Sophomore Year Came and Went, Here is What I Learned

I was nervous about my sophomore year at Connecticut College. Not just because I had a less than perfect freshmen year, but also because my sophomore year of high school was even worse. Five years ago I was questioning all facets of my life: my friends, academic future, extracurricular activities, and my happiness. I wasn’t doing as good in school, prompting me to question my future as a writer as my lowest grade was in my English course. After ten years of subjecting myself to a toxic dance studio, I could no longer take the environment and finally decided to leave. I quit tennis and left my former friend group because I felt like an outsider with these girls who were supposed to be my friends. I enrolled in AP Chemistry, joined the school newspaper, traveled to Italy with my cousin and mom, switched dance studios, worked hard not for the grade but because your work ethic matters more at the end of the day. It was a complete 180-degree turn and I was finally happy again, maybe even I was finally happy period.

You can imagine then, my excitement for junior year of college and anxiety about sophomore year. I am really superstitious so even writing this sentence makes me nervous that I have jinxed my junior year of college because, despite my worries, my sophomore year at college was so much better than I thought it would ever be. After my freshman year at Conn, I didn’t think I would ever be happy – I had even considered transferring after my third semester. However, after making an in-depth pros and cons list (because how else am I supposed to make big life decisions?), having multiple discussions with mom, and learning more about the transfer process, I came to the conclusion that for me personally, it did not make sense to transfer. That is not saying that if you are unhappy you should not transfer, but I think it is beneficial to do some research first and read articles written by students who have transferred.

While I decided to stay at Conn, I promised myself that I would try to be happier there; I told myself that I would probably never be truly happy, but I could at least make the next years livable. I think taking the pressure off of myself to have a perfect college experience allowed me to open up and realize that college isn’t meant to be perfect. In fact, more people than you realize did not have a great freshmen year, but like a lot of other things we all suffer from but don’t discuss, no one voices their experiences until after the fact. I hope that this article will help students realize that a perfect college experience is just a fabricated lie we were taught was true from various TV shows and films. More importantly, I hope people feel like they can talk about this with other students, especially upperclassmen because I didn’t open up about my experiences with others until later and keeping these feelings bottled up was not the answer. This piece of advice, as well as, the following are how I changed my college path.

Last summer, I purchased decorations and collected mementos that would make my room feel like home. A huge reason why my freshmen year was not great was because I did not feel comfortable in my living space. Unfortunately, this is a reality that many freshmen have to face often being put in doubles, triples, and quads (like me). Thus, sophomore year I was excited to be living in a single in a specialty housing dorm focused on my interests in language and culture. After I set up my room, I felt like my dorm room had a similar vibe to my room at home. This combined with making breakfast in the room, doing yoga in the mornings, and on the whole spending more time laying on my bed binge-watching “The Office” made me feel at home in my new home.

Having established a safe space to go to on campus when I am feeling overwhelmed, stressed or sad was crucial to having a good year at Conn, but I knew that being a hermit would not be fulfilling for me. I had always been friendly in my classes in high school, but for some reason, the etiquette which I had practiced in high school dissipated when I arrived at college. Thus, in all of my classes, I spoke with the students around me and became friendly with the majority of my classmates. In this way, I looked forward to class each day and my friend group was suddenly expanding. It’s kind of amazing how far a smile or friendly “hi” can go.

While I did have friends in my freshman year of Conn, most of whom I am still friends with today, I did not feel as close to all of them as we did not share all of the same interests. Thus, I began to hang out with another friend group who I knew some people and whom I felt I related to more. I did not go to any parties or late night social gatherings my freshmen year, but after studying abroad in Italy for six weeks over the summer I was surprised to discover that going out with friends can be fun. Who knew? Probably you, but not me. Thus, come sophomore year I was open to the idea of going out on Saturday nights with my friends. I now have so many memories of getting ready, putting on fun eyeshadow, cool clothes which make me feel confident, and laughing and dancing the night away with those whom I now hold close to my heart.

In other social elements of college life, I became open to doing my homework in other location besides the third floor of the library where literally no one talks and if you bite into an apple you become a target for murder. For the entirety of freshmen year, I essentially sat at the same closed off cubicle every day to do my homework. Upon reflection, it really shouldn’t be surprising that my mental health wasn’t topnotch. I realized that I could be just as productive in more social spaces such as the first floor of the library and various coffee shops on campus, maybe even my own room if I was feeling particularly rebellious (or tired) that day and wanted to stay in my pajamas until noon #collegelife.

For some reason, I was denying myself simple pleasures in life during my freshman year of college and I don’t really know why. Maybe it was because I didn’t think I deserved to be happy for some reason. I don’t know. I don’t know if I will ever know the answer to this question, but what is important is that I realized that I deserved to be happier. I indulged in lattes with oat milk most mornings, student-made deserts, muffins in the dining hall, and Sunday Sundaes. I returned to the rituals of wearing makeup for special events, painting my finger and toenails, and doing face masks on Friday nights when I was particularly stressed. I experimented with my fashion and began to wear my hair in more complicated styles than just a low ponytail with a middle part. All of these little rituals reminded me of who I was in high school and I suddenly felt like my old self again.

I have not yet discussed the academic stressors in my life during freshman year. I did well my freshmen year despite how depressed I was – ironically this is a trend which has happened to me before. I could be squirming in my seat filled with nerves, my stomach in knots, but at the end of the day, I will still get an A. However, what was different than high school was that my love for school had disappeared. I viewed all of my homework as just another task I had to get done as soon as possible. This is partly due to my very type-A personality. I rediscovered my love for school while I was abroad in Italy and this rediscovery luckily traveled with my again upon returning to Conn at the beginning of the Fall semester.

Most importantly, I was happier during my sophomore year at college because I took control of my mental health. I realized that my anxiety was taking control of my life again as it had my freshman year of high school and for the first time I was dealing with a depression I had never felt before. Acknowledging my feelings and taking real steps to address them helped solve the deeper reasons for why I was unhappy.

While I am so much happier at college now and for the first time don’t want to leave, that doesn’t mean my college experience is now perfect. I still get overly stressed about my courses and classwork. I still compare myself to others. I still feel homesick from time to time. What I have learned is that perfect doesn’t exist, but that does not mean you cannot be happy.

Don’t be afraid to share your story. I think you will be surprised to learn that we all wear masks and more people than you think feel or have felt the same way as you at one point in their life.