Dear Sophomores,

The summer before you arrived at K, you received lots of information about coming to school and the process of adapting to college life. Next year, if you decide to go on Study Abroad, you will again receive information about the process of adapting to a new country. In both cases, we hope that the information is useful in giving you an idea of what to expect – both the highs and the lows. For most of us, knowing something about the lows is particularly helpful, because it lets us anticipate how we might respond and realize that these are “normal” difficulties.

We’re writing this letter because we’ve been concerned for the last several years about sophomores. The concern was prompted by the realization that the largest number of clients we see at the Counseling Center are sophomores. That realization prompted us to do some reading about the sophomore year and, at the same time, an administrative research group began to do some research about sophomores at K. We’re hoping that sharing what we have learned will help you prepare and understand the ups and downs in your coming second year at K.

From our reading, we learned that the sophomore slump is “real” and has been observed for a long time. As early as 1969, researchers defined the sophomore slump as a time that second year students are dissatisfied with the college and with themselves. Others elaborated on the idea by describing the slump as an identity crisis involving the social, academic, and personal selves. Research suggests that sophomores report feeling less self-confident and less intelligent during the second year than they do as first years. For many students, this time involves confusion and uncertainty, as they search for a sense of meaning and purpose.

Many sophomores seem to be in an awkward “between” position – they have finished the transition to college life, yet they have no true commitment to a major. Some are not sure where their real interests and talents lie. Others are rethinking their goals because the plan they came with as first years has not worked out. According to the literature, a major realization for many sophomores is that it is their responsibility to find what they want for themselves and their lives, rather than relying on their parents or peers — and that responsibility can feel quite burdensome.

In conversations with faculty and staff who are very involved with sophomores, we learned some helpful K-specific information. First, it became clear that two of the biggest stressors of sophomore year are the study abroad applications and the declaration of major.

In talking with the CIP staff, we learned that the process of applying for study abroad is typically very time-consuming and intense emotionally. One of the major stressors is that students often decide that they are only really interested in one program and, then, they worry about whether they will be accepted.

In our conversation with those involved in advising, we learned that sophomores really enjoy our annual Declaration of Major day; especially the “Declaration Cake,” to celebrate that you’re “marrying your major.” It’s always 5th week of winter quarter in the Fine Arts Lobby. Good sources of information about majors are faculty members and Departmental Student Advisors (DSAs). Even though you may not know exactly what you want your major to be, you know what you DON’T want—and, hopefully, you can focus your interests during fall quarter by taking classes in the areas you are considering and getting to know some of the faculty and students in that major. Please also discuss the possibilities with your faculty advisor, who has known you since last year. P.S. it’s very helpful to connect with your major department before you go on study abroad or on another off-campus program or summer activity.

From Student Activities, we learned that sophomores are often involved in many organizations and provide leadership to those organizations. To go from membership to leadership in one year can be very stressful, but there are also great rewards and possibilities too.

From the Dean of the Sophomore class we learned that sophomores often feel hemmed in, that the choices they make can’t be changed or that it is too late to try something new (a new extracurricular activity, sport, major or internship). Nothing could be further from the truth. The faculty and staff (including your class dean) are here to help facilitate new experiences throughout your college experience.

So, what can you do to improve your life as a sophomore?

First, the literature suggests that mentoring by faculty can make a significant difference in students’ experience of this challenging time. So, please try to get to know your faculty – stay after class, stop by during office hours, participate in research or other out-of-class experiences, especially in the departments that you are considering as majors. Also, develop connections with other college staff members in your life – coaches, work study supervisors, older adults that you enjoy and with whom you can talk about your life at K.

Second, the literature also suggests that a sense of community and belonging is important to sophomores’ understanding of who they are, where they fit in the world, and how they will find a sense of purpose. So, please join groups that interest you and/or consider a service-learning experience that will help you develop a sense of connection to other like-minded students and to K. But be careful not to overcommit yourself. Some sophomores report feeling overwhelmed or too thinly spread. We believe that a deeper connection to a couple of organizations or projects is probably more beneficial to you and to the organizations. Also, please make sure you receive the guidance and support you need from staff and others with experience. Remember it’s okay (even good) to ask for help.

Third, meet with the staff and peer advisors in the CIP to look carefully at study abroad options and develop a Plan B. Try to avoid the last minute crunch with your study abroad application. Know that there will be relief when it is completed, with a likely let-down for some sophomores. For so many K students, study abroad played a major role in their college decision, so it makes sense that there is heightened stress and intensity about this major part of the K plan. (Please also see the following articles on concerns about Study Abroad and on finding a study abroad program that is a good fit.)

Fourth, go to CCPD to explore your interests and opportunities. The staff at the Center is very much aware that sophomores face lots of important decisions—where to apply your passions and talents on campus, how to choose a major that fits with your interests and strengths, where to study abroad, which summer opportunities to pursue. The counselors at the CCPD have the tools and services to help students make informed, thoughtful choices. You can take career assessment tools, schedule one-on one appointments with trained career counselors, and participate in the CCPD’s workshops and programs. Also, keep an eye out for the sophomore event that is a collaboration between the CCPD and Counseling Center and focuses on the Myers Briggs Type Inventory

Fifth, remember to think about your strengths. At times, the feedback we get from profs, advisors, and friends is about what we can improve or what isn’t working. It’s important to balance that feedback with acknowledgment of all you do well!

Last, but not least, come to see us. We really enjoy sophomores and hearing about the important development processes of the second year!

-The Counseling Center Staff