The Sophomore Slump
(The New York Times, 01 November 2013)
Pity the sophomore. You are feted as a freshman, but no one seems to care that you’re back on campus. Quirky first-year seminars have been replaced by large foundation classes, making you doubt that major in econ or bio. You’re not high enough up the totem pole to do fun stuff like join a research team or lead student organizations. With the newness of college gone, malaise sets in.
The “sophomore slump” helps explain the findings of a 2012 report by the Education Advisory Board — that 6 percent of students at state flagship campuses leave in their second year. It may also explain why a quarter of sophomores in a 2012 survey by the consulting firm Noel-Levitz reported not being energized by their classes or feeling at home on their campus.
Dissatisfaction with how college is going is in itself not a bad thing, says David Shein, dean of studies at Bard College. “Whether it comes off as a slump depends on how you handle it.”
GET WITH THE PROGRAM
Some colleges are trying to make sophomores feel less like overlooked middle children. This year, Ohio State University is piloting a program to increase sophomore-faculty interaction. One thousand sophomores are living in dorms visited regularly by faculty mentors, who help them set goals and plan an educational experience like studying abroad or interning, for which $2,000 stipends are available.
Purdue University recently announced its fourth sophomore-only “learning community.” Starting next fall, 20 second-year students interested in statistics will live together, take classes together and work on a full-year research project, and earn a $9,400 stipend. (The other communities focus on leadership and science and technology research.) “Sophomores struggle with academic engagement, and a learning community allows a student to explore a topic out of the classroom with faculty members,” says Jared Tippets, Purdue’s director of Student Success.
Big decisions loom sophomore year: what are you going to major in and, by extension, do with your life? Angst about committing to one path, and rejecting others, can cast a pall over the second year.
“We enter college with all of these dreams about what we’re going to be, and we have to put some of those to rest in the second year,” says Molly A. Schaller, a University of Dayton professor who studies the second-year slump. “Even if it was Mom and Dad’s dream, it feels like a loss.”
Often, struggling with a second-year course indicates that a career in the subject is not meant to be. But not always. Dr. Shein of Bard poses the question: “Are you struggling because you like the material but you’re having difficulty with some of the components, or are you not engaged with it?”
If it’s the former, tutoring in your weak skills could get you back on track. If you’re bored with what you’re studying, Dr. Schaller says, “redouble your efforts to figure out where you fit in.” Meet with professors, try different classes, get involved with new clubs.
Above all, she says, don’t settle for a major because you haven’t explored enough to find what you really like.
CHANGE UP FRIENDS
Not everyone falls in with lifelong friends as a freshman, but in the strange social universe of college, it’s socially taboo to jettison students you hung out with in the first year.
That doesn’t mean you’re stuck with people you don’t click with, says Andrew Wilson, senior associate dean for external relations in the office of campus life at Emory University.
While a confrontational end to relationships isn’t acceptable, Dr. Wilson says, “friendships can also dissolve in a nebulous, unstructured way. It’s fairly easy to fade away from people if you aren’t feeling connected to them. Blame your schedule.”
Dr. Wilson should know about such things. For many years he oversaw the Second Year at Emory program, which places advisers in residence halls and organizes dinners with faculty members and workshops on goal-setting for sophomores. And the focus of his research: college friendships.
Read this article at the New York Times.