Robert Hsu | Surviving the sophomore slump


The Casual Observer | It doesn’t necessarily get easier after freshman year


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Robert Hsu
The Casual Observer

Photo by Robert Hsu


I received a text from my friend Josh yesterday, asking me if I was free to have dinner over the weekend. I scrolled up to our last text and was mortified to find that the last time we had talked was well over a month ago.

I’d always heard the sophomore slump used to describe an artist whose second album performed worse than his or her debut album. My experience this year has proved that the phrase accurately describes a college phenomenon as well.

I had entered sophomore year naively thinking college would be more manageable since I already had a year under my belt — I didn’t expect it to be perfect, but at least more manageable. I had hoped to stay on top of all of my classes, spend time with my friends and keep up with my extracurricular activities, all while taking some time for myself.

That didn’t happen.

But maybe that shouldn’t have come as a surprise — my sophomore slump has stemmed from my own idealistic expectations.

Sometimes I ask myself, “Why can’t I get this right? Why haven’t I seen Josh in over a month? Shouldn’t I be sleeping instead of working right now? When was the last time I actually left campus to do something fun with my friends? Why am I skipping one class just to keep up with another?”

It can be difficult to come down from the “high” of freshman year into the reality of sophomore year. Last year, I took an easier course load and felt a greater sense of freedom and possibility. And somehow I thought it would only get easier. Instead, it has been difficult having to prioritize my life and add more structure, but I’ve realized this is the added responsibility that comes with adulthood.

Engineering sophomore Arthur Chen feels that “sophomore year can be a challenge since courses become harder, and you also have to start thinking about important aspects of your future, such as internships and post-graduation plans. It can be easy freshman year to forget about this since you’re exploring college and figuring out exactly what you are interested in.”

There are around 2500 sophomores at Penn — as separate as our struggles may appear at times, they are not. Chances are, the person sitting next to you in class has encountered similar struggles.

Take Chen for example. It’s easy for the sophomore slump “to be swept under the rug, since it can be difficult to admit,” he explained, adding that “sometimes people like to feel hopeless and play the victim card, but it is important to talk to others and find help if needed, such as CAPS.”

We shouldn’t just accept our chaotic lives as inevitable. Perhaps it’s not possible to achieve an “equilibrium,” but striving to come close is what makes life exciting and worthwhile. That’s why you feel such a sense of achievement when you have the time to see a friend twice in a week, after improving how you manage your schedule.

Striving is necessary — sophomore year (or any year) can be compared to Newton’s First Law: an object at rest stays in a state of rest unless it is compelled to change by a net external force. With this in mind, the challenges you face won’t resolve themselves unless you act on them.

Many of us struggle as perfectionists, myself included, and not meeting our own expectations can be especially frustrating. By both working on improving yourselves and lowering perfectionist expectations, you can avoid the disappointment I felt during my sophomore slump. Most of all, expectations should be created so that the journey of achieving them brings happiness and satisfaction. And ultimately, isn’t that what we all want?

Robert Hsu, a College and Wharton sophomore from Novi, Mich. His email address is rohsu@sas.upenn.edu. Follow him @mrroberthsu. “The Casual Observer” appears every other Friday.

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