Sophomore slump describes the lack of direction that some college students feel their second year, a time of transition when students face many important decisions in the midst of lingering questions and uncertainties about their academic career.
As explained by Dean of Student Life Steve Watter, sophomore year can be a bit of a letdown after the anticipation of freshman year. It also lacks the excitement of exploring the major in greater depth junior year, and the opportunity to work closely with faculty on the thesis while being able to look forward to life after college during one’s senior year.
Watter notes that students have the potential to be more vulnerable at Haverford because the customs program does such a good job of making freshman feel connected. He says that during sophomore year, there’s a “customs diaspora” that separates students and makes it more difficult to maintain friendships. Sophomores also feel the weight and pressure of needing to make a lot of important decisions about their major, which will impact the direction during junior and senior year.
The College has made sporadic attempts to address this longstanding issue, but it was only after a dean’s meeting in the summer of 2012 that they decided to take a more aggressive approach.
Last year, Dean of the College Martha Denney established a task force to explore sophomore year, consisting of staff from the Office of Academic Resources (OAR), Dean’s Office, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the Athletics department, and other offices serving students. Focus groups involved about one fifth of the class of 2015, while the remainder were able to participate through online surveys.
The initial surveys and focus groups found that sophomores experience increased academic expectations and rigor, but feel they are not getting enough detailed advice to guide them in making decisions, especially with regards to declaring their major. They seem to need a broader support network in their struggle with friendships and finding new ways to get involved on campus, as well as balance academic and extracurricular activities, according to Watter.
The task force is currently examining the data collected from online surveys recently administered to the class of 2016.
Current efforts to tackle sophomore slump include a blog titled “The Year After: Your guidepost for all things sophomore year,” where sophomores get questions answered through an online forum. Other helpful tools include advice on choosing a major and a month-by-month planner to help students stay on track. Bloggers include representatives from the Dean’s Office, the OAR, current seniors and more.
Oscar Wang ’14,who contributes to the blog, transferred to Haverford his sophomore year, an especially disorienting experience. Wang advises sophomores to take discomfort as a sign that “you’re doing everything right.”
“This IS a time of discomfort, because only by challenging yourself and trying new things can you grow. So my advice would just be keep pushing forward, no matter how hard it may seem,” said Wang in an email. “Just don’t say in one place – keep moving.You’ll stumble, you’ll succeed, you’ll surprise yourself – and it’ll all work out in the end.”
Other efforts included an overnight sophomore “lock-in” in the Field House, held for the first time this September with the intention of increasing a sense of class unity. A pilot group of about 20 students is currently working on initiatives to prepare students for the summer after sophomore year, says Watter.
Future plans include introducing peer advising in each department in addition to faculty advisers, and the creation of a sophomore year council consisting of students, representatives of different offices on campus, and faculty.
Finally, Watter adds, more student run, bottom-up programs, such as sophomores who return to participate in the Customs program, could be useful in maintaining friendships and ties beyond freshman year.