very difficult at times, it was that dissatisfaction that led me to try new things in college. I tried out a second time for clubs that didn’t accept me my first year. I became a tour guide. I explored Greek life. Ultimately, it was the seeds I planted that year that made my junior and senior years incredibly satisfying.
About the Sophomore Slump | Becker College. (n.d.). Retrieved August 27, 2014, from Becker College
Sophomore Slump: What is it? How do I deal with it? (n.d.). Retrieved August 27, 2014, from Muhlenberg College
Stainburn, S. (2013, November 2). The Sophomore Slump. Retrieved August 27, 2014, from The New York Times