The Sophomore Slump Is Not A Myth

September 30, 2011

According to a recent article on Inside Higher Ed, Duke University just launched their first-ever sophomore convocation, where the university aimed to inspire and reassure the sophomore students that they’re not only valued at the institution – they’re essential. The primary reason for programs such as Duke's sophomre convocation is based on a phenomenon known as the sophomore slump. 

College Parents of America has covered the topic about sophomore slump before, but it is always an important discussion for students, parents and universities. It's never a bad time to pay another visit.

  • What is a sophomore slump?

Sophomore slump refers to the phenomenon in which a second effort fails to live up to the quality of a first effort.  The term is also used in sports (for second year players) and in music (for second recordings by an artist).  At college, students in their second, or sophomore, year often experience both a let down and a decrease in their grades.  If the word sophomore means “wise fool”, it is an accurate description of how many second year students feel: they aren’t sure whether they feel wise or foolish at any given moment.

“The sophomore slump and all that – whether that’s a reality or not, just the idea of it and the perception of it can make people start feeling as though they don’t matter to the university anymore, or they’re no longer in the spotlight. The clubs and organizations are no longer looking for them; they’re looking for the new freshmen,” Andrew Hanna from Duke University said. “But I do think sophomore year can be even more amazing and cool than freshman year was.”

There are several things which occur during the second year of college which can contribute to the slump that sophomores encounter.  These are especially troubling if the student is unprepared for the differences that happen during this year of college.  Parents need to understand the ways in which this year is significantly different from that first year of college. Read about some of the specific reasons here.

Administrators such as Barbara Pennipede, assistant vice president of planning, assessment and institutional research, conducted a survey based on results from the National Survey of Student Engagement to figure out why it was happening, and then took a number of measures to rectify it. Because students reported poor or undeveloped peer-to-peer relationships as one of the biggest reasons for withdrawing, Pace created more common spaces and areas for students to interact, and began offering more “learning communities” – two or more classes that are tied together and taken by the same group of students.

  • It is complicated.

But – of course – there’s one major factor that makes addressing the sophomore slump complicated for colleges.

“The continuum fills out, and there’s tremendous diversity in the student experience,” said Molly Schaller, chair and associate professor of the University of Dayton’s department of counselor education and human services. So while some students do indeed fall into the sophomore slump, others experience the “sophomore surge.”

“I think that’s what makes the sophomore year so difficult for colleges to figure out what to do with,” Schaller said.

  • What to do

Universities: Standford University's annual Sophomore Celebration is similar in theory to Duke's sophomore convocation . It’s an opportunity for campus leaders – students, administrators and faculty alike – to reconnect sophomores, prepare them, notify them of the available resources, and “remind them that they really are the agents of their education, and the path that they’re taking is theirs to shape,” said Koren L. Bakkegard, associate dean of undergraduate advising and research at Stanford. About half the class attends. (Duke’s first convocation drew about one in three sophomores.)

Parents and Students: Parents who understand that the difficulties of the second year of college are real can help their college students cope with the emotions they may be feeling and the decisions they will need to face.  As always throughout the college years, lots of empathy and encouragement from home helps.  Sometimes just listening and being a sounding board may be the most important function for a parent.  However, there may be some specific things that parents of sophomores can do to help. Read the complete article here.

To read the complete article, Dump the Slump, from Inside Higher Ed, please click here.

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