Yale prides itself on its support for its first years, particularly through the first-year counselor program, affectionately known as FroCos. A first-year’s relationship with their FroCo is a unique and wonderful thing; most Yalies have experienced the difficulty of trying to explain to friends at other colleges exactly what a FroCo is.
“So they’re like RAs?” our friends ask. “Not quite,” we respond, before launching into explanations of pancake duty nights, FroCo groups and residential college pride.
Considering the many challenges of the first year — adjustment, homesickness, academic confusion — FroCos are invaluable for support and guidance. On top of all that, first years are also surrounded by a web of support, woven by peer liaisons and residential college “big sibs.” Though the first year of college is undoubtedly difficult for anyone, support is offered to first years at every turn, whether they like it or not.
Which makes it all the more jarring when, upon our return to campus the following fall, most of this institutional support disappears.
My sophomore fall was the rockiest semester I’ve had at Yale thus far. I was adjusting to life with a new set of suitemates, and taking an intensive load of introductory STEM classes. My parents had just moved to a different city, and I’d recently ended a relationship. I felt uprooted and confused. With no “FroCo” figure to reach out to for help, I ended up calling my own FroCo from my first year at Yale, who generously carved out time from her post-graduate life to speak with me.
Perhaps I am unique in finding sophomore year even harder than the previous year, but I am by no means alone in struggling as a sophomore. The “sophomore slump” refers to both the emotional and academic depression that many students experience after returning for their second year. While it’s a phrase we toss around casually, this phenomenon is not to be underestimated. A 2007 study, in fact, found that 20 to 25 percent of second-year students experience “dissatisfaction or disillusionment” relative to their first year in college.
Sophomore year comes with brand new stressors, many of which can have dangerous effects on students’ mental health, especially without adequate institutional support. It’s also important to note that sophomore year at Yale is a turning point — a time when you choose your major, begin fulfilling requirements and take up leadership in extracurricular organizations. Maybe the major you had your heart set on just isn’t working out anymore. Maybe you’re taking large introductory courses instead of first-year seminars, and you’re still unsure about how to approach professors. Maybe the wonder and excitement of your first year has worn off. Maybe you’re wondering why you’ve lost touch with some of the friends you made last year.
Both the administration and the student body are aware of these challenges, and some recent, promising initiatives have targeted sophomores. The Yale College Council’s sophomore seminars project aims to expand the first-year seminar program with sophomore-only seminars. Sophomores are now included on emails from the Office of Career Strategy and the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs, which were previously only sent to first years. These changes can perhaps remedy some of the academic and professional doubts that sophomores may experience, by continuing to connect them with faculty and resources.
However, research has suggested that sophomores experience an “internal transition” that warrants “year-specific” guidance, more than just new classes and general undergraduate resources. As sophomores, we are expected to be brave enough to approach our residential college dean or another administrator if we are struggling. However, this can be extremely intimidating, especially when students do not have personal relationships with administrators. At the same time, many of us worry about burdening our friends with our problems. Where’s your FroCo when you need them?
Undoubtedly, sophomores don’t require first-year counselors to steer them through every nuance of college life. They’ve figured out what “Bluebooking” means, how distributional requirements work and where the orange juice is in the dining hall. However, they still have equally valid needs for foundational support — foundational support that is crucial to their ability to flourish, independently, come their junior year. Yale should consider implementing some form of “SoCos,” upperclassmen with open office hours, who are trained to deal with the specific emotional and academic issues that arise for sophomores. Holding a duty night or study break once a week in residential colleges wouldn’t hurt (who doesn’t love free food?), but this position need not be nearly as involved as first-year counseling. What matters is that there are accessible students who are employed by the university to guide sophomores, connect them to relevant resources and mentor them.
Peer mentorship is one of the defining aspects of the Yale experience, and FroCos some of the most revered figures on campus. This support shouldn’t be discontinued in a time as critical as sophomore year. Sophomore counselors could serve as a necessary bridge between students and the administration, extending peer mentorship rather than having it drop off entirely. As many of us know, reaching out to a fellow student for help is much less intimidating than talking to an administrator. If we know the “slump” is real, why aren’t we trying harder to address it? If we continue to neglect the needs of sophomores, we are putting the mental health, academic well-being and happiness of students at risk.
Maya Juman is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .