Editorial: Give sophomores direction

Posted by the Editorial Board

The "sophomore slump" sees students adjusting to new social situations, making significant academic decisions and taking more challenging classes – all without the aid of any sophomore-specific college assistance. Without the structure of the First-Year Experience or the certainty of declared majors, students can feel lost trying to navigate potential courses and disciplines. The college needs to institute academic programming specific to sophomores to provide a foundation for a year that has yet to take shape at Skidmore.

Just as first-years have the FYE, juniors study abroad and seniors post-graduate planning, sophomores need a cornerstone experience that can provide class unity and purpose. The college should consider forming a class-wide sophomore project that encourages students to investigate individual areas of interest through interning, research or a community service project. Challenge students to apply what they have learned in their first two years here, letting students better understand their own academic interests. That will only help them choose their majors more wisely at the end of the sophomore year.

For students interested in fulfilling this new sophomore requirement in a familiar form, the college should offer 200-level interdisciplinary classes similar to the first-year Human Dilemmas course. With the positive response to the Scribner Seminar model in the FYE, the college should look at how to utilize that success to beat the problem of the "sophomore slump." They can help those students still feeling lost in their sophomore year by offering them another chance to engage with their peers and a professor in a more close-knit environment.

But even as they seek to unify the fractured and disoriented sophomore class through new models, the college needs to better the structures already in place. As students transition from their assigned Scribner Seminar adviser to their choice of a major adviser, they can feel isolated in the very months where they must make the kind of decisions – like major declaration – that will have a profound influence on their college and post-graduation lives.

The college should strengthen and standardize the advising sessions between Scribner Seminar advisers and their sophomore advisees, ensuring that their conversations tackle the tough issues of major declaration, impending academic deadlines and resources for help. Eliminate the crapshoot element to post-FYE advising and make sure that students, even if they go through much of sophomore year without an adviser from their area of interest, can speak productively with professors about their academic futures in the sophomore year.

While material on the college's website deals particularly with challenges faced by students in their sophomore year, the sheer amount of online content can overwhelm students trying to narrow their focus in major declaration. The college should consider providing options for undecided students to perform degree audits with potential majors in mind, to evaluate their course choices and see potential planning for their next two years. They should also continue to try to increase awareness of tools like the degree audit, battling a still-steady number of students who do not know resources like these exist.

In that vein, all department offices should offer printed guides to the majors available to querying students, with information ranging from course checklists to professor profiles. Let students get to know their prospective disciplines by providing them with the contact information for each department's student representatives, giving them a real idea of what that major would entail.

Sophomore year sees students adjusting, for the first time, to making big decisions for themselves. The college needs to provide students with a strong foundation to their year, while encouraging across-the-board effective communication to ensure that students make choices right for them.

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