Avoiding the Sophomore Slump (page 4)
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.
Other Ways To Avoid The Slump
Others who fall victim to the sophomore slump typically point to the same root causes: (1) a failure to find a major that provides sufficient intellectual stimulation and interest; (2) a failure to connect with a network of friends; (3) a failure to "plug in" to a meaningful extracurricular activity or two outside the classroom to give texture and relevance to their experience; and (4) the feeling of bloat, lethargy, and lack of energy that comes from poor diet and a failure to exercise.
Obviously, each of these causes has a remedy, and some of them even tie in with each other. If your proposed major "just isn't doing it for you," don't be afraid to toss it overboard and start anew. If you haven't found your way yet, don't panic. Many of us didn't declare a major until the very end of sophomore year. What you need to do, though, is spend some time with your college's course catalogue and look around for course titles and subjects that pique your interest as you browse the catalogue, and sit in on a lecture or two, even if you're not registered for the classes. Taking little steps like these can quickly confirm a new direction in your coursework for you"and put you right on track.
If you have thus far failed to connect with a group of people on campus, perhaps it is because you are not being social enough. Are you spending your days in the classroom and your nights in the library, without getting out some or getting involved in any of the goings-on out on campus? If so, force yourself to engage more with your roommates, your classmates, and the people around you. At no other time in your life will you ever again be surrounded by so many people of similar age with such similar goals, fears, aspirations, and concerns. There are natural connections to be made all over the place. All it takes is a little courage.
If your roommates or classmates aren't presenting you with any obviously attractive options, seek out an interesting extracurricular activity or two to get involved with on campus. Perhaps working for a social service organization, teaching inner-city kids, writing for the newspaper or one of the campus magazines, or getting involved with a theater group or one of the nearly infinite number of clubs on campus is just what you need to inject some meaning and enjoyment into your life. If you played a sport in high school but opted not to play in college, perhaps you could get involved with that sport on the club or intramural level. This will allow you to meet new people, exercise, and have some fun - providing three antidotes to the slump in one shot.
"The secret to avoiding the Sophomore Slump is breaking away from your routines and trying new things," Dave suggests. "People get so caught up in their schedules that they forget that there is a whole community out there that they have never reached out to. It could be as simple as taking a class you wouldn't usually take or maybe it is having a night every week where you get together and cook dinner with a group of people. Whatever it is for you, beginning to develop new and innovative twists that get you outside of your little bubble is a good way to change it up and keep things interesting and exciting."
If you're feeling down, there is no quicker remedy for that than exercise. Become involved with something that forces you to get out and move every day. Go to the gym every day. Start running, biking, or blading, and get hooked up with one of the many groups on campus that do the activity daily. Take up yoga, Pilates, or meditation. Go to the campus bookstore and pick up a book on diet and nutrition - and impose some changes.
Shake things up a bit. Don't allow yourself to descend into a rut.
And of course, there is no remedy for the slump like love. Have the courage to date. If you want to get to know someone, ask him or her to have a cup of coffee, catch a movie together on campus, or ask one of your roommates to set you up at the next "Screw Your Roommate" dance. Finding a love interest on campus, even for a short time, can really inject some new life into your experience.
The sophomore slump is real, but it is beatable. If you find yourself bummed out at any time during your sophomore year, see if it isn't because one or more of the aforementioned causes has taken root in your life. Root them out and get back on track.
Campus Confidential Mentors and Uber-Mentors:
Campus Confidential contains the collective advice of a a diverse group of people who have traveled the road to college. Some are recent college graduates who can counsel you on the college experience as it is today. Other are a few years removed from their college days and can provide a longer view of the decisions you will need to make before, during, and after college. Here is a little bit about the mentors and uber-mentors in these articles.
Dan Bissell – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
B.A. Middlebury College cum laude, 1993. Major: Geology
M. D. University of Colorado School of Medicine, Adler Scholar, 2002
Tom Teh Chiu – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
Brooklyn, New York
B. A. Yale University, 1993. Major: double major in Chemistry and Music
M. M. Juilliard School, 1995
M Juilliard School, 2001
Jim Bright – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
B. A. Duke University, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, 1997. Major: History
Amanda Cramer – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
Paso Robles, California
B.A. Cornell University Phi Beta Kappa, 1993. Major: Mathematics
Graduate study in food science – Enology, University of California at Davis 1997-2000
Zoe Robbins – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
B.A. (1) Wellesley College magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, 1997. Major: Economics
B.A. (2) University of Pennsylvania, 2001. Major: Nursing
Carolyn Koegler – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
Hopkinton, New Hampshire
B. A. Tufts University, cum laude, 1993. Double major: History and Spanish
Erik Norton – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
B. A. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993. Major: Mathematics
Lyndsee Dickson – Campus Confidential Mentor
Concord, New Hampshire
B.A. New York University, cum laude, 2004. Major: East Asian studies
Kevin Donovan – Campus Confidential Mentor
B.A. Boston College, honors in the major, 1993. Major: English, Minor: Creative Writing
Tiffany Chan – Campus Confidential Mentor
Concord, New Hampshire
B.S. New York University, 2005. Major: Communication Science
Erica Eubanks – Campus Confidential Mentor
B.A. Tennessee State University, National Deans List, 2003. Major: Criminal Justice
Dave Irwin – Campus Confidential Mentor
B.A. Middlebury College departmental honors, 2004. Major: American Civilization, Minor: Education
Chase Johnson – Campus Confidential Mentor
B. A. Duke University, with Phi Alpha Theta distinction in history, 2005. Major: History
Aaron Paskalis – Campus Confidential Mentor
West Point Military Academy, then transferred to UMass Amherst
B. A. University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 2005. Major: Legal studies
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