Exposing the sophomore slump: Dealing with the pressures of year 2 at UC Berkeley

Jessica Schwabach/File

Before starting college, I had no idea what the “sophomore slump” was. I had heard the warnings about the freshman 15 and senioritis, but this was a new concept. It wasn’t until I made friends with a sophomore that I even heard the term. I remember her telling me about how her social life had taken a downturn after she had moved out of the dorms and into an apartment a decent distance away from campus for her second year. It was spring semester of my freshman year, and as I was searching for housing, I began to worry that the same would happen to me, too.

When you search the term “sophomore slump” in a web browser, what pops up are several articles discussing what the concept is alongside many personal accounts about students’ own experiences. According to the University of Texas at Dallas website, research has suggested that sophomore year can be a “period of confusion and certainty” due to stressors distinct from those of freshman year. After the often personalized attention given to freshmen is gone, sophomores are left to navigate college life by themselves at a time when they have to make important decisions, such as figuring out what to major in, determining whether they should go abroad and searching for an internship.

This is further elaborated upon by Cabrini University, whose website notes, “Students who lack motivation, are indecisive about selecting a major, feel disconnected socially and academically, and engage in behavior like excessive drinking that interferes with their academic success are stuck in the sophomore slump.

After the often personalized attention given to freshmen is gone, sophomores are left to navigate college life by themselves at a time when they have to make important decisions, such as figuring out what to major in, determining whether they should go abroad and searching for an internship.

Campus sophomore Ellen Thompson, an astrophysics major, began the year with confidence and excitement, also intending to minor in theater and performance studies. She decided to take on new roles and commitments but ended up overcommitting herself. She has since dropped out of some of these earlier engagements and decided to take a break from acting in her spring semester, including making the decision to no longer pursue a minor.

“For me, I really went overboard with getting a job and getting (a lead role) in a play and becoming co-director of a club and taking all these units and just doing all this stuff. … It was just way too much,” Thompson said.

It is clear that this slump is an issue on many college campuses, and UC Berkeley is no different. Especially at such an academically rigorous and prestigious school, the pressures of college life can leave students feeling stressed and burned out by their second year. This year’s sophomores, like those before them, are no doubt facing intense pressure.

Thompson believes that the sophomore slump is particularly aggressive at UC Berkeley in large part because of the housing crisis in Berkeley.

“I think because so many of us at Cal are forced to get our first apartments at the beginning of our sophomore year, it’s just a huge commitment. It takes a lot of time, it’s a lot of adjusting, learning how to ‘adult.’ My friends at other universities who are still in dorms (and) get to be (in them) for the next four years don’t have to deal with that,” Thompson said.

When my freshman year ended on an extremely low note, I was, in some ways, dreading the return to college life as a sophomore. However, I was also determined to make up for that previous low so that my next year was significantly better than the last. I made some incredible friends, took more opportunities to draw on my creative side and enrolled in classes that I was genuinely interested in. I did not experience the sophomore slump in the same way as other second-years did. Instead, my sophomore year was more fulfilling and enjoyable than my freshman year had been.

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Sophomore Monica Khachatrian, a film and sociology major, had a similarly positive experience as a result of joining Delta Kappa Alpha, the cinematic arts fraternity, in addition to being a research assistant and a communication assistant for campus departments. For her, the sophomore slump was not a big factor in shaping her experience — she even had to ask me what it actually was.

“I can see that happening to sophomores and the fact that it just gets to be something that’s so regular and expected, but I really started my sophomore year with a lot of newness, so it almost felt like another freshman year. I made a lot of new friends, I joined new organizations, so it was almost like I was experiencing things all over again,” Khachatrian said.

If you are a sophomore struggling under the pressures of deciding on your major, living on your own and keeping up the balance of academic and social life, know that you are not alone.

In actuality, the sophomore slump affects students in very different ways. Each student has a unique college career, so it requires no stretch of the imagination to consider that everyone may experience the phenomenon in a different way. If you are a sophomore struggling under the pressures of deciding on your major, living on your own and keeping up the balance of academic and social life, know that you are not alone.

Thompson commented that she doesn’t think the sophomore slump is inevitable, also noting that she wishes someone would have told her not to overwork and spread herself thin, a piece of advice she extends to other sophomores, both current and rising. Khachatrian emphasized the importance of getting of your comfort zone and taking the time to seek out new experiences.

In the midst of such a stressful and active environment, it is important to take care of your mental and physical health and ultimately avoid negative experiences such as the sophomore slump. Practicing self-care can come in forms both large and small, such as taking time to exercise, buying yourself your favorite snack or taking a break to picnic on Memorial Glade. As the sophomore slump can potentially have severe health effects, it is important to reach out for help if needed. UC Berkeley offers many resources to help students deal with mental health issues, and there are many strategies for acknowledging and addressing your specific needs.

Even though it is an extremely common and valid experience, there are ways that you can work through the stressors of the second year of college or even avoid them altogether. Just being aware of the issue, and also listening to the advice of upperclassmen who have been through it all, can help you make decisions that will keep you happy and healthy throughout the year.

Contact Kate Winterbauer at [email protected].