Avoiding the Sophomore Slump: How to Take Advantage of Your 2nd Year of High School


Avoiding the Sophomore Slump: How to Take Advantage of Your 2nd Year of High School

Sophomore year can be a challenging time. You’ve made it through the adjustment of freshman year and are beginning to find your niche in high school. You may be feeling less excited and more realistic about the possibilities before you. You might be ready to take on leadership in your community or feel limited by your status as an underclassman. You might also be anticipating the standardized testing, academic rigor, and college applications that await in junior and senior year.

This challenging period is sometimes referred to as the “sophomore slump.” During tenth grade, some students report feeling less motivated than they did in ninth grade, when high school is new and exciting. This decline in motivation can negatively affect performance, leading to lower grades or decreased involvement in extracurriculars.

The best way to avoid the sophomore slump is to remember how important tenth grade is! It is the time to start identifying and working toward your academic and extracurricular goals. Laying a strong foundation sophomore year will allow you to succeed in junior year and beyond.

Follow the tips below to make the most of your second year in high school!

1. Focus on Your Grades

Sophomore year is all about academics. Use your time in tenth grade to create strong study habits that you can lean on throughout your academic career. Demonstrate intellectual curiosity and engagement by going beyond class requirements. Meet with your teachers outside of class to ask questions or reflect on course topics. If you’re struggling in a class, consider a tutor. Remember that your transcript is one of the most important factors in the college application process.

If you did well in school during freshman year, sophomore year is about keeping up your performance. If your grades last year were not as high as you would have liked, focus on improving your performance. An upward trajectory over the course of high school will show college admissions officers that you are able to rise to the occasion as you experience more challenging course material. So, step 1 for avoiding the sophomore slump: take time to invest in your academic performance.

2. Consider Your Course Choices

Colleges will not only look at your grades from all four years of high school; they will look at the rigor of your course load. Sophomore year is the time to start challenging yourself. Take more honors courses and, depending on your school, begin to think about AP courses. Remember that your grades this year will help determine which courses you are eligible to take next year. Do your best to prepare for an appropriately rigorous junior year course load and you can avoid the sophomore slump!

3. Develop Relationships with Your Teachers

Strong relationships with your teachers can help your academic performance, open the door for educational and professional opportunities, and lead to effective letters of recommendation.

Sophomore year is a great time to focus on building these relationships. Make small, consistent efforts to engage with your teachers. In class, be as proactive as possible. Go above the baseline of doing assignments on time and show a genuine interest in the subject, ask meaningful questions, and contribute to class discussions. Outside of class, talk to your teachers further. Use this time to get additional help, discuss how you’re doing in class, or even ask for career and educational advice.

4. Develop a Relationship with Your Guidance Counselor

As with your teachers, developing a trusting relationship with your guidance counselor is important for so many reasons. Counselors help with course selection and play a key role in facilitating the college admissions process. The counselor letter of recommendation is a critical part of your future applications that you should not underestimate!

Because you see your counselor less than your teachers, you should be proactive about getting to know them. Avoid the sophomore slump by setting up a meeting with them to share your goals and ask for their advice. By senior year, they’ll be ready to sing your praises to college admissions officers!

5. Deepen Your Extracurricular Involvement

Tenth grade is the time to think more about how your extracurriculars will look on your resume when you apply to college. You still have time to explore and make changes in high school, but you should also begin to consider how to deepen your extracurricular commitments. Colleges are looking for students who demonstrate sustained involvement and increase their leadership in extracurricular activities.

Avoid the sophomore slump and start by staying involved in the extracurriculars that you liked in ninth grade. How can you strengthen your involvement? Are there ways to gain a leadership position? Could you start a new project or initiative, like leading a fundraiser or planning an event?  

At the same time, don’t be afraid to explore new interests. If you suddenly realize your passion for filmmaking, for example, don’t hesitate to start participating in your school’s Film Society. You have plenty of time to grow your leadership in extracurriculars that you join this year.

Remember to think creatively about how to get involved. If existing extracurriculars at school feel limiting, try starting your own club. Don’t forget to also consider community involvement. Steer clear of the sophomore slump by volunteering, interning, or working outside of school!

6. Make Productive Summer Plans

Summer is a critical time in high school. You have time to explore your interests outside of school in ways that you don’t during the school year. You have the opportunity to form relationships with organizations or individuals that might lead to jobs, internships, or letters of recommendation later on. You have the chance to show colleges that you use your time in productive and thoughtful ways.

