Much ink has been spilled over the notion of a “Sophomore Slump.”
A simple Google search reveals that MGMT’s Congratulations was deemed mediocre at best, as was Reggie Bush’s second season with the Saints. Whether or not you believe in the prolific nature of the trend, there seems to be a quiet understanding amongst Middlebury students that there is something uniquely challenging about sophomore year. Yet many upperclassmen also tend to characterize this second year as the time when they knew the most people on campus and felt the most at ease. So, what gives? As sophomores, are we thriving as semi-acclimated veterans or are we spiraling into the depths of monotony and apathy?
Academically, we are no longer the wide-eyed newbies that arrived on campus over a year ago (or just about a year ago for the Febs).
This fall, I watch as the freshmen in my classes answer questions with admirable eagerness. I can tell that they’ve actually completed all of their readings… even the optional ones. Yet now, as a sophomore, the thought of having time to do any of my readings in their entirety is absolutely hilarious. Like laughably ridiculous.
Perhaps the sophomore workload is actually more difficult. Many of us have moved up from intro courses and freshman seminars and into upper level classes. Or maybe nothing new is really being asked of us, and the change is purely attitudinal.
There are many explanations for sophomore academic apathy. It is logical to consider that the insane, overachiever lifestyle that got us into Middlebury in the first place finally takes its toll sophomore year. Maybe the expectations for going abroad have caused us to get some pre-requisites out of the way that we don’t really have much of a desire to take. Or maybe the pressure of major declaration, which prompts us to narrow our studies slightly, has created a more monotonous academic environment.
However, I think the most compelling explanation for the collegiate sophomore slump is that, with a year under our belt, we have begun to understand what truly has the potential to make us happy at Middlebury, yet feel too confined by the academic expectations of this institution to act in our own best interest.
During freshman year, we tended to club shop until we committed to one group or ditched the effort entirely. We learned about Dunmore just as the water turned so cold that swimming qualified as a polar plunge. The Snowbowl sounded great, but we didn’t all know how to get there.
But as sophomores, we have a better sense of the daymakers, the hidden gems, the places and things previously out of reach. Maybe it’s finally finding the quarry, or successfully learning to navigate the ACTR. Maybe it’s starting to find your niche in the community and realizing a real passion for your extracurriculars. Maybe it’s your Old Stone Mill space, or your volunteer job in town, or a newly discovered section of the TAM. Regardless, by sophomore year, many of us have begun to identify something outside of schoolwork that makes Middlebury our own.
I believe that one of the publicized advantages of attending a liberal arts college is the proposition that learning environments similar to that of Middlebury are conducive to “finding oneself” academically as well as in a greater, metaphysical sense. But sometimes the pressure of an intense workload can cause academics to feel more like an impediment than a means to this self-discovery.
We sit back in class and hand in our problem sets less frequently than we’d like to. We feel fine about getting a B or B- because, hey we tried… sort of. We have a hard time shaking the feeling that schoolwork has no meaning, even though it’s ultimately why we’re here. We feel guilty and confused because we are no longer defined by our perfectionist impulses. And perhaps most importantly, we often forget how insanely lucky and privileged we are to be learning at a place like Middlebury.