Avoiding the Sophomore Slump

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Apr 30, 2014

For many of you, by the time you reach sophomore year, the thrill of being "away" at college and the newness of the experience have faded, leaving in their place a sense of growing urgency about deciding on a major, choosing a career path, and finding a group of friends or a romantic interest. Sophomore year is often characterized by confusion, soul-searching, motivational problems, and, occasionally, flat-out rebellion against parents, professors, or friends. You may find yourself feeling depressed and alienated, and studying listlessly or skipping classes because you feel that your coursework has no meaning for you.

Welcome to the Sophomore Slump.

If you find yourself huddled up somewhere staring blankly at a wall or out the window, wondering about your destiny and the meaning of life, and wanting to just let loose with a primal scream, know that you're not alone . . . but resolve to do something before things get worse.

"Eventually, the bloom comes off the college rose," Dan says. "At some point, your classes start to seem arbitrary and the entire college experience seems a bit contrived. I think this is a normal, perhaps even vital, realization. It is probably the push that makes you realize you can't spend the rest of your life in college, so you'd better get something out of it and move on."

"The four-year college career has a life cycle, much as a relationship or a new career does," Zoe explained. "At first, there is the excitement of newness and small flaws are easily overlooked. As time wears on, you invariably arrive at a point where taking stock is necessary, and suddenly, minute details about your college (or partner, or boss) start to bother you - sometimes a lot. It's natural to feel some disillusionment and anxiety when the honeymoon ends. Most students weather it with time."

The best antidote for the sophomore slump is activity. But not just any activity. We mean goal-centered activity - activity that has you exploring the areas that you have decided are of interest to you and that propel you forward toward a set of longer-terms goals that you've established for yourself.

To avoid the sophomore slump, be sure that you have set out your goals for the sophomore year and that you have identified what you hope to explore this year in all areas of your life and have decided on two or three specific, tangible activities that will motivate you in each of those areas.

A Special Warning For Premeds

Some of the most common victims of the sophomore slump are premeds who don't want to major in a science but who find themselves bound up in a seemingly endless array of science and math prerequisites and their associated laboratories. Forced to take a bunch of classes they don't want to take, these people often become depressed, disinterested, and aimless - going to class and working through the material, problem sets, and labs without any real conviction, and often putting off these classes until all their other work is done. Then, after a couple of unfortunate exam performances, they find themselves reevaluating their commitment to medicine and feeling increasingly anxious about college and about life in general.

If this sounds like you, rest assured - you're not alone.

One of the best strategies here has to do with careful management of your course schedule. Do not load up on premed prerequisites in an effort to "get them out of the way" if you know you aren't going to enjoy them. Stacking up too many of these courses at a time can lead to feelings of disconnectedness, alienation from the things you enjoy, and, eventually, depression.

At most colleges and universities, the premed prerequisites include a year of biology (with lab), a year of inorganic chemistry (with lab), a year of organic chemistry (with lab), a year of physics (with lab), and a semester of calculus. You can place out of one or more of these required courses with sufficient scores on the AP or SAT II exams you may have taken in high school, which can work to your significant advantage in terms of scheduling. If you want to proceed directly to med school after college without taking a year off, you will need to complete your pre­med prerequisite courses by the end of your junior year in order to begin your preparations for the MCAT in a timely way.

Let's assume that you did not place out of any premed prerequisites. You can see that this means you will need to take a couple of courses (plus labs) each year in order to complete your requirements on time. The key here, however, often lies in the combination of courses you take, and when you take them.

Most premeds say that Organic Chemistry is the "gatekeeper" course"the single course that more than any other tends to knock people out of the med school race. Knowing this, try to isolate the course during your sophomore year or sophomore summer, so that you can devote the proper time and energy to it. Assuming you will do that, we work backward because you need to take Inorganic Chemistry before Organic Chemistry, you'll need to take Inorganic simultaneously with Biology during your freshman year or you could push one of them off until your sophomore year if you decide to isolate Orgo for summer study Then you can fit in your Calculus course somewhere, and push Physics off to junior year.

This bears repeating: we do not recommend overloading. Balance is key, and spreading out your tough, distasteful course requirements will make everything more palatable. Jamming too many required courses into the same semester is asking for unhappiness.

Don't do it.

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