Information for the parents of college students
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Will My College Student Experience A Sophomore Slump?

This is the first of two posts on the phenomenon of sophomore slump, the difficulty that many students experience during their second year of college.  In this post we will examine some of the reasons that students may encounter a slump.  In our next post, we’ll look specifically at some things that parents can do to help their students during this time.

College administrators and faculty, and college parents, place a lot of emphasis on the transition to college and the first-year experience.  We all know that these new college students, and their parents, will be undergoing a tremendous transition as they enter the world of college.  Colleges run orientation programs, offer special classes and seminars for first-year students, communicate directly with these new students with encouragement and reminders, and often have a “let it go” attitude when new students make mistakes or miss deadlines.

Once our college students complete that tumultuous first year of college, they face their sophomore year and the changes that it brings.  As college parents, we can help our sophomore students by realizing that the concept of sophomore slump really does exist.  Our sophomore students may need just as much support from home, even though that need may be less obvious.

What is 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.

Why does sophomore slump happen?

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.

  • Sophomore students are often virtually ignored by the institution.  There is a lack of institutional attention and support as everyone assumes that sophomores understand how things work.  These students receive fewer warnings and less communication about do’s and don’ts because the focus has now shifted to the new incoming class.
  • Sophomores no longer have “special” status.  They simply need to get down to doing the work of college.
  • The excitement and thrill of the first year of college is gone.  There are fewer events especially for this group.  Yet, the end of the college road still seems a long way off.  Students realize that this will be a long and arduous journey.
  • By the second year of college, students may be facing the gap between their dreams and the reality of schoolwork, major or career choices.  Some of the glow may fade as students gain a stronger sense of what is available and what it may take to get where they want to be.
  • Sophomore students are likely to find themselves in more difficult classes.  The special freshman and introductory classes may be behind them.  They are reaching the next academic level and expectations are higher.
  • It is often during the second year that students are expected to declare a major, perhaps find an internship for the following year, and make a decision about studying abroad.  All of these decisions add stress.
  • Students’ ties with home may be decreasing.  High school friends are making more connections at school, they may be returning home less frequently, and family members may be settling in to life without the college student home.
  • Sophomore students are held more accountable for their actions and decisions.  It is assumed that they know the rules and the procedures for managing their college life.
  • Sophomore students may be more worried about making mistakes regarding decisions about choosing courses, choosing a major, selecting an internship or other special program.  They realize that each year closer to graduation that they come the less time that there will be to make up for a mistake or failed course or changed decision.

In our next post, we’ll consider some things that parents can do to help a student who might be experiencing a difficult second year at college.

Related Posts:

How College Parents Can Help Their Student Avoid Sophomore Slump

Exploring a Field of Study: Talking to a Faculty Member and Others

Undecided Students: Who Are They? – Part 1

Undecided Students: How Can You Help? – Part 2

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