After a fast-paced and successful freshman year, Joan Akalaonu ’04 returned to Yale the next fall blissfully unaware of the affliction that lay around the corner. Her residential college dean had warned her class about it, but Akalaonu, like most of her friends, paid little attention. It was not that she thought she was immune; she simply did not think about the possibility much at all.
And then, like a sneaky storm cloud moving over the sun, it got her: her school work grew steadily more difficult; the parties were same old, same old; and Swing Space seemed to have a stranglehold on her social life. Akalaonu and many of her friends came down with cases of the slumps, sophomore-style.
“It was a depressive type mood,” Akalaonu said. “A stressful, slumpy year.”
At most four-year colleges, sophomore year proves to be a particularly awkward time. No longer frenzied newbies, and now confronted with the prospect of buckling down academically, students often experience sustained feelings of let-down or frustration. A “period of developmental confusion,” or sophomore slump, ensues.
Yale is no exception to the rule. Here, as elsewhere, sophomores often find themselves struggling with a sense of stagnation in their school work and social lives.
Lorraine Siggins, chief psychiatrist at University Health Services, said the phenomenon of “sophomore slump” is a reality. Although Mental Hygiene at UHS does not see more sophomores than students from other class years, she said, sophomore year presents students with unique challenges.
“It’s often a time when students are reevaluating their goals — ‘What type of education do I really want, am I going to try some new things?'” Siggins said. “It creates a period of uncertainty, turmoil, feeling down about the fact that things they thought interested them don’t anymore.”
Especially with the deadline for deciding on a major looming in the distance, sophomores become prone to a good deal of soul-searching and second-guessing.
Tiffany Lu ’06 said she definitely had the symptoms of sophomore slump earlier this year. Lu had quit many of the activities that filled her time freshman year in order to focus on her academics, but she ended up feeling bogged down in her work, “jaded” and anxious about choosing her major.
Her freshman year had been filled with meetings with administrators explaining the rules of the college game, and freshman counselors had always been present with ready wisdom. Their absence during her sophomore year took Lu by surprise, she said. The sudden lack of guidance was disconcerting.
“Sophomores are in this limbo zone where you’re stuck in between,” Lu said. “You’re expected to be able to function on your own after you were doted on by upperclassmen [freshman year].”
Only by beginning her activities once more did Lu finally climb out of the doldrums. But while she has picked herself up, Lu said many other sophomores are still stuck in the slumps.
“I feel like a lot of people are depressed,” she said.
To try to help ward off the second-year slump, Yale introduced annual residential college sophomore advising nights in 1995. Berkeley College Dean George Levesque said he invites representatives from many of the University’s various resources to the advising night and asks seniors to come relate their experiences, as well.
“I do a little spiel on that night — ‘Don’t be surprised if you start feeling yourself depressed or aimless,” Levesque said.
But Akalaonu, now a freshman counselor, said she thinks one night of acknowledgement and advice is not enough to help students bypass Slumpsville.
“Besides that first speech, it wasn’t really addressed,” she said. “We found like there was a feeling like the advising system wasn’t reaching out to us. You feel like you’re the only one experiencing it.”
Akalaonu’s frustrations with the advising system were echoed by several other Yale students.
Sumeyya Ashraf ’04 agreed that having a good sophomore advisor could make a difference, but she thinks the College puts little emphasis on helping freshmen choose sophomore advisors.
“Advising in general needs a lot of work,” Sharon Goott ’06 said. “I am picking my major by myself.”
Brown University has a carefully set-up sophomore advising system. Advisors are instructed to meet with their advisees at least three times a year and given instruction on how to advise their students on typical sophomore issues such as choosing a concentration, going abroad — and dealing with sophomore slump.
Advising, however, is not a panacea for students in a slump. Brown student Rachel Lauter ’06 wrote an op-ed in the Brown Daily Herald earlier this month claiming that in order for Brown’s advising to stave off slump, students must know their advisors beforehand, a task that could be accomplished by allowing freshmen to enroll in seminars more easily.
Goott also said she feels that many sophomores become frustrated academically when they cannot get into seminars.
“It might help to have some sort of sophomore seminars,” she said.
Stanford University has taken that approach in its attempt to ease second-year frustration. Its competitive “Sophomore College” program allows some sophomores to come in close contact with big-name professors in seminars. At Yale, the Humanities Program offers four sophomore-only seminars for students who have completed the Directed Studies Program.
Siggins said ultimately, sophomore slump is often the side-effect of a challenging university that presents students with a dizzying array of possibilities and paths from which to choose.
“I see it more as a personal struggle,” she said. “It’s an essential part of development at this period of time which leads to great strengths.”