Surviving the sophomore slump

Returning to Williams College for my sophomore year, I was extremely excited and prepared to brave another academic semester at my home-away-from-home. After a long summer of internships and vacation, I was ready to get back on campus. Gone were the butterflies in my stomach that plagued me freshman year. I was familiar with the campus, knew the faculty, and had so many great friends waiting to do things together.

But despite the initial buzz of catching up with old friends, starting brand-new classes, and jumping back into extracurricular activities, I started to feel a little down.

I was not homesick, but my classes began to go by in a blur, some extracurricular activities that used to be fun were now a chore, and some friendships had become distant. Worst of all, a mounting pressure swept over me, making getting through each day rather difficult.

It was not quite a depression, but a “sophomore slump,” a common case of the blues that plagues some second-year college students when their experience fails to live up to their expectations.

The “slump” emerges from the harsh reality that the “summer camp” period of freshman year is over and that you are growing up. Classes, grades, and your future career are now much closer and everything feels more real. You might have gotten away with going to a party instead of finishing an assignment as a freshman, but your decisions now have more apparent consequences.

Having experienced this “slump,” I attest that it can be a challenge to overcome. Getting through my first semester of my sophomore year was not smooth sailing. I had phases of ups and downs. However, what helped me persevere through this difficult time was focusing on the bigger picture and, rather than dwelling on my discomfort, finding ways to brighten each day.

The slump can interfere with your schoolwork. When you are constantly preoccupied, it can become difficult to focus. Even though you are in the classroom when your professor is lecturing, your mind is lingering somewhere else. I always found it hard to shake the stress of the most recent exam or paper from my mind. Thus, despite my efforts to pay attention in class, my mind was racing around concerned about my performance on a test or how I was going to finish my 10-page paper.

After half of a semester fighting internal mental battles, I realized that this was not productive. Although I was stressed, there was nothing I could do to change that situation. On top of that, by worrying about it, I was not absorbing the material that was being presented to me. I have learned that you need to focus on the present, especially when you are carrying a lot of weight. Whatever problem you have now will most likely be a problem after your class is over, so push it aside and focus on the task at hand.

Ensuring that your schoolwork does not slip because of your emotional state is important, but it is equally crucial you find a way to improve your mood. Realize that you might not be the same person you were last year. The activities that gave you joy as a freshman may not be what you need as a sophomore.

My freshman year, I loaded up on “resume-building” activities that were competitive and taxing. Returning sophomore year, I found that these clubs and teams did not make me happy. I was happier figure skating and singing a cappella. These activities will probably do little to improve my credentials for my future (I have no intention of being a professional figure skater or a musician), but these were the groups I needed more in my life. The activities we did, and the people who did them with me always managed to brighten my day and bring a smile to my face.

Most importantly, do not be afraid to get help and talk to others about your situation. I found that the more I opened up about my sophomore slump, the quicker I realized that this was a universal problem for all my sophomore friends. Other students could easily relate to the feelings and hardships I was coping with, and they offered their own advice and outlook on the matter. Seeking out support from psychological services, chaplains, and deans at your school is also a great idea. I paid a couple of visits to psych services to discuss my issues and also spoke to a dean about my concerns. A lot of times, the school can ease your burden by providing some academic accommodation to help you handle your schoolwork and your emotions.

Lastly, like any other issues and rough patches you will experience in life, know that none of these are permanent. Realizing that what you feel right now will not be what you feel forever does provide comfort. Look at the bigger picture. College, especially your sophomore year, is only a small slice of what you will experience in your life. Even if life is less than ideal, your situation will change. What helps, nevertheless, is if you take steps to initiate the change and make your life as enjoyable as you can, even when you are singing the blues.

Aglaia Ho is a sophomore at Williams College and a native New Yorker. She is also the author of “Aglaia’s New York,” her blog at aglai‌aho.weebl‌y.com.