Conventional wisdom says that freshman year is the big transition year for college students leaving home for the first time. It’s impossible to ignore the hype about moving from high school to college, and every homeward-bound frosh is interrogated about it during his or her first visit home. Parents ask nervously and family friends ask cordially, but the adjustment to college is on everyone’s mind.
For me, freshman year was filled with new faces and new opportunities, and my infatuation with my dream university lasted all the way from Welcome Week through final exams. I hardly ever thought about the transition. But I’m finding that my sophomore year is much more of a struggle. For me and for many others, sophomore year is the real transition year.
Sophomores are like middle children — somewhat ignored, but seeking the attention that, in this case, is usually centered on incoming freshmen and upperclassmen. But upperclassmen already have two years of experience under their belts and are self-sufficient by necessity.
On the other end of the spectrum, freshmen have yet to cut the cord binding them to their homes. Parents still do everything in their power to check up on their babies-turned-young adults and help them adjust to the college routine.
What’s so hard about signing up for a few classes from a list of required courses or moving into a dorm room that has been assigned to you by the University? Most of the big decisions are made for freshmen with little wiggle room. With Resident Advisors and academic counselors thrust upon them, new students can almost put themselves on autopilot.
But come sophomore year, parental and staff support subsides while course lists become daunting. There is no longer an obviously laid out yellow brick road for students to follow. For the first time since their arrival at the University, many sophomores are expected to make important decisions on their own. I may know my way from East Hall to the Modern Language Building better, but aside from that, I think freshman year enhanced my partying skills more than my decision-making ones.
The truth is that the transition from coddled freshman to self-sufficient, independent sophomore isn’t as easy as one might expect, and the challenges and growing pains may make it the most emotionally difficult of the college years. I’m not trying to understate the challenges facing overburdened upperclassmen, who as juniors are forced to address pressing scholastic decisions and as seniors must start planning for the real world. But somewhere in the mix of everything, sophomore year gets lost. And with nowhere to channel their anxiety, many sophomores end up wandering, seeking direction without the obvious guideposts that facilitated most of their previous travels.
So, what’s a troubled sophomore to do? Maybe the answer lies in learning to seek out the help and guidance that was so readily handed to them in the past. As I started to realize that I wasn’t going to be spoon-fed help and started looking for it on my own, I realized that resources and support are available. In fact, the school has many free resources for help with career choices, roommate crises, class selection and many of the other decisions a Wolverine has to make on a day-to-day basis. There is a study abroad group on CTools, professors that double as advisors, and, if you actually take the time to look, more information on Wolverine Access than you could possibly imagine.
Another option is to form our own means of support through peer groups. Today, I got an e-mail from my sorority announcing the formation of e-mail groups each popular major. This provides a supporting network of peers who likely share similar academic struggles. And, once again, this resource is free.
After recognizing the resources available to me, I trust I will be able to make much more effective decisions when choosing my classes for the winter semester. And though it will surely take me the remainder of this school year — perhaps longer — to fully make my transition to life as an independent college student, this Thanksgiving, I will be the one at the dinner table asking the questions and seeking advice. While I may have soared through freshman year without a glitch, the road is still filled with many bumps, and attention and guidance are still very much appreciated.
Leah Potkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.