Another year has passed. I can’t believe that I’m halfway done with my Stanford undergraduate career; looking back, however, it’s amazing how much I have been able to experience. After taking some time to reflect, here are some important things I learned from my sophomore year at Stanford.
The “Sophomore Slump” is Overrated
Many people like to reference the infamous “sophomore slump”, when the second year of college doesn’t live up to your expectations. Though there were certainly ups and downs over the past few months, I didn’t encounter this slump myself, and really enjoyed sophomore year. After watching many people go through big slumps or, conversely, rise up to new heights of happiness, I think that the “slump” is mostly self-generated. People who don’t make an effort to meet new people or try new things, and then watch as friend group drama harms their small community, end up feeling “left out” of many experiences, even though they are the ones who do the isolating.
The friends you make freshman year may very well be friends that last a lifetime. Others will become distanced, both spatially and socially; while they remain friends, you may not hang out with them with the same frequency as before. A new year is a great time to meet more amazing people on campus, and the majority of people enter sophomore year hoping to make those new connections as well. While I still hang out with good friends from last year, I also made many new friends this year in my dorm – Lantana – and around campus. As a quick example, my crazy/wonderful/LSJUMB drummer/ASSU Senator/engineer roommate Eni not only put up with me, but became a wonderful new friend who offered exciting insights into the many experiences at Stanford and around the world. New friends, coupled with new experiences, definitely made sophomore year all the more incredible.
Follow Your Impulses
I didn’t enter sophomore year thinking that I would chat with Al Gore at a climate change rally, go salsa dancing, or end the year with a late-night, impulsive drive to see the stars and look over the cityscape. All of these were spur-of-the moment decisions that I heard of last-minute, or that a friend spontaneously wanted to try. Don’t be afraid to follow your impulses, to explore outside your comfort zone and test new waters. I’ve found that, more often than not, these experiences are worth it.
Engage in Academics
This year, I delved deeper into my Economics major and Education minor, exploring everything from Coasean agreements and New Keynesian theory to Vygotskian ZPD and sociocultural theory in the classroom. Sophomore year is a great time to decide on and declare a major after taking time to explore your interests.
Of course, engaging in academics shouldn’t be limited to one subject. Beyond classes for my major and minor, I also took a course at the Law School, studied linear optimization in an MS&E class, crafted a research paper on Disney’s employment and brand management strategies for PWR, and learned from the legendary Dr. Dement in Sleep and Dreams. A great liberal arts education necessitates learning breadth as well as depth.
Winter Quarter of sophomore year was when I decided to try a 20-unit quarter, the highest number of units you can take without special Request to Exceed Maximum Units petition. Although I am glad that I challenged myself and pushed my limits, I definitely started to feel mentally overwhelmed as the quarter went on. Many psets, midterms, written assignments, final projects, and finals later, I was exhausted from the effort. Bouncing between many classes made it harder to continue deeply engaging in the material, and really started hurting my attempts to maintain all of my commitments. While it’s great to engage in academics, it’s also important to know the line between a robust challenge and a deleterious course load.
Balance Work and Play
When you’re in the middle of the quarter, with problem sets, extracurricular projects, and social obligations lining up, you can find yourself rushing towards the end of finals instead of enjoying every day that goes by. Whether you find activities that let you unwind, or experiences that rekindle a sense of intellectual wonder and excitement, don’t be afraid to take some time to set your work aside.
For my “play,” I enjoy a variety of activities. This includes going outside my comfort zone to follow a serendipitous impulse, playing piano and violin in the practice rooms, baking tasty treats in the dorm, or spending an hour late at night discussing anything and everything with a group of friends lying on the ground. I find that I cherish the small moments of calm and community just as much as big, exciting, Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat-worthy events. Find something that keeps you sane, and don’t feel guilty about taking time out of your day to pursue it.
Oftentimes, the people who I see failing to maintain this balance understand the importance of taking time off from studying, but engage in events that leave them feeling more stressed instead of less. If you’re putting in a lot of time and effort into “fun” events to the point that doing well academically and doing well mentally feel mutually exclusive, it’s time to rethink whether those events are play, or a disguised form of more work and stress. On the other hand, if you reserve so much time for play that you are procrastinating on all of your work, that pileup will ultimately cause you more stress than tackling it in small bits over time. To maintain a balance between commitments, intersperse fun and cathartic activities between periods set aside for work.
Enjoy the Experiences
I have just shared many of my experiences this year. Some highlights to wrap up my sophomore year at Stanford University include:
- Storming the field after Stanford’s football team beat Notre Dame, with a last-second kick bringing the score to 38-36
- Starring as an extra in a Cardinal Studios movie – Cashoe
- Making and eating a delicious multicultural dinner with friends at Humanities House
- Managing the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, including helping arrange the livestream of our Spring concert
- Presenting a consulting project for Coursera with the Stanford Pre-Business Association
- Fountain Hopping during Spring Quarter!
Two years may have passed, but there is plenty of time left to enjoy Stanford. As I dive into my internships this summer, I’ll also be looking ahead to Junior Year!