At the beginning of my sophomore semester, I woke up at my desk with my alarm ringing — from what my roommates had informed me — for the last 45 minutes. A half-drunk Celsius sat beside a red solo cup filled with stale Cheerios that had replaced my dinner, and I had exactly five minutes to get to my morning class. It was official: I had entered the sophomore slump.
Sophomore slump is defined as “an academic decline” or a failure to live up to relatively high standards, marking students’ second year in college a labyrinth of extracurriculars, rigorous academics, confusing social dynamics and identity crises. A newer term in the slang books, sophomore slump adds a label to the often overlooked second year of college squished between the freshman honeymoon phase and the inevitable case of “senioritis.” The middle child of any college campus, sophomores are hit with the demands of upperclassmen without the support system dedicated to first-year students. A perfect storm of stressful freshman change, heaping upperclassman workloads and burnout, the sophomore slump made its way into college slang, making its mark on struggling college students.
While the burnout of sophomore year is amplified by such stresses and the narrowing distance to graduation, its overwhelming nature comes from the unknowns left over from freshman year. With only one year under their belt, sophomores often find their freshman year checklist incomplete by the time they return to campus. “It is usually expected that students will have adapted to campus life and don’t need the same attention,” according to admissions at Cabrini University. “Therefore, students might experience a let-down from that first year, with feelings of confusion and bewilderment.” Oftentimes, failure to meet this expectation results in one of two avenues: overcommitment or withdrawal. Some students who felt incomplete in their freshman year make up for lost time by immersing themselves in extracurriculars, applying for executive board positions, cramming their schedules with social plans and overcommitting themselves to courses with the hope of solidifying their majors. While on the way to packing their resumes, burnout can come quickly. Those who were unsuccessful in creating a picturesque freshman year may alternatively retreat into isolation and academic neglect.
Any attempts to repair the naivete and unfilled feelings from freshman year by cramming schedules and overcommitting only accentuate the pressures of sophomore year. Expectations such as choosing a major, enrolling in upper-level courses, cementing social circles, climbing the leaderboard of extracurriculars and starting internship applications are all major contributors to the sophomore slump. As the sophomore to-do list continues to grow, students may feel like any accomplishment is minuscule in the long scheme of their college plan, and unworthy of celebration, relief or even a break. My personal to-do list sits at my desk, scribbled with random reminders and due dates, constantly commanding me to “find a summer job, make weekend plans and study for finals.” From immediate academic deadlines to future career plans to study abroad opportunities, sophomore year serves as a wake-up call for students to elevate their academic, personal and extracurricular lives while also preparing to declare a major by the spring semester.
While universities have vocalized their commitment to providing mental health resources for students, many schools, including Tufts, need to take this widespread sophomore slump seriously and establish a program of advice and direction catered toward second-year students. Tufts’ mental health counseling is a great start, providing free guidance to students, as well as the academic advising team available to help students navigate course loads. However, many students, especially those already mid-slump, will not seek help. Tufts has a responsibility to incentivize struggling sophomores to seek assistance by tailoring therapy and advisory support to second-year students. In doing so, the feelings of burnout and disconnection might become recognized and validated among more students, separated from senioritis or the hardships of freshman year.
I haven’t shaken my sophomore slump. I am still overcommitted, swimming in homework and have considered changing my major two or three times. I have found that changing my mindset and embracing the experience — the good and the bad — makes sophomore year invaluable. I do not need the perfect college experience; rather, I need a sophomore year centered around valued friends, interesting studies and a support network to help guide me through my next two, hopefully fulfilling and mentally healthy, years at Tufts.