Everyone has heard of the “sophomore slump” — the ennui that supposedly sets in once the exuberance of freshman year wears off. However, the label is neither helpful nor valid. Not only does it set sophomores up for failure, it jeopardizes freshmen by creating unrealistic expectations about the first year of college.
Although I expected sophomore year to be rocky, it has thus far been surprisingly refreshing. Far from being a slump, sophomore year occupies the sweet spot between certainty and possibility. On the one hand, sophomores have more or less figured out the demands of college life. There is no need to scramble for warm clothing for the New England winter, and a lower chance of getting lost while going to class. Even downloading a new software program that assists in citation writing has made life much easier on the eves of paper deadlines.
On the other hand, there is still time for sophomores to find answers to the big questions about their future. The pressure to find a job or apply to graduate school has yet to set in, and it is not too late to switch to a new major or join a new extracurricular. Drawing on the lessons of freshman year, many sophomores realign their goals and priorities — and are often better off as a result.
To be sure, there are challenges to being a sophomore, and the University could do more to support them. For example, more departments should reserve spots for sophomores in their seminars, and do a better job of advertising those opportunities. Residential colleges could also organize social events for sophomores, who might feel like neglected middle children given that the spotlight often hovers on freshmen and seniors.
Nonetheless, the cultural trope of the sophomore slump is not only wrong, but also harmful. For some sophomores, the slump becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: They settle for less because they see lethargy and disillusionment as an inevitable phase of college. Upperclassmen and professors may also become dismissive of the issues facing sophomores, chalking up legitimate complaints to the mythologized slump. Consequently, sophomores who genuinely need extra help don’t always get it.
But the real reason the sophomore slump is so insidious is that it imperils freshmen. The companion myth to the sophomore slump is that “freshman year is great” — a line which upperclassmen often use on first-year students. While I had a decent freshman year, I didn’t necessarily feel it was the best time of my life, and being told that it was or should have been made me unnecessarily anxious about what was to come.
Indeed, I have heard of more than one freshman who took time off from Yale because they worried that sophomore year would be a downhill slide. To be clear, taking a gap year is often a superb opportunity for self-discovery, but the decision shouldn’t be driven by the fear of sophomore year. To the freshmen reading this column, know that things can and often do get better with time, and that there is still hope if you haven’t quite found your place at Yale.
Perhaps the ultimate lesson here is one of diversity. Just as there is no archetypal Yale student, there is no archetypal Yale career. Good Things and Bad Things happen, whether you have barely moved into your suite or your diploma is almost ready to go to print. Instead of seeking to formulate a universal theory of how the college experience pans out, we should respect the distinctive trajectory that every person takes. And rather than viewing our lives as a series of predetermined crescendos and diminuendos, we should keep our minds open to the potential for improvisation.
Then again, the Greeks wisely said, “Call no man happy until he is dead.” Maybe I will eat my words about the joys of sophomore year come February, when the weather gets bad and the assignments pile up. For now, I say we should resist the myth of the sophomore slump.
Jun Yan Chua is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .