Let’s talk about the sophomore slump. 

It sounds like a spinal conditionor dance move at worst. Despite being the most prevalent association attached to sophomore year, I’ve never stumbled across a definition for the term. Sophomore slump is a catch-all term, something expansive to which we attribute all our sad, sorry sophomore feelings—it accumulates meaning by way of its vagueness. That girl sleeping with her eyes open in Smith Union? Sophomore slump. That existential feeling of emptiness when you walk into a mid-February College House party? Slump-related. Declaring your major? Slumpy. 

Sophomores: welcome to the worst, best year of your life.

Grade-associated, clichéd emotions are familiar. Take “senioritis,” for example, which is essentially a senior’s euphemism for “laziness” or “burned out.” But senioritis has different connotations than the sophomore slump—we rarely use “senioritis” as melodramatically as the slump. Senioritis is an eye roll where the slump is a frown—it is an explanation instead of a diagnosis.

So if it is not similar to senioritis, what is sophomore slump? The feeling is difficult to communicate. It’s an ambiguous mixture of unease, gloom and vague pressure. There’s something distinct about our second year in college that cultivates a peculiar moodiness.
How come, unlike senioritis, our “slumping” seems weightier, more serious? It could be a matter of temporary versus permanent: sophomores stare into the prospect of two more years ahead of them, while seniors exchange their academic worries for real world problems after graduation. But this implies that the sophomore slump is purely a symptom of academic burnout, which seems untrue. After all, who has ever heard of “junior slump?”

Academics surely play a role. They must, because sophomore year marks the point in college when we declare our majors—where our freshman-year experimentation and our career-wise evaluations decide on a field of study. There’s no doubt that declaring a major unsettles the lot of us.

Though the actual stakes are pretty low—you can switch your major at any time, after all—the symbolic implications are weighty and scary. Now’s the time when we’re supposed to know ourselves, and to know what we want to do (I use “supposed to” cautiously). At 19 and 20, that sort of self-actualization rattles you. We can no longer blame academic indecision on being a first year. Even for the more assured of us, those who are certain of what they want to do, there’s the fear of not stacking up to our aspirations or finding ourselves ill-suited for them. No matter how important our major really is in the long run—the NAS(ty) report would assure us that it isn’t, mind you—there is always unsteadiness on the cusp of a big decision.

After much consideration, I think social factors contribute to this slump. I experience it as a feeling of being socially adrift. All ostensible features of my life would refute that: topsy-turvy freshman foibles are behind me, I am living with friends in a College House, and I’ve settled myself into different groups on campus. I think Norma even knows my name without having to look at my OneCard. Nonetheless, a subtle dissatisfaction persists. 

Slumping begins with the false presumption that we’re “happily settled” now that freshman year is over. Counter-intuitively, I think we’re less settled because all of the freshmen-oriented artificial supports have fallen away. No more freshman floor, no more proctor, no more programming exclusively for our comfort. We’re let loose and no longer forced to rely on institutional structures that maintain our relationships for us. Sophomore year is when we have to “own” college, and the world expects us to actively maintain our relationships, our well-being and our happiness. 

With this in mind, my attempts to combat sophomore slump have been to continue meeting new people, put an effort into my friendships, and reach out to the people at this school whose job it is to guide us and keep investigating what’s available to me at Bowdoin. Resist the idea that you’re settled now that you’ve been around for a little while, because it will resist you. Just because our first year is over doesn’t mean we’re done with orientation.