I heard a few days ago that there was a panel going on for rising sophomores. And without hearing too much about it, when I heard such a thing, I could not help but wonder what I needed to hear (but never did) to be prepared for my current sophomore year.
When students first come to a liberal arts institution, many seem to feel the pressure that whatever they are majoring in will be the definite pathway all their lives. Yet they do not realize the incredible flexibility that a liberal-arts education and undergrad in general permits its students (unless the student wants to pursue pre-med or engineering fields, which is another story). A bachelor’s is the only chance in your life that you get to explore and feed your intellect without necessarily needing to stick to something forever. Think about it. Your whole life, prior to college, you were told what to learn, and that ranges from mathematics, to all kinds of sciences, history, foreign languages and literature. In grad school, it becomes more specific. Thus, undergrad is all a student has for that exploration in an academic setting. You learn what you are interested in, what you are not and what you want to explore further.
Hence, if your mind is still a little perplexed about what is it that you would like to major in, do not feel like you need to decide right after your first year terminates. Take sophomore year as another chance to do so.
As a sophomore, I came to realize what I wanted to major in this year. Looking back, before choosing my sociology major, I used to ask myself a lot of questions about certain aspects of how our society is constructed. In fact, I have written articles trying to figure out women’s lack of interest in the STEM fields and how first-generation students at Brandeis prepared for a higher education lacking skills and/or support. Like a sociologist, I based my questions on what I observed in my surroundings. I have conducted interviews, surveys and other methods that are common to sociology. I was doing all this without realizing how to fit it into one of the majors offered here at Brandeis—in my mind, I was only thinking of how much I enjoy doing it.
Pick up on these cues, rising sophomores. What task, subject or experience have you enjoyed and continue enjoying? Also, remember that as a Brandeis undergrad, you have the option of an interdisciplinary education, especially by creating your own major.
If a first-year asked me what is different about sophomore year, I would answer that there is a whole lot more to figure out and perhaps more changes than your first year. All I can say is that no year will be the same.
In terms of friendships, dynamics change because everyone else is individually changing. We are all growing up and beginning to think differently from others. Our paths start to diverge in the way we think and even live. As sophomores, the students are more spread across campus, which may signify that you will stop seeing many of the people you used to see around during your first year. It’s no longer just Massell or North.
I would also advise that rising sophomores expect to find out who their friends are—who will stick with you regardless of the circumstances. Sadly, some won’t. Look at it as a process of sorting, focusing on quality rather than quantity.
Furthermore, not knowing your major should not deter you from applying for fellowships and other grant opportunities. There are many available during sophomore year that students can take advantage of. And plan ahead: The second year is the time to apply for studying abroad, internships and more. The work will get more difficult and it may appear impossible to balance all at the same time, but that only means you are challenging yourself. And if you ever start feeling drained, it is time to sort out priorities and main goals as well. Do not feel bad if you need to drop out of a club or any other commitment; it is for the best. The most important part about sophomore year is that there a lot of space for more growing, challenging and learning without totally compromising the opportunity to have fun.