Debunking the Sophomore Slump

Picture this. You wake up on Tuesday, January 21st. As you silence the alarm on your phone, you realize it’s the first day of the spring semester and you have a lecture across campus in 15 minutes. Frantically, you pull on your coziest sweater, wrap an excessively long scarf around your neck, and burst out onto the sidewalk, determined to make it to class on time. "I've got this,” you think to yourself, "I'm not a freshman anymore. I know the way to class, and my friend even saved me a seat." By some act of God, you made it to lecture with seconds to spare. Feeling relieved, you find your seat. The lights dim down, and the professor starts to go over the course syllabus in a mind-numbingly monotone voice. As the professor drones on, you find yourself slumping into the lumpy lecture hall seat and musing about how you would much rather be watching Netflix in bed. Then, you spend the next three weeks of lecture, slumped in your seat, doing the same thing. You have literally achieved a sophomore slump.  

If you can relate to any part of that story, you probably already have experienced the sophomore slump. But for those who are new to the topic, I will briefly define this dreaded and highly mythologized concept. The sophomore slump is a condition that causes students to feel less motivated to work hard in classes or develop disinterest in some of their extracurricular activities. Other symptoms can include staying in more often, developing a deep hatred towards dining hall food, and a general feeling of malaise towards college life. 

But what about the second year of college causes so many students to feel this way? And is the sophomore slump entirely a bad thing? 

To answer this first question, I had to do a little research. A New York Times article about the sophomore slump cites that by sophomore year, the newness and novelty of college have worn off. The excitement of being on your own for the first time and endless possibilities for personal reinvention is mostly gone. Instead, this feeling has been replaced by a sense of routine and an overwhelming pressure to select a major (and by extension a definitive path in life). Sophomores may be overlooked middle children of the university hierarchy, but they still face some serious life choices that will affect the rest of their college careers. From this perspective, it’s not hard to see why sophomores would want to withdraw from, or seriously question, their interest in their classes. A drop in GPA isn't necessarily about not putting enough effort in class. It could also be about critically thinking if an entire major is right for you. 

In casual conversations on the subject, my friends added that their feelings of indifference towards certain aspects of college stem from the fact that they have grown and learned a lot since freshman year. The things they would do as freshmen, like signing up for eighteen clubs at the club fair, are things they wouldn’t repeat in sophomore year because they now know better. They are less active in multiple student activities because they want to focus their energy on becoming a leader in a single club that they are passionate about. And they have smaller social groups because they have gotten closer to a few friends who are important to them. It’s not that sophomores have withdrawn from university life completely; they have just learned to discern which on-campus opportunities and friendships are right for them. 

This leads me to my next question, is the sophomore slump definitively bad? I would venture to say no. While a significant GPA drop during your sophomore year is most certainly difficult to handle, the other effects of the sophomore slump are more like growing pains. They are the result of learning from past mistakes while also trying to anticipate what will be important in the next significant stage of life. It’s an unpleasant limbo, but it's also an indicator of personal growth in an atmosphere of wise freedom.

The excitement and fanfare of freshman year are the first steps into college. But the discernment and focus of sophomore year are the first steps towards the expectations of adult life. Instead of calling it the sophomore slump, I think we should refer to it as the sophomore stride!

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