How College Parents Can Help Their Student Avoid Sophomore Slump

College administrators, faculty, and 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 change in their lives as they enter the world of college.  Colleges run orientation programs, offer special classes and seminars for first-year students, communicate 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 students complete that tumultuous first year of college, they face sophomore year and the changes that it brings.  Our sophomore students need just as much support from home, even though that need may be less obvious. As college parents, we can help our sophomore students realize that the concept of sophomore slump really does exist.

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 that occur during the second year of college that can contribute to the slump that sophomores may encounter.  These are especially troubling if your student is unprepared for the differences during this year of college.  Parents and students need to understand the ways in which this year is different from that first year of college.

  • Sophomores no longer have “special” status.  They simply need to get down to doing the work of college. No more (or fewer) special programs and attention.
  • The excitement and thrill of the first year of college is gone.  There are fewer events designated 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.
  • Sophomore students may feel virtually ignored by their institution.  There may be a lack of institutional attention and support as everyone assumes that sophomores are  “all set” and understand how things work.  These students receive fewer academic warnings, announcements, and targeted encouragement because the focus has now shifted to the new incoming class.
  • 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 introductory classes are 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. Their original major may no longer feel like the correct choice. All of these decisions add stress.
  • 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 so fewer exceptions may be made.
  • Sophomore students may be more worried about making mistakes regarding decisions about choosing courses, choosing a major, selecting an internship or other special program.  The stakes feel higher. They realize that each year closer to graduation is that much less time that there will be to make up for a mistake, failed course or changed decision.
  • 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.

What can parents do to help? 

Parents who understand the difficulties of the second year of college can help their 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 a parent’s most important function.  However, there are specific things that parents of sophomores can do to help.

  • Prepare your student for changes during the second year.  Talk to her about the factors that lead to sophomore slump.  Although not every student will face all, or even any, of these factors, if your student understands that there may be issues, she will be better prepared to deal with them.
  • Be especially patient with your student if she is taken by surprise by her feelings and emotions.  Help her understand that this is a normal part of the college experience for many students.
  • If your student experiences less energy and motivation, be patient and understanding.  Help her to think about why she may be feeling this way.  Is the novelty of college wearing off?  Does it seem like a long distance to the end of the road? Is she reacting to the stress of making decisions?
  • If your student expresses dissatisfaction with the college and talks about transferring (a common phenomenon during the sophomore year), help her consider carefully whether the dissatisfaction is with the school or with where she is right now emotionally, socially, or academically.  Would things really be different somewhere else?  (If your student does decide to transfer, you can help with that process, but after careful consideration she may realize that a change of school may not be necessary, and that staying put will be the best thing.)
  • Help your student think about the positives of being in her second year.  She knows her way around campus, she has made new friends, she may be beginning to make connections to faculty members she admires, she may have leadership opportunities (class officer, residence assistant, orientation leader, campus tour guide, club officer, tutor), she may have access to better work-study or other campus jobs, she may be taking more courses in her major field-of-study.
  • Remind your student to be proactive to combat the slump she may be feeling.  Encourage her to take care of herself physically, to talk to her advisor, to take a class just for fun, to get involved in some extracurricular activities she may have bypassed last year, to visit the career office for information and inspiration, to engage in community service activities, to take advantage of the skills that she learned during her first year.

Not every student will experience difficulty during the sophomore year, but many students will.  Simply knowing that it is a normal stage and that they are not alone may help.  As with the first-year transition, parents can help students adjust and deal with the difficulties that may arise.  Most students emerge from this year more mature, more focused, and more comfortable with themselves and their college experience.

Related articles:

When Your Student Changes Major

When the College Experience Hits a Roadblock: Helping Your Student Deal with Disappointment


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