Spend time thinking about your goals, what summer activities align with those goals, and how those summer activities might appear to college admission officers. You might volunteer at a community organization, intern at a local business, work as a camp counselor, or conduct research at a nearby university. Lounging around all summer is the ultimate sophomore slump mistake!

7. Use Your Breaks Wisely

Most high school students have several short breaks scattered throughout the school year. Though these breaks don’t afford the same amount of flexibility as summer, they are a perfect time to plan mini activities to help you hone in on your interests. Have you been loving your AP Biology class? Consider spending spring break shadowing a doctor. Interested in psychology? Enroll in an online course over winter break. With careful planning, these short segments of free time can build an impressive extracurricular profile and keep sophomore year exciting!

8. Plan for Standardized Tests

Don’t worry - sophomore year isn’t the time to stress about standardized testing. It is, however, a good time to plan ahead for the tests in your future. Make a plan for which tests you will take, when you will take them, and how you will prepare for them.

The only tests that you should consider sophomore year are SAT subject tests. If you are enrolled in a class with a corresponding subject test, it’s strategic to take the test after the course ends. Preparing for a course final or AP exam will usually help you prepare for the subject test. For example, you should consider taking the US History Subject Test soon after you’ve finished the AP US History course.

You should also consider taking the PSAT. Doing so sophomore year can give you an idea of how you might grow your testing skills or which subjects you will need to focus on as you prepare for the SAT. Sophomores should not be discouraged by lower scores, because they often have not learned all of the content that the test covers. Remember - colleges do not see PSAT scores!

9. Begin to Research Schools and Demonstrate Interest in Colleges

It’s never too early to think about which colleges might be a good fit for you. Research and try to visit different types of schools and campuses so you have an idea of what you’re looking for in a college. Though your school list will almost certainly change by senior year, starting this process early will help you learn what to look for in colleges. It will also allow you to demonstrate interest in the schools that excite you most by attending tours, information sessions, or even making contact with the admissions office. Avoid the sophomore slump by getting excited about the future that lies ahead of you!

10. Prepare for College Costs

College costs are significant. Believe it or not, sophomore year is a good time to start thinking about paying for your education. There are many scholarships available to underclassmen that will help you start saving for college tuition, books, and living expenses. By starting to research scholarships early, you maximize your time to submit applications and increase your odds of winning money. Research local scholarship opportunities in your area and do an internet search for widely available contests. The Create Real Impact Contest, Unigo $10K Scholarship, and Scholastic Art and Writing Awards are all examples of scholarships available to sophomores.

11. Work on Your Reflective Writing Skills

You’ve probably heard a little bit about the essays that await in your future college applications. Most college applications involve at least one personal essay that requires you to think about your experiences, values, and goals. While it’s definitely too early to start drafting these essays, it’s not too early to practice your reflective writing. Sharpening your skills now will allow you to jump right in to applications senior year.

The best way to do this is by working hard in your English classes and other courses that involve personal or critical writing. Devote time to written assignments. Meet with your teacher after submitting an essay to discuss how you can improve. Practice your outlining, pre-writing, and revising abilities.

Outside of class, start a journal or a blog. Create a schedule to hold yourself accountable to writing weekly, biweekly, monthly, or more. Write about a significant experience, a current event, or another topic of your choice.

12. Begin to Think about Your Major and/or Career Choices

Sophomore year is a time for continued exploration and reflection. As you engage with more challenging course material and deepen your involvement in extracurriculars, begin to consider your interests and how they align with possible careers or majors. Do you love promoting school events as part of your role on student council? Maybe you should learn about marketing. Are you a data geek with an interest in biology? Read up on bioinformatics!

Your interests don’t need to be set in stone. Instead, you should expect that they will evolve. Learning about the variety of options available to you now will help you plan for an exciting future. You’ll get an idea of the test scores, grades, and activities that you need to pursue a particular path.

13. Take Care of Yourself

With greater extracurricular and academic commitments, sophomore year can be a busy and stressful time. It’s easy to neglect self care when you are falling into a sophomore slump. This can lead to greater stress and eventual burn out. Get in the habit now of prioritizing your health. Get sufficient sleep, eat healthy foods, exercise, and make time for personal reflection. Figure out what works for you to reduce stress. These behaviors may seem time consuming, but will help you be more productive, happy, and healthy in the long run.

Sophomore year is full of possibilities! You’ve settled into high school, have time to turn your extracurriculars into sustained interests, and can set yourself up for success by taking advantage of 10th grade. Don’t let a sophomore slump get to you - take initiative and enjoy this year!

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