Second-year slump: The honeymoon's over

October 15, 2018
  • AACRAO Consulting
  • second-years
  • sophomores
three school children walk up the steps of a building

"Institutions typically invest heavily in the first-year experience to promote persistence, yet colleges are also experiencing a pattern of attrition in the second year," observed Althea J. Sterling, Assistant Dean for Student Services at Touro Law Center. "The second year is viewed as a period in which students encounter increasing academic, developmental, and social demands, yet the institution tends to provide less support relative to the first year." 

Sterling's SEMQ article “Student Experiences in the Second Year: Advancing Strategies for Success Beyond the First Year of College” provides a much-needed study exploring sophomores’ perception and understanding of their experience and the intentional approaches institutions can adopt in promoting their success. 

Challenges and recommendations
The second-year experience is "multifaceted and sometimes contradictory," Sterling writes. "It is characterized by transformation of self and increased confidence, direction, purpose, reality check, relationships, academic expectations, and overall campus expectations. It also includes challenges, frustration, confusion, strong decision making on career and major, less direction and guidance from the institution on what needs to be done, and awareness about having less time to make up for a mistake or failed course or changed decision."

Based on the results of her study, Sterling recommends sophomore-specific orientation, peer mentoring, and a focus on career planning and academic engagement, among other strategies for second-year success.

Prepare for SEM
Sterling’s article was one of seven SEMQ articles curated for a special issue, SEM Prep, intended to be background reading for participants of the upcoming AACRAO SEM Conference.
“Keeping students enrolled and on a successful path toward completion is complex and multi-faceted,” said SEM Quarterly Editor-in-Chief Tom Green. “While there is a great deal of research and literature on the first year of college and rightfully so, there is less written about the second year.”

Other topics addressed in SEM Prep include:

  • How campus visits affect college choice
  • Data analytics and SEM
  • SEM leadership and the glass ceiling
  • Best practices for adult students
  • Applicant and faculty characteristics in doctoral admissions


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