By Jill Yashinsky-Wortman, Student Life Case Manager
A few years back, I was working with the student leaders of Residence Hall Association (RHA) the student governing body for students who live in Residence Halls at Gonzaga. The conversations turned to how much fun they had that year, but that sophomore year was much harder than they had thought. Jokingly they referred to sophomore year as the puberty of college, with one student grasping his head and lightheartedly yelling, “My mind is changing!”
In fact, if you look at the Greek origin of the word “sophomore,” it actually means “wise fool.” After conquering freshman year, students often return with over-confidence about their second year and expectations of smooth sailing now that they are a “veteran” at the college experience. Yet, colleges and universities have found that the sophomore year is often a challenging one, with some institutions creating sophomore year experience programs to help with the many transitions this group experiences. The often talked about sophomore slump is a very real thing. Gonzaga’s two year residency requirement is partially formed around the thought that students living in community with others will to continue their development in a way that may not have been available off campus. Living on campus also provides support for students who may be experiencing the sophomore slump.
The Counseling Center at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania created a great series of questions about the sophomore slump. They include:
1. What am I doing here at college?
2. Why do I have more questions now than when I first got here?
3. Who are these people I hang around with that I thought were my friends?
4. Why am I majoring in this, if I don’t even like it?
5. Why am I constantly overwhelmed?
6. Why do I only find the negatives in my life?
7. Why don’t I find time to relax?
8. Why am I so uncertain about my future?
9. Why am I not having as much fun as last year?
10. Why am I ready to cry if the smallest thing goes wrong?
11. Why do I feel like my parents are constantly pressuring me to know what I want to do with my life?
12. Does everyone have this all figured out but me?
13. Why am I so unmotivated and/or anxious?
A combination of these may be a sign of sophomore slump. Just like many other institutions, Gonzaga sees some common themes around the issues students face during their second year in Spokane. Here are some examples of the changes and challenges that may come with sophomore year:
- Freshman are the rookies of college and thus get significant amounts of time, attention, and guidance. Sophomores are assumed, correctly or incorrectly, to be veterans with the inference that they know how to do the many things required of a Gonzaga student. This sometimes leaves sophomores feeling lost but shameful at the idea of asking a question. Remind them that asking questions is a good thing—there are no dumb questions! Just dumb things that happen when you don’t ask questions!
- Students are excited to room with their “friends” as they may not have been able to pick their roommate freshman year. The carefulness students exhibited living with a stranger may be thrown out the window when friends become roommates. When friends live together, they rarely take the time to set expectations and assume they will be forgiven for dirty dishes and other acts of un-cleanliness or incivility. A lack of common expectations can quickly cause hurt feelings, conflicts, and disappointment. Encourage students to establish guidelines with their roommates no matter what.
- Student’s minds really are changing! In fact, students may not have realized how much some of their viewpoints have changed until they went home for summer and compared themselves to their old environment. This can be distressing as students wonder who they are becoming. Reassure them that this is normal. Support students’ exploration of new viewpoints even if you do not agree with their newfound perspectives. Encourage them to find activities, events, and mentors who will help them clarify their feelings.
- Finances can become another issue as freshman year scholarships may have expired or are non-renewable. Financial Aid is always will to talk with students about their specific situations. Student Employment is a great starting place for students who may need to pick up a job.
- A number of students still haven’t declared a major and find that the more classes they go through, the more concerned they are that they still do not know what they want to do with their lives. This feeling is exaggerated by people asking “What is your major?” or pressure from family or friends to decided. Students may also feel guilty about spending parent or family money on college even though they still haven’t decided what they want to major in. Many students will change their majors during their sophomore year. This is normal as students learn more about their interests and passions. For those who are undecided, the blessing of a liberal arts education is that it exposes students to so many different areas of interest. Remind students that even though they major in something, it is typical for working professionals to change jobs a minimum of seven times over their lifetime. In fact, many of last year’s seniors will find that they will only stay in their first job for a year. Just because a student majors in something, they aren’t stuck in that forever.
- Students who have declared and stuck with a major may be getting into harder classes within that academic program. This often causes some students to decide this major isn’t for them. Students who stick with intensive classes are more stressed out and tired. They may feel lonely as they prioritize homework over friends. Remind students that rest is actually good for the body, mind, and soul! Encourage students to give themselves permission to have fun.
- Many students will consider going abroad for their Junior year, but decisions about when and where to go are made during sophomore year. Students often struggle with wanting to go abroad and wanting to be with friends. Students are concerned with being away from friends, not being in the some country, not being able to go when other friends are going, or simply not being able to go at all. If your student is able to study abroad, encourage him/her to think about what he/she wants to get out of the program before picking where to go or making a decision solely on the basis of where friends are going. Sometimes the best learning experiences are those that push you out of your comfort zone and away from the things you know. For students who are not able to study abroad for financial reasons, help them find the positives of staying at Gonzaga. Encourage them to find other friends who will still be in Spokane while also establishing ways to stay in contact with traveling friends.
If you hear your student asking the questions above or struggling with some of the items highlighted in this article, encourage them to talk with other students who may be feeling similar emotions. Resident Assistants, Resident Directors, and Student Life Office staff can get students connected to the appropriate offices on campus that can help them. Remind students that there are lots of people here to help them move through this valley and back toward the top of the mountain.