This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
Remember last year, when everything — all the events, activities and fun — was planned for you? Unless your institution has a dedicated sophomore program (most don’t!), you may find that when you get back on campus you feel a bit lost — or maybe even forgotten! There will still be tons of things going on, but you may not be as excited about them since you’ve “been there and done that.” Graduation is still a few years away, so what are you supposed to do for now?
Sophomore year is often the time when students start to ask some of the big questions: What do I want my major to be? What if I don’t like it? Can I get a job when I graduate? What kind of job do I actually want? Do I want to live with my roommate again? What am I doing with my life, and who do I want to be?!
Maybe you entered college with answers to those questions; maybe you didn’t. Did you know that most students change their major at least once over the course of their college career? I’m going to let you in on a little secret: college is all about change, trying new things and figuring this stuff out! While I won’t tell you not to stress too much over this (because you will!), I will remind you that you’re not alone, even when you feel like you are. Look around — all those other sophomores in your classes, residence halls and on campus are struggling with many of the same questions, even if they don’t look like it!
Sophomore year is your time to take control of your destiny and turn your experience into whatever you want it to be. There are some key topics that can help you get started on your path, and as summer speeds along towards the fall semester, now is a great time to start reflecting on them.
Choosing a Major
- Which classes have you enjoyed? Which ones have you done well in, academically? You may be surprised to find that the answers to those questions may be different! What are your ultimate career goals, and which majors might prepare you for that field? What are you interested in, and what makes you happy? What’s that? You don’t know yet? Well, okay then, let’s think about this some more.
- Plan to visit your school’s Career Services Center. They can provide you with an opportunity to talk about this topic, and they’ll work with you to do self-assessments (skills-based, personality focused, and/or interest exploration).
- Contact your academic advisor and schedule a meeting during the first few weeks to talk about the different majors and academic options at your school. This is a great time to do a little research into your school’s requirements for declaring a major.
- Whether you know what you want to do or not, sophomore year is a perfect time to gain some practical work experience and earn a little spending cash. There are a TON of on-campus jobs in a variety of offices/areas. When you’re meeting with the career services center, ask them about these opportunities as well as off campus postings.
- While you might not complete an internship during your sophomore year, you can do a lot of preparation by talking with your advisor, favorite professors, or head back to the career center. You can then start applying for internships for next summer.
- Do you want to visit another country? Does your school offer support for students to study abroad? There might be a specific office for this, or you might need to talk to your academic department. Investigate funding options (many programs let you study abroad while paying tuition at your school), talk to your family about your plans, and think creatively — where have you always wanted to travel? Is this something you can do this year, or maybe next year?
Continuing to Afford School
- Will all of your scholarships and financial aid continue into your sophomore year? Has tuition increased? Will you be living on campus or off? Have you applied for all possible scholarships? Meet with a financial aid counselor and check out fastweb.com to create your personalized profile to find opportunities. Maybe you want to get a job to help pay for school — see topic on “Jobs/Internships” above.
Your Relationship with Your Family
- Did you go home often during your first year? Maybe you had to help out with siblings or the family business. Have you talked to your family about expectations for the coming year? Let them know that classes will be harder this year, that you’ll be expected to study more, and that your workload may be more intense. Traveling home on weekends might not be so easy when you have a lot of work to do. Or, maybe you’re going to be super involved on campus and won’t have as much free time. That takes us to…
Finding Your “Place” on Campus
- Here’s another little secret: if you just wanted to go to classes and then go home, you could have gone anywhere. You chose your school because it was a good fit for you, and now is the time to take advantage of that! If you’re not already involved in a student club or organization, go join one! If you’re already a member, think about challenging yourself to take on a leadership role. Run for office, coordinate an activity or join another club!
- Attend activities, lectures, shows and discussions that you might not have considered last year. Find out what interests you and what gets you excited for learning.
- Literally, find an actual “place” on campus, and make it your own. Sure you have your room, but what about a place to just hang out when you need to unwind? Does your campus have great outdoor spaces? A fountain, park or lawn? How about a quiet corner of the library? Maybe the student union café? My point is, there are lots of places to explore this year, and you might be surprised to learn how valuable having another place to go is to your enjoying your college experience.
One of the biggest challenges during sophomore year is staying motivated and avoiding getting stuck in a rut. A great way to avoid finding yourself in a rut is to push yourself. Try new things, meet new people, or pick up a hobby or activity. Take an elective class, attend an open mic night or yoga session, or go to the cheesy movie night on campus. Remember, college is about succeeding in class and figuring out your academic path, but it is just as much about having fun and figuring out your personal path!
Good luck with everything!