Don’t Forget About the Sophomores

By Ryan Manning — Today is a big day on the Marquette campus: it’s move-in day! I know, I know, freshmen move-in day was Wednesday. But beginning today, a whole 50% of the MU residence hall population is coming back to campus. That’s right, it’s time to welcome back the sophomores!

My two years of living and working in Schroeder Hall gave me a total soft spot for working with sophomore students, and so move-in day was definitely one of my favorite days of the year, especially because of the adrenaline rush that comes with facilitating helping 660 students, their families, and their futons move in to a 10-story building with only 2 elevators.

And that excitement continued throughout the year. I loved working in a sophomore hall. Now, I am sure that many of you may be asking: “Why? Don’t most students have it all figured out by their sophomore year? They already have a full year of college under their belt.” And the answer to that is sometimes yes, and sometimes no.

But that’s the part that’s most exciting for me. To some extent, many sophomore students do have a lot figured out, and it is so exciting to be able to watch them take on the world and be successful at a relatively young age. Some others are still looking for a place to find their niche: they may be struggling to figure out a major, or get their grades up after a tough transitional freshman year, or find a way to get involved on campus.

So it is rewarding to help these students discover themselves on a much deeper level than they may have been able to before. Others still may be somewhere in between: having a clear set of goals but an unclear sense of how to get there; or maybe they are questioning those goals as they mature and discover new passions. For me, this added level of maturity gave an added level of richness to so much of my work: the conversations I could have with students, or the programs that RA’s could sponsor, and so many other things.

To sum it up, sophomore students have a unique set of needs and characteristics: they already have a year of experience under their belt, but they are still students in transition, trying to figure out more about themselves and what they want for their futures. I suppose that these distinct challenges have led to sophomore students as the “middle child” of the college student population, more because many of us are unsure of how to approach working with them (0r because we think they don’t need our help) than because we simply don’t want to (in my opinion).

But the truth is, sophomores DO need and want our support. Today’s sophomores are confronting a variety of issues from rebounding from a difficult freshman year, to balancing the added responsibility and time commitment of leadership roles on campus. Some may be transferring from another institution where they may have had a negative experience, so helping these students feel welcomed and included in the community is especially important. Additionally, our sophomore students are used to a huge amount of support from their first year in college, and for them to notice a significant drop off in the amount of individualized attention and support in their second year leads them to feelings of marginality and unimportance in the wake of a new freshman class.

So, yes, while new student move-in day was a few days ago, don’t forget to try your hardest to welcome returning students back to campus with the same enthusiasm. As those students get settled back in to student life, knowing how excited we are to have them back on campus will make a huge difference and set the tone for an exceptional year.

For additional readings on the sophomore year experience, check out some of my favorite texts (and be sure to check your favorite Student Affairs journals for much more):

  • Helping Sophomores Succeed: Understanding and Improving the Second-Year Experience  by Hunter, Tobolowsky, and Gardner
  • Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter by Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, and Whitt
  • Visible Solutions for Invisible Students: Helping Sophomores Succeed by Schreiner & Pattengale

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