5 questions to ask when your student fails a courseAmy Baldwin, Ed.D.
Depending on who you talk to, sophomore slump is either “ubiquitous” and “unavoidable” or a total non-issue.
If your second-year student isn’t experiencing it, you can feel grateful. However, if you sense a slump, you’re not alone.
Here’s what may be going on and how you can help your sophomore turn things around (or fend off the syndrome altogether if you are the parent of a first-year student).
Students and parents alike agree that sophomore year means the “excitement and new experiences” of freshman year are a thing of the past, “but you haven’t found your rhythm like you do in junior year” (Ziv, Pomona College).
Catherine, a Baylor University student, agreed. She also pointed out that even as enthusiasm and motivation falter a bit, academic pressure increases for second-year students. “Many of the prerequisites are out of the way and sophomores begin taking upper level classes and classes specific to their majors. Accountability is higher,” she said, and there’s none of the “wiggle room” professors sometimes allow freshmen. The “slump,” in other words, can equate to a GPA dip as well as a generalized slump in spirits.
Being prepared for change will help students deal with the transition and enjoy the many good things that come with sophomore year, like closer friendships, leadership opportunities, faculty connections and more relevant classes.
Some second-year students are still searching for a place on campus — a club, team or campus job that might create a feeling of home. Students who don’t know what they want to major in may feel anxious and unfocused. “My son is slow to understand his big picture and how he can make the best use of his talents,” one parent observed.
Many universities have instituted Second/Sophomore Year Experience (SYE) programs to counter the lack of momentum and connection that can lead to sophomore slump. At large universities, SYE living-learning communities are designed to keep students living on campus and engaged. Ohio State, for example, has documented higher retention and graduation rates among students who live on campus sophomore year as opposed to moving off campus (for retention, 95.7% vs. 88.6% and for graduation, 88.2% vs. 76.5 %).
SYE programming includes events that connect students with faculty members. At Duke, students attend “career luncheons” in the faculty dining hall; Colorado State University hosts a “True Faculty Story Dinner Series” just for sophomores; Williams College calls their monthly meet-ups that introduce sophomores to a variety of featured guests “M&Ms” (“learn, meet, mingle and munch").
Special opportunities may include unique study abroad programs just for sophomores, peer mentoring, special outdoor experiences, Academic Transition Workshops, monthly newsletters, social programs, leadership opportunities, and parties to celebrate being halfway to graduation.
Parents can support slumping sophomores by listening and encouraging. Students who feel unfocused and indecisive may benefit from time in the career center or an appointment with an academic advisor. Involvement on campus and good health are both spirit-boosters. When students are grounded in the positive, they can be more resilient if or when they do hit a bump in the road.