Solutions for slumping sophomores

Jessica Joslin

If Northwestern is good at anything it’s keeping students busy. NU provides endless programming for freshman, juniors go on study abroad, and seniors are busy trying to get their post-college life in order.

Where does that leave sophomores?

Squished in-between the new and the old, second-year students are savvy enough to navigate CAESAR, but still feel like an outsider in a 300-level class.

It is a year faced with its own set of unique pressures. Students feel more of a need to pick a major and make commitments for study abroad or other future programs. Their upperclassmen friends may have moved off-campus and they are forced to work to maintain the support network that cozily surrounded them the year before.

Given all of these challenges it is no surprise that sophomores often feel alienated, unmotivated, and experience feelings of depression.

NU students are no exception to this second year lull.

According to Dr. John Dunkle, the Director of NU’s Counseling and Psychological Services, sophomores have been the number one user of CAPS for the last ten years.

The “Sophomore Slump” is an issue at colleges and universities across the country. Students at universities ranging from Yale to Brown to the University of Wisconsin-Madison find the second year uniquely challenging.

Universities have attempted to address the issue in a variety of ways. Beloit College, for example, offers a “Sophomore Year Initiative” which includes intensive advising and a weekend retreat.

Admittedly, Beloit’s undergraduate population of 1,200 students would make a comparable event at NU difficult. NU already has some small programs in place to address the needs of second year students.

SESP requires that every undergraduate attend a “sophomore meeting.” Half of the hour is spent passing out information on the SESP practicum, a junior year internship program, the other half is an open discussion of how the year is going – upperclassmen are on hand to provide advice and perspective.

This may not work for all of the larger schools, but a slightly adapted version of the SESP model could prove helpful.

What would happen if one of the two required Weinberg freshman seminars were moved to sophomore year? Sophomores have had a year to think about a major and would have the opportunity to try out a small seminar class in a discipline they are leaning towards. They would be able to escape the huge lecture classes that cloud the second year and experience a small discussion class without having to compete with senior and juniors.

On a non-academic level, these seminars could connect students with others of their class and during a particularly difficult year – all the while gaining a stronger relationship with a member of the faculty.

Whatever the solution, sophomores should not be afraid to call on their CA, academic advisor, CAPS or whomever else for a little extra support during their second year. To use a cliche: You are not alone.