Like first-year students, sophomore premajors face certain age- and stage-specific goals and challenges that you should be aware of, so that you can assist them in useful ways.
Goals of the Sophomore Year:
The overarching goals of the sophomore year include:
Students who grow in these areas are likely to feel good about themselves, commit to their
educational paths and to this institution, and be successful at Duke.
Challenges Experienced by Sophomores
Among the challenges that any premajor student may experience but that seem to come to the fore in the sophomore year are the following:
1) Choosing a major—Choosing a major may be easy for a student or cause a great deal of indecision and anxiety. Talk regularly with your advisees about their evolving thoughts and opinions on electing a major. Students who worry terribly about this decision often fall into one of four camps:
a. They fear choosing any major because they erroneously believe that this will determine their career and they don’t know what career might be appealing to them at that stage in their development.
b. They have too many interests and can’t imagine which one to choose as a major.
c. They don’t really like any field of study and are waiting to be struck by some insight that will make them excited about anything.
d. They are generally risk-averse and afraid of making decisions.
In working with students in the first category, try to impress upon them that there is no direct link between most majors and particular careers. Encourage them to meet with a career counselor or visit the Career Center’s website which provides data showing what Duke alumni with various undergraduate majors are doing in their professional lives.
Students in the second category are relatively easy to deal with if you can show them that completing a major usually only requires 10 of their 34 courses, leaving them room to study other things as well. Program II may also be of interest to some of these students, since it permits them to create their own interdisciplinary study that combines course work in more than one academic subject.
Students who can muster no enthusiasm for any academic subject are unusual and may, in fact, be depressed. Explore with them why they find all that they have experienced at Duke to fall short
of their expectations. Depending upon what you learn from the student, you may want to discuss a visit to CAPS or refer them to their academic dean. The student may also really not be happy being in college or specifically at Duke.
Risk-averse students often benefit from a discussion of the step-by-step process involved in decision-making. While they may shrink before an important decision, they may not resist the idea of brainstorming options, researching each, and discussing the pros and cons of each with you. After such an exercise, they might be surprised to find that there is an obvious choice and even if there isn’t one, they may be far more comfortable pursuing the question of choosing a major.
The choice of a major can sometimes be complicated by the question of one major or two. While it may not necessarily be wrong for a given student to double major it is an option that should be considered in the light of its advantages and disadvantages. One of the most significant disadvantages to double majoring is the potential loss of flexibility in a student’s program of study, a loss that may prevent a student from responding to serendipitous opportunities to study something new or interesting or to delve more deeply into another subject. Too often, it seems, students who double major spend their whole undergraduate career fulfilling requirements of one sort or another rather than designing a program of study that is uniquely responsive to their interests and talents.
You may want to propose to ambitious students that they complete a minor or a certificate program as an alternative to a double major. Some students may want to know the difference between a B.S. and an A.B. degree. The B.S. usually requires more courses than the A.B. If students are planning to pursue graduate or professional study, the B.S. may offer better preparation.
2) Poor performance in critical course work—A considerable number of sophomores encounter academic difficulties in their second year at Duke in course work that is critically important to their career choices. The classic example is that of a prehealth student who fails or does very poorly in organic chemistry. Poor performance in intermediate Economics, Mathematics, or other subjects might also inspire great trepidation in a student who may fear that his or her entire career path is in serious jeopardy.
Damage assessment is critical at this stage in order to understand the nature and degree of the student’s difficulties in the area and the implications for the future. Should the student repeat the course(s)? When is it time to consider an alternative academic direction altogether? Should the student perhaps give science and math a break for a semester or two while the student reevaluates his or her options and/or develops the skills needed for successful work? Remember the deans in the Academic Advising Center are available as consultants to you and your advisees for those kinds of questions.
3) “Sophomore Slump”—a number of students can be expected to experience what has come to be referred to as “sophomore slump,” a feeling of disillusionment, of anxiety about the future, of fear of failure, and/or of self-doubt. Loss of motivation and self-confidence is not easy for students to deal with. Some simply ignore it, perhaps at their own peril. They may become seriously (clinically) depressed, they may try to distract themselves by overindulging in drugs, alcohol and a hyperactive social life. Their school work may suffer irreparably if they don’t take their condition seriously and get assistance. In less serious cases, their grades may not decline to the point that their future at Duke is placed in jeopardy, but they may experience poor performance in their courses. If you notice that one or more of your advisees seems to be different (less responsive, uncharacteristically lacking in motivation or energy, has lost a lot of weight or gained it) tell them that you have noticed a change and try to engage them in a conversation about the reasons behind it.
You may glean from your conversation that the student would benefit from an evaluation at CAPS. Please let the Academic Advising Center know of your concern about such a student. It may be that the student needs professional help or would benefit from taking a leave of absence for a semester or two to regroup and attend to issues that prevent the student from performing as he or she has in the past.
Adapted from A. W. Chickering’s areas of student development, developed in his famous study Education and Identity
(San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1969).