The Not-So-Easy Transition: Freshmen to Sophomore Year

The Not-So-Easy Transition: Freshmen to Sophomore Year

Heather Brake

Coordinator, Student Involvement, Southern Illinois University

Sophomore year of college can be one of great fun and excitement, but students can also experience a difficult transition from their first year to second year of college. You will often hear of the sophomore year being referred to as the “forgotten year.” One could argue that this is due to the lack of support that second year students receive compared to their first year counterparts.

For this blog series, I invite you to join me in the exploration of the sophomore year experience. For the purpose of this blog, sophomore year of college is defined as the second year of a student’s undergraduate work. This blog series will be broken down as followed:

Post #1: The Transition from the First to the Second Year of College

Post #2: The Success and Challenges of Sophomore Year Experience Programs

Post #3: The Student Experience Post-Sophomore Year

Let’s begin our journey by discussing the transition from the first to the second year of college.

What is the sophomore slump? The sophomore slump is more often than not classified as a time of developmental confusion for second year college students. Sophomore year is when students are no longer new and it’s time for them to get down to business. Why does the sophomore slump exist? There could be many reasons for it. However, we are going to discuss ways in which transitional issues can be at least partially to blame for the sophomore slump.

The focus on the first year. Institutions across the country have increased their focus a great deal on the first year student experience in an effort to boost retention. Institutions are doing this through multiple ways including but not limited to: orientation, student experience programming and first-year seminar courses. This increased attention and resources being allocated to work specifically with first-year students have proven to be successful nationwide. However, we are now hearing of sophomores reporting a sense of abandonment due to the decreased number of resources in which they have access to during their second-year of college compared to their first-year. A prime example of this would be the loss of scholarships that are limited to recipients that are classified as a freshman.

From the moment first-year students step foot on their college campus, there is a strong push for social engagement and involvement outside of the classroom. As a result of this, students tend to find several activities to get involved in and soon develop friendships with others.

However, what happens to those students that choose not to get involved during their first-year? Are institutions continuing to make this push during sophomore year and beyond? If your institution is not making a concentrated effort to do so, I would challenge you to brainstorm with your team to come up with ways that you can encourage involvement on-campus at all class-levels.

Are we doing enough? Orientations and first-year seminars are a very popular experience that institutions are offering to first-year students, and an ever-growing number of schools are using their first-year seminar courses as extended orientations for their students. My question for you to ponder; is this enough? Are students ready to successfully navigate their undergraduate experience after completing their university-required orientation?

Why is Sophomore Year programming needed? One could argue many reasons such programming is needed. Responses to the 2008 National Survey of Sophomore-Year Initiatives shows that the primary reasons why sophomore initiatives were established on their campus were as follows: improve student engagement; prepare students for career (i.e. internships); assist students in the selection of a major; improve student satisfaction; and improve retention.

While the beginning of this post has focused thus far on what institutions aren’t doing for sophomores, let it be known that there are institutions out there that have either laid the foundation or are laying the foundation for a solid sophomore experience program. These programs are becoming more and more popular in recent years. In the next post of this series we will discuss the successes and challenges that some of these programs have experienced and are currently experiencing.

I hope you’ll plan to join me for the next post in this series, “The Success and Challenges of Sophomore Year Experience Programs.” In the meantime, I challenge you to consider: “What is my institution doing to better the sophomore year experience?”


Heier, M. (2012). Summary Report. In Understanding the Sophomore Year Experience.

The Sam Jackson College Experience. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2015.

About the Author: Heather Brake oversees 400 student organizations at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL. Prior to SIUC, Heather worked at Southeast Missouri State University (2010-2014) where she also earned her Bachelor’s degree in Recreation (2008) and Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration (2010). Her research interests include the sophomore year experience and relationship building between professionals & staff members and how it correlates to higher retention numbers. Outside of work, Heather enjoys spending time with friends & family and cooking.

Heather Brake

Coordinator, Student Involvement, Southern Illinois University