Perhaps you have heard of the sophomore slump before–if you haven’t that’s ok, I hadn’t either until a few weeks ago. In a few words, the sophomore slump can be summed up as the let down felt by sophomores after the excitement of freshmen year passes. Looking back on it, I see now that this let down hit me around winter term of my sophomore year. After becoming an RA and joining a sorority, I felt that I had finally found my place and my people on campus. However, as fall term ended and classes resumed again in the winter, I still felt off for reasons I could not explain. Suddenly, doing classwork, going to lacrosse practice, and even maintaining friendships felt like pulling teeth. I began questioning myself and worrying that I would not succeed at my job, my sport, or my academics. Seemingly out of nowhere I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. This seemed absurd as not only had I been successful all of my freshman year, but also the previous term.
As the year went on, I only became more frustrated, anxious, and burnt out. I couldn’t explain it, but I felt just a general unhappiness within me. It seemed like every time I called home, I was crying to my mom on the phone about how I wasn’t a good RA or that I wasn’t taking the right classes. I had many tearful conversations with friends where I told them I wasn’t good at things and I couldn’t "do college." I felt this way despite all the evidence pointing to the contrary: I was doing well in school and my boss and my coworkers gave me plenty of praise for a job well done. However, I was blinded by the sense of uncertainty that hung around me. I became strung out and angry. I allowed my stressors to snowball until I not only was not handling them well, but I wasn't handling stress at all.
By the end of the year, I could not stand to be on campus any longer. I wanted to get as far away from campus as I could and felt apprehensive about coming back. I did have to return to campus about a month later to start my job in the Office of Residential Life. It was in the office that I had a conversation with one of the Residence Directors about my fears and frustrations with school. He explained to me that in his experience of working with college students, most of them find their sophomore year to be the most difficult. Freshmen year in college is met with a lot of changes and adjustments to a new lifestyle. For the first time, students begin to discover their true identity. Often after completing freshmen year, students feel a sense of accomplishment because they persevered through these changes. However, as they move into sophomore year they are not met with any new change but the same pressures from trying to figure everything out still exist. There’s no longer anything to persevere from, but students are still unsure of themselves and timid about what’s next. The RD concluded by telling me that it isn’t until junior year that students really settle into their identities.
I mulled this over during the course of the summer in conjunction with how I felt about my own identity. It makes a lot of sense that the change from freshmen to sophomore year doesn’t mean all the issues from freshmen year magically become resolved. Even in the change over from sophomore to junior year, I’ve noticed many of the same issues still exist. I’m still stressed about getting the grades I want and doing a good job with my extracurriculars. The difference is I feel a lot less pressure than I used to feel. I know a lot more about myself than I did this time last year and I know what I should and should not expect from myself. Times when I used to feel anxious that I had no idea what I was doing, I now feel very confident that I can handle the situation. However, new issues and challenges arrive all the time and often I feel that familiar sense of doubt arises as well. That’s ok with me, though. I’m sure as the year goes on I’ll figure it out.
So, how do you beat the sophomore slump? My advice would be to listen to what your body is telling you. Pay attention to signs and signals that say you’re getting overwhelmed and find ways to cope with that. For me, I spend time meditating, journaling, working out, or watching Netflix. I would also encourage you to reach out to advisors, mentors, peers, and even the campus counseling center. Allow these people to assure you that you’re on the right track or get you on a different one if you’re not. Also, these resources will offer you an outside voice to validate what you’re going through. Something else I would suggest is eliminating the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. It sounds silly and even cliche, but using negative self talk creates destructive mental blocks. Sometimes it really is as easy as telling yourself you can do something. Most importantly, learn to be ok with uncertainty. Just because you don’t have it all figured out right now, doesn’t mean you never will. One day you’ll think back and wonder why you were ever worried